1 Corinthians 10:1-22
The Apostle Paul would have agreed that “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it” (Winston Churchill, 1948).
The Corinthian church was struggling with the lusts of the flesh: in particular, idolatry, immorality, and grumbling. So Paul reaches back to what had happened to the Israelites, who like the Corinthians, struggled with similar issues. The caution is, the Corinthians could end up repeating history.
Miraculously, the Israelites had come through the parting of the Red Sea. They were obviously privileged and in favor with God who saw fit to rescue them from their years of slavery in Egypt. Wonderful!
Yet, after witnessing this amazing miracle, they engaged in idolatry – worship of the golden calf. They engaged in immorality with the Moabites in worship of their god Baal. They had been “passed over” from the judgment of the death angel, and they had been fed with manna - food from heaven, yet they grumbled. Unbelievable!
The lesson from history: the favored status of the Israelites did not exempt them from responsibility for their actions. God judged them, and in one day 23,000 died. God sent venomous snakes to kill them. Actually, all of them died in the wilderness prior to their offspring entering the land of promise. Ouch!
Jumping ahead many centuries, God was not going to exempt the church in Corinth from responsibility for their actions either. The Corinthians had let down their guard as had the Israelites. God’s judgment on the Israelites was a warning to the Corinthians not to become complacent in their freedom in Christ. No, they could not do anything they wanted.
Paul says to take heed when we think we are strong so that we do not fall. He offers hope in verse 13, with the promise that God will make a way of escape and will not allow us to be tempted above that which the Lord would strengthen us to resist. However, verse 14 makes clear that it’s up to us to flee any form of idolatry.
We have experienced the patience of God as believers, but the example of purity and God’s response to sin are clear: Be careful, lest you fall. God’s delay in punishment isn’t because all is unnoticed. Verse 22 asks, Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? If we think we can resist in our own strength, be warned: “It is dangerous to play with sin and tempt God.” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Wise.)
Life Application Questions
Preparation— Did you remember to bring stone tablets? Before you arrive in the Presence, are you even thinking of stone tablets?
“Stone tablets? No, I can clearly say it never occurred to me,” one disciple replied.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke’” (Exodus 34:1).
Personally, I have at times sought soul-silence before addressing the LORD. I have done so with an awareness that spiritual contact is no cheap ticket. However, I never included stone tablets in those moments of preparation. Just imagining, your experience is similar to my own.
Audience— Access to the Sovereign is a high and holy privilege. However, Moses received a direct instruction before an audience, an invitation calling him to approach the Holy One. He appears before the One we know as the Father—Creator, Sustainer, Life-giver, the One Who brings justice to all (Exodus 34:7 and Isaiah 6).
“The Lord said to Moses… ‘Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain’” (Exodus 34:2-3)
Task— Afterwards, Moses has a task. The account reads, “And he [Moses] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments” (Exodus 34:28b).
God stood near to Moses during those days on Mt. Sinai and we have brief glimpses of the experience. Moses’ times with God included both information as well as preparation. Leadership’s challenges will soon dominate his life.
His task will carry him into Pharaoh’s presence. Moses will be directed in the challenges of establishing as a nation, this wandering mass of humanity. The task takes a lifetime and even then, it will not be completed but littered with regrets, obstinate obstacles, compromising challenges and foolishness.
Today, are there specific words of spiritual preparation which apply to appearing before God?
What is comparable to being in the Presence?
As a song of reflection consider Love Ran Red, by Chris Tomlin, 2014. Available as video, lyrics and chords on YouTube as well as other sites.
The rule in my home growing up was that, if you got spanked at school (which still happened in the 70’s), you got spanked at home. When my Mom found out that I had been disciplined at school (which happened more than once!), she would say, “Wait until your father comes home.” Those were long, unhappy hours of waiting and wondering “What is Dad going to do?” In fact, the dreadful anticipation of what Dad might do was often worse than the reality.
Now go back to the Israelites camped out at Mount Sinai. They had sinned against Yahweh by lasciviously worshipping a pagan god. Moses had averted their complete destruction by interceding for them. But then at the beginning of Exodus 33 God told Moses to go on and lead the people to Canaan “…but I will not go with you” (33.3). This was the worst possible news.
In response, Moses made one of the best decisions of his life by refusing to go anywhere. He wasn’t about to try and lead the Israelites without God.
So, the whole nation just waited and wondered, “What is Yahweh going to do with us? What’s going to happen to us?” They took off all their jewelry and finery. When Moses went to talk with God, they all stood at the entrances to their tents and watched and prayed, waiting and wondering.
We’re not sure how long this excruciating waiting lasted. Eventually, Moses worked up the courage to make a speech to Yahweh about it. Here’s my paraphrase...
“God, these are your people, not mine. I’m not going anywhere unless you go with me. You said that I have found favor in your eyes. Now please go with us.” (For the real thing read 33:12-17).
God replied, “I will do the very thing you have asked...” YES! What a relief! The dreadful waiting and wondering was over.
The question is, why did God agree to go with the people?
God tells Moses, “…because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Moses found favor with God and, as a result, all the people whom Moses represented enjoyed the benefit of God’s presence.
Does this sound familiar? It should.
On two occasions during the life of Jesus, God spoke audibly from heaven, declaring his pleasure in His Son Jesus (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). Jesus found favor in God’s sight, in a much more complete and perfect way than Moses did. As a result of Christ’s perfect obedience to the Father, all those who are “in Christ” enjoy the full benefit of God’s presence in their lives. Through faith in Jesus, we become “co-heirs” with Him, inheriting what he deserves for his obedience. Our whole hope is wrapped up in Jesus having found favor in God’s sight.
Moses’ life was a shadow of the reality which is found in Jesus.
Now the challenge is to live up to this grace and calling which we have received. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us today.
The prodigal life is often reflected in the way people live and also characterized the lives of the Israelites. “You can still be living in your home and have departed for a distant country. You can play the role of the “good son” with a heart that roams in the twilight beyond good and evil. You can even show up to church every week with a voracious appetite for idols. Not all prodigals need a passport,” stated James Smith in, On the Road With Saint Augustine. Why are we and the Israelites so prone to wander?
God has remained the same. His covenant ways and His love are steadfast, they never waver. God is true to his character, He is perfect in His love and righteousness. “God never permits His people to sin successfully.” (Charles Spurgeon) If God is immutable (unchanging), then it is my prodigal ways that lead my feet on a prodigal path. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8) How have you see this principle of reaping and sowing played out in the lives of people in scripture, in our culture, and in your own life? God was not going to ignore the golden calf and He will not ignore our rebellious hearts, either. “…our ancestors…were all baptized into Moses in the cloud…they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ…nevertheless, God was not pleased with them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as an example to keep us from setting our hearts on evil…so, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (I Corinthians 10:1-12)
We are all prodigal possibilities. When our emotions become our god, they can lead us away. Fear, sadness, anger, loneliness, seeking to assuage my emotional pain, can quickly become my golden calf. Impatient waiting on God’s answers can be that first step on a path to find the “answer” in my own way: and my god substitute rears its golden head. The Israelite’s’ fears drove them to say to Aaron, “…make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses…we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Genesis 32:23) When have you tired of waiting on God? How did you respond?
“Moses saw that the people were running wild…” (Exodus 32:25) He knew God’s character and he knew God would respond to their sinful rebellion. Moses was angry with the people (Exodus 32:19,22), but it was an anger tempered with love, which is anguish. How many of you have felt the “anguish” of loving a prodigal? You can put yourself in Moses’s sandals and understand his anguish over the rebellious path that they were embarking on. My own prodigal ways of bowing to the “idols” of life are often as foolish as the Israelite’s golden calf. “I remember…my wanderings, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet…I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail…it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:19-25). Is there anywhere in your life that God looks at you and sees your heart, “running wild?” What “golden calf” have you adopted in your prodigal path that you need to melt down and “wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord”? How will you remember God’s unfailing compassions?
How long has it been since you broke a promise? Did you say, "I will never do that again!"; sign a contract, or commit to do a job? When you made it, you sincerely meant to keep your word. But, for whatever reason and much too soon—deliberately or innocently—you broke that promise. Now you're in over your head and you need someone to intercede for you.
Who do you call when you need a mediator?
We forget, as Israel did, that God has a purpose in the testing of his people. “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). Unfortunately, the Israelites did forget over and over again throughout their history. And God recorded their broken promises for all to read. Back in their early experience at Mt. Sinai, as we read in today’s Scripture passage, they wait for Moses to return from his second meeting with Yahweh, and they forget their promise of just a few days earlier, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do" (19:8). And they actually create and worship an idol.
How long are you willing to wait for God to answer before you break a promise or turn to a "god" of your own making?
We are likely to harshly judge Aaron and the people for this unholy blot on their history. But wait! How many times have you and I made a commitment similar to Israel’s? “We will do what you say, God.” Whether in a public confession or in your private prayer closet, haven’t you made such a commitment—perhaps several times? And what has been the result? Without question, God has allowed you to be tested on that commitment—usually, pretty quickly, too.
We are often so impatient with God or others that we decide to take things into our own hands. The other half of this tragic story reveals Moses at his very best. God was so angry at the idolatry of his chosen people, his “special possession,” that he threatened to wipe them out completely. He even offers to make Moses the leader of a brand-new nation to be God’s people. Wow! Think of that! Not many men could resist that offer. But in a face-to-face meeting, Moses negotiates with God.
The New Living Bible commentary on this passage notes:
Moses exhibits astounding unselfishness and commitment to the Israelites. He could have agreed with God—let's scrap these people and start fresh. Instead, he presents a compelling argument to God (32:11-12) and asks God to spare his chosen people. . . . Moses reminds God that the Israelites are "his own people" and that if he decimated the Israelites it would look to others like God had reneged on his promises. . . and if God were to break this covenant, he would be acting against his own nature.
Would you be as bold before God as Moses was?
You and I often feel inadequate to approach God on the behalf of another. And we are, apart from the help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). The amazing truth is that as believers we can approach God's throne boldly because we are covered with the blood of Christ. Not only that but the writer of Hebrews says, "This high priest [Jesus] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all the same testings we do. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God" (Hebrews 4:15-16 NLT).
Has God put someone in your life who needs your intercession or for whom you can humbly and boldly "negotiate" with God? Or are you the one who needs Moses to go to God for you? wjbd & gmd