Paul wanted the church in Corinth to understand the mercy of God and His grace, but to certainly not take it for granted. Although he was writing primarily to a Gentile church, Paul described those whom God delivered from exile in Egypt – the Jewish people – as their fathers. He did this because the true deliverer was Jesus Christ – the same spiritual Rock – who provided living water to the Jews in the desert and to the Corinthians from their pagan lifestyle. But the Jews had a problem and so did the Corinthians that Paul wished to correct. That problem caused God great displeasure with the first generation of the Exile, resulting in Him slaying them in the wilderness so they could not enter the Promised Land.
In 1 Corinthians 10:6 Paul stated:
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
Scripture is a guidebook to those lessons God wants us to learn. By looking back at this Jewish generation, we see that they committed evil deeds in the eyes of God. He allows us insight into the mistakes they made so that we won’t make the same ones. Paul points out four errors the Jews made that he didn’t want the Corinthians or future peoples to likewise make:
- Idolatry. It’s probably a tossup which is worse, idolatry or the next item on this list. Both are grievous before God. Both steer our hearts away from Him toward other gods. If we worship any God but Yahweh, we can expect serious repercussions.
- Sexual Immorality. Because of the consequences of having sex in a non-marriage situation, many people over the years have run afoul of God because of this unrighteous behavior. It is often done in a pagan, false-god-worshiping context or effectively in worship toward oneself. Either way, it is contrary to God’s desire for us and can be deadly.
- Putting Christ to the Test. If we put someone to a test, it’s as though we’re daring that person to act in a certain way. We’re looking to see how strong or effective that person is. Can you imagine doing that with God? “Let’s see if You’re really omniscient?” “Let’s see if You’re really as powerful as You say You are.” Yeah, that goes over well.
- Grumbling. If it’s one thing God hates, it’s grumbling, especially if He’s provided for us and we aren’t happy with that. God delivered the Jewish nation from slavery. The people grumbled because they imagined they had life so good in that condition. God gave them manna from heaven. They grumbled that they didn’t have meat. And on it went. It ended in God’s anger, which brought death to the camp.
All these issues came about because the Jews thought they had a certain standing with God – whom they didn’t understand in their new relationship with Him – and they thought He was no different than them. They didn’t understand the “otherness” of God, that their ways were not His, and His weren’t theirs. They presumed certain things and paid for that. Paul says in this regard in 1 Corinthians 10:12:
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
The lesson Paul wanted the Corinthians to learn is encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 10:13:
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.
Paul is saying that life brings temptations and trials, but they are for our benefit so that we can learn the ways of God and mature in them. When we trust in Him – which the Jews did not – He will make a way to deliver us, just as He initially did with the Israel from slavery in Egypt.
God has given us many examples in Scripture. He has shown us His character and His nature. Paul wanted the Corinthians to learn these things for their benefit, and he shows us how God has revealed them to us in order that we also might walk more fully in all His ways.