“Examples from the Exodus” (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)
Some good examples can be instructive for us on what to do. We learn from watching others. Children learn from their parents, about how to speak, how to tie their shoelaces, about how to treat other people. We also learn from reading about others and how they handled things in the past. The example of some outstanding figure from history can inspire and instruct us on how we should conduct ourselves. Good examples are important.
But then so are bad examples. We can learn from bad examples of what not to do, of how not to conduct ourselves. The mistakes–yes, even the sins–of people from the past can serve as warnings for us, so that we do not fall prey to the same things they did. And that is what we have in the examples St. Paul uses in the Epistle for today, from 1 Corinthians 10. Paul goes back to the history of Israel to warn the church–the church in Corinth and the church today–to warn us not to repeat the sins and disobedience of God’s Old Testament church now in the church of the New Testament. And so this is instructive for us, for each one of us here today. Let’s listen now and take heed to these “Examples from the Exodus.”
Examples from the Exodus. Paul cites a number of examples from the time of Moses that we read about in the Book of Exodus, as well as in the Book of Numbers. They all come from the time of the Exodus itself and the years that followed. When we say “the Exodus,” we’re referring to that great event when the Lord God led the people of Israel out of Egypt, out of their slavery and bondage, under the leadership of Moses. That’s what Paul is referring to here in this section. And he says there are many parallels to the life of the church, both in what God has done for us and in the temptations we face, much like the Israelites of old.
Paul starts out by talking about all that the Lord had done for Israel. Verses 1-4: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and 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.”
Okay, let’s unpack this a little. There are a number of references here to what God did for Israel at the time of the Exodus. Paul says that the Israelites “were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” This happened right when Israel left Egypt. The Lord led them out by a pillar of cloud. Pharaoh’s army was in pursuit. The Israelites came to the Red Sea. Were they trapped? No, the Lord blocked the way of the Egyptians by the cloud, while Moses lifted his arms and parted the waters of the Red Sea. Israel thus walked through the sea–they were all “baptized into Moses,” so to speak–and when they had crossed and the army then pursued, it was Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen who were destroyed.
So Paul is saying Israel had a saving water experience, in which they were united with their leader, Moses, and through which they were saved from their enemies. Well, guess what, church? You have had an even greater saving water experience! You have been baptized, baptized into Christ! Yes, in your baptism, God delivered you from your enemies–sin, death, and Satan. He saved you from them and brought you out safe and sound. In your baptism, you have been united with Christ. You have been joined to Jesus, connected to his death and resurrection, buried with him in baptism, and raised to newness of life.
This is great! This is wonderful! What a mighty thing God has done for us in Holy Baptism! It’s like what God did for Israel, only better. That’s what Paul is saying by bringing up this example from the Exodus.
And then he goes on. He says they “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.” When Israel was hungering on their journey, the Lord provided them with manna to eat, a “spiritual food,” in that the Lord himself provided it. When Israel was thirsty and there was no water around for them to drink, the Lord instructed Moses to strike a rock, and out came a supply of water in abundance. Spiritual food and spiritual drink, gifts from the Lord, to satisfy and strengthen his people. Paul even says that these miraculous provisions pointed ahead to, they foreshadowed, an even greater fulfillment in Christ: “For they,” the Israelites, “drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
And so Paul is saying that we have been blessed in a similar but even greater way. We in the New Testament church have been given spiritual food and spiritual drink to eat and to drink. It is the Lord’s Supper. We know that Paul is referring to the Lord’s Supper here, because he’s going to go on to talk about the Sacrament here in chapters 10 and 11 of 1 Corinthians. So Paul is telling the Corinthians and us: “Like the Israelites, you have spiritual food and drink from God, don’t you?”
Yes, we do! And what a great blessing it is! For in this Sacrament, Christ Jesus gives us Christians his very body and blood–given and shed for you on the cross–Christ gives us his body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
So we have been blessed, abundantly blessed, with these two sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Paul is making this point by comparing how God blessed the Israelites with types of these sacraments, comparing the crossing of the Red Sea with baptism, and comparing the manna in the wilderness and the water from the rock to the spiritual food and drink we have in the Lord’s Supper.
But then where does Paul take it from there? He says that in spite of these blessings, Israel still got off-track and came under God’s judgment. And in that, there is a warning for us. Verses 5-11: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 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.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 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. 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.”
You see, here are the negative examples we are not to follow. In spite of all that God had done for them, the Israelites still fell prey to temptation and succumbed. And they suffered judgment because of it. This is a warning for us, that we too not fall into temptation, that we too do not desire evil. That we not indulge in sexual immorality. That we do not put God to the test. That we not grumble.
Friends, we need to take these warnings seriously. I fear we have become so casual about our life with God, our life before God, that we do not take temptation and sin and disobedience seriously. But the example of Old Testament Israel tells us that that is too flippant an attitude. They too were blessed with God’s provision, even with types of the sacraments. And yet they squandered it all away. They did not take God’s Law seriously, for they did not fear the threats he attached to his commandments. They did not take God’s Gospel to heart, for if they did, they would know how much God loved them and cared for them and how good it is to be his people. Most of the Israelites fell away from God, and thus they fell in the wilderness and did not make it into the Promised Land. Let this be a warning. It is a dangerous thing to take God’s Word too lightly. It is a deadly thing to fall away from God and fall into unbelief.
So Paul applies these examples from the Exodus to us. Verses 12-13: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
This calls for humility, repentance, and faith. Humility, in that no one should think they are so super-spiritual that you could not fall into temptation. Repentance, in that if you realize you have been being lured away from God into following the ways of the devil, the world, or your own sinful flesh, you need to repent, you need to turn away from those things and ask God for forgiveness and for help to do better. This calls for faith, for it means trusting in God’s promises to forgive you and to help you, for Christ’s sake.
God is faithful. He always keeps his promises. He remembers the covenant he made with you at your baptism. God claimed you there as his child. He is not going to abandon you. He wants you to make it all the way to the Promised Land. God will help you along the way to get there. Did not Jesus teach us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation”? He did. God will give you the strength to resist and to overcome temptation. Your heavenly Father wants you to make it. He has connected you to Jesus, your champion, who defeated the devil in the wilderness when he was tempted. Stay close to Jesus, for he will strengthen you and help you when you are tempted.
Dear friends, the Lord God wants you to make it all the way to the Promised Land. He sent his Son, Jesus, to be the Passover Lamb for us, so that we would be delivered from our bondage to sin, Satan, and death. God provides us with the sacraments, with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, to create, nourish, and strengthen faith in us, so that we will be strong and keep the faith. For God is faithful, and he always keeps his promises. God is faithful; trust him today. God is faithful; ask him for help today to stay close to Christ and to not fall into temptation. Yes, God is faithful, and he will do it.