God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 10:8-11 Examples to warn us
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, March 10, 2023
8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them fell. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them grumbled—and were killed by the destroyer. 11 All these things that were happening to them happened as examples, and they were written down to warn us, to whom the end of the ages has come.
The three incidents here all took place later in the Exodus and are recorded in the book of Numbers. Curiously, Paul presents them in reverse order: the 23,000 who died because they worshiped the Baal of Peor and committed fornication with the Moabite Women happened in Numbers 25:1-9. The venomous snakes attacked the people in Numbers 21:5-6. The grumbling took place at various times (Numbers 14:2, 26, etc.), but this incident is probably a reference to Korah’s rebellion in Numbers 16.
In verse 8, Paul recounts some of the details of the Baal of Peor rebellion. This was when sexual immorality was a particular temptation for the Israelites. Perhaps part of the trouble was that the people recognized that the Moabites were distant relatives and did not think of them as Canaanites, but “the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with the Moabite women” (Numbers 25:1). Those women “invited them to the sacrifices of their gods” (25:2). Up to this point in the Scriptures, a perverse disregard for marriage is almost all that is said about the Moabites and their ultimate ancestress, Lot’s older daughter, who got her own father drunk in order to seduce him and became pregnant by him (Genesis 19:31-37), naming her child Moab, which means “from father.” Sadly, today there is a growing number of young women who only want a baby and do not want a husband. The confusion over who is responsible for such a family is the source of a lot of arguing that can’t be resolved without recognizing what a perversion that desire is, and how distant from God’s will they are, that marriage should be the bond in which children are raised by their own mother and father.
In the Moabite adultery, Moses reports 24,000 who died (Numbers 25:9), but Paul says 23,000. It could be that both Moses and Paul were using round numbers, but Paul could also have been allowing for some who were put to death apart from the plague of the Lord’s anger (Numbers 25:3,9) but were put to death by the judges from each of the tribes (25:5).
The next example happened after the death of Aaron, when the people were attacked by snakes as they were circumventing Edom (Numbers 21:1-4). They complained against both God and Moses, and the snakes God permitted to come after them killed many of the people. They were testing Christ himself, Paul says. Some handwritten copies of Paul’s letter have “the Lord” or “God” instead of “Christ,” perhaps because a copyist was uncomfortable referring to Christ in an Old Testament story, but part of Paul’s point is that there is no difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. It is not as if Christ came and defeated his Father and created a new religion. Those people who rebelled in the desert were rebelling against the Triune God. And in fact, that account serves as a prophecy about Christ, since Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
The many cases of grumbling, especially Korah’s rebellion, were also incidents in which God’s people became impatient or dissatisfied with God’s personal leadership. Paul says that they were destroyed by the olothreutes (ὀλοθρευτής ), which lexicons wonder about. Often “destroying angel” is offered as a translation, but Korah and most of his family were not slain by an angel, but by God’s judgment when “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions” (Numbers 16:32). Perhaps “destroying angel” is offered because of Hebrews 11:28, where the one who carried out God’s plague on the firstborn of Egypt is called in Greek the olothreuon (ὀλοθρεύων), “destroyer.” This was assumed to have been an angel such as the angel of the Lord who struck down the people of Jerusalem in the days of David’s census (2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:5). But in Exodus, there is no mention of an angel with the tenth plague. God says, “I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die” (Exodus 11:4-5), and “I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn” (Exodus 12:12), and “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt” (Exodus 12:29). And we read the same thing in the Psalms, where “the Holy One of Israel… struck down the firstborn in Egypt” (Psalm 78:41,51, and also in Psalm 105:35, 135:8 and 136:10).
These things that happened in the days of Moses were recorded for our sake, as warnings. Paul uses them to warn the Corinthians who were fond of grumbling, who struggled with temptations to worship idols or to lead the weak into idol worship, and temptations to commit sexual sins. If there was little difference, none at all, between their temptations long ago (Paul asks) and your temptations today, what difference will there be between the way God punished them and the punishment that is waiting for you here at the end of the ages?
And if Paul could ask that of the Corinthians who lived a mere 1,500 years after Moses, isn’t the warning all the more dire, isn’t the end of the ages so much closer to us, who live 3,500 years after Moses’ time? This age is coming to its end. The Apostle carefully and correctly says “the end of the ages” because the world will not keep going forever. There will be an end, and we are fast approaching this end with every passing day, with every additional sin. “We live in the age nearest the end of the world. The entire time that lies between Christ’s first coming into the flesh and his second coming for judgment is called by the apostles ‘the last time’ and, in fact, ‘the last hour’ because Christ has finished all things, and we should await nothing more except the end of the world.”
With such a warning, what will we do? How much cleaning up do we need to do with our lives? Can we possibly set our lives in order before the end?
I know a man, a widower, who lives with his four sons, just the five of them. Their house, I’m afraid, looks as if five bachelors live there. It needs vacuuming. Some of the curtains are torn (there are also cats). The floors need sweeping. There are some boxes that should be broken down and recycled. Recently he had a visitor come to the house (to help him with his taxes) and as he was cleaning, he realized that no matter how much he cleaned, swept, vacuumed, put away, scrubbed, wiped, etc., etc., his house would still look as if five bachelors lived there. He finally threw up his hands in despair and thought, “I can only hope not to be judged for the clutter in my home. I can never get it all cleaned up before the accountant comes.” Isn’t this a little snapshot of our lives as we are aware of the certain and inevitable arrival of Christ in the Last Judgment? The heavenly Accountant is coming, and no matter how we scrub and dig away and sweep at our sins, there will always be more there. We cannot clean up our own lives well enough to stand up before God’s scrutiny. We must throw up our hands and lay ourselves at his mercy, and beg him for forgiveness. “Since he sees and hears all things, let us fear him. Let us set aside filthy desires for evil deeds, so that we may be covered by his mercy from the coming judgment. For where can any of us fly from his mighty hand?”
It is our faith that makes all the difference, because our faith is in the one who forgives and the one who paid the price for our sins. We order our lives according to him, to his will, to his holy word, and ask him not to hold our sins against us, but to count our faith as righteousness as he did for Abraham (Romans 4:9). We give him glory and praise, and he will raise a tent, even a mansion, for us in paradise with joy. Trust in him always, for you do not know and cannot know when the end will finally come. All we know is that the end is approaching fast, and Christ alone will carry us through to eternal life.
O let me loathe all sin forever,
As death and poison to my soul,
That I through willful sinning never
May see your judgment take its toll!
Lord, may your body and your blood
Be for my soul the highest good.
(I Come, O Savior, to Your Table, verse 4)
Pastor Timothy Smith