God Was Not Pleased: Consequences of Sin
To hear what Paul has to say about the baptism of ancient Israel here we need to understand what he is contrasting it against. Paul continues to show the contrast between Christian thinking and worldly thinking.
To see the contrast more clearly, notice how often Paul uses the word all in these first four verses: “all (were) under the cloud, and all passed through the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1), “all were baptized into Moses” (1 Corinthians 10:2), “all ate the same spiritual food” (1 Corinthians 10:3), “all drank the same spiritual drink” (1 Corinthians 10:4). Verse 5 then provides the contrast for the idea of all. He switches from “all” to “most.” “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5) — all, all, all, all, but God was not pleased with most. Paul’s emphasis on “all” changes to “most.”
Paul’s point in these first five verses of the tenth chapter of First Corinthians is not about the nature of baptism, but about the nature of regeneration. He cites baptism as a symbol of regeneration and as an example of the need for regeneration. Paul was saying that while all of the people of ancient Israel were involved in God’s various baptisms, not all of those who had been baptized by God Himself were heirs to the kingdom of God. Paul was saying that they were baptized, but their baptism did not save them. This is a hard lesson to get right.
God Was Not Pleased
“All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4). Paul said that they all drank from the well of Christ. Did that mean that they were all “saved?” Listen to Paul’s answer: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5). Though the ancient Israelites had all experienced and partaken of the miracle (drank the water from the Rock) personally, some of them displeased God. And the result was that God allowed them to perish in the wilderness without entering the Promised Land. That is the lesson and the contrast that Paul was teaching here, and it’s a hard lesson to swallow because it runs counter to what we want to believe about God and about ourselves.
Examples to us
Why would God bless His own people with genuine spiritual food, and then let them die in the desert? They were God’s people, right? Why didn’t God protect them? Why didn’t God preserve or persevere with them? Why would God allow His precious baptized lambs to die in the wilderness? That is exactly what Paul was trying to get the Corinthians to see because that is exactly what God had done. So, Paul answered that very question. He said that “these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6).
Did you hear that? They died for our sake, to teach us a lesson about faithfulness, about not wanting the wrong things. Not all of them died, of course. Some lived and some died. That’s the contrast Paul was making, and it begs the question — Why did some die? Why did some live? What was the difference between those who lived and those who died? Indeed, the contrast under consideration here is the same contrast that Paul has been teaching from the beginning of this letter. Paul continued to show them the difference between the wisdom (or foolishness) of Christ that is life itself and the wisdom (or foolishness) of the world that is death. The lesson that Paul was teaching is a matter of life and death. It is not trivial. It is not funny. It is serious. And it applies to us today.
Paul then clearly spelled out his central concern, so they wouldn’t miss what he was talking about — idolatry. “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play'” (1 Corinthians 10:7). Paul quoted from Exodus 32:6, the story of the Golden Calf.
Remember, as Moses was up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people demanded that Aaron make them a Golden Calf to facilitate their worship. Aaron did as he was requested, and the next day the people held a religious feast. About that particular feast Moses wrote, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6). Paul’s concern in these first few verses of chapter ten pertains to this story of Israel’s idolatry. He was accusing some of the Corinthians of the same kind of idolatry.
How did God receive this idol worship that came from the minds and hearts of His people? “Twenty-three thousand fell in a single day” (1 Corinthians 10:8), wrote Paul. God commanded that the Levites take vengeance on the worshipers of the Golden Calf on behalf of the Lord.
“Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.”‘ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell” (Exodus 32:26-28).
Exodus 32 concludes with this verse, “Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made” (Exodus 32:35). Many more died from the plague. This is not a pretty picture, but it is the picture that Paul painted for the Corinthians to illustrate the severity of their error.
We must not put Christ to the test
Paul summed up his lesson, “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did…. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Corinthians 10:8-10). Who had engaged in sexual immorality? Who put God to the test? Some of those ancient Israelites who had been baptized by God Himself in the cloud, in the sea and in Moses. Notice Paul’s contrast in these verses between all and some. All had been baptized, but some of God’s own baptized people had been faithless, and God destroyed them. That’s the point!
But why would God not protect and preserve all of His ancient people? Why did God not keep them from sin? Paul tells us. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). God killed them to teach a lesson to those to whom the end of the ages had come – us Christians.