Day 12

Warning from Israel’s Past

from the reading plan

1 Corinthians 10:1-33, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Exodus 13:17-22, Hebrews 3:7-19

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” These famous words have been attributed to Winston Churchill, George Santayana, and Edmund Burke among others. But the wisdom behind them can be credited to the apostle Paul, as we see in 1 Corinthians 10. The chapter begins with a recollection of the history of God’s people to serve as a warning to the Corinthian church and to us.

Paul pointed out that during the exodus from Egypt the Israelites “all drank…from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4), but then they went on to rebel against God in various ways. Some were idolaters, some were sexually immoral, some tested God, and some grumbled against him (vv.7–10). Paul’s phrasing is striking, though—he didn’t just describe what others did in the past but rather told his readers explicitly to avoid these things. He saw in us the tendency to repeat history rather than learn from it, so he gave the explicit warning: “Now these things took place as examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did” (v.6).

Sometimes we are slow on the uptake, and we still convince ourselves we are immune to temptation. Verses 12–14 are given as a corrective action, warning against arrogance and providing the encouragement to escape, endure, and flee what is sinful. These aren’t words used to describe a conquering hero but rather a battle-worn survivor. We participate in the blood of Christ (v.16)—that is we receive cleansing and victory through Him alone—and if we keep on living in sin, then we will be like the Israelites, our spiritual forebears, who drank deeply from Christ then rebelled.

Paul deeply desired for his readers to live in Christ and to “flee from idolatry” (v.14). He used history as a warning and gave clear instructions on how to live instead. Hebrews 3 helps us understand the dangers of idolatry (as if Paul’s reminder of fiery serpents and death wasn’t clear enough). It shows us that an unbelieving heart will lead us away from the living God. Rather we need to help one another to not be herded by the deceitfulness of sin, the kind of sin we can be lured into by arrogance.

Paul’s conclusion to 1 Corinthians 10 cuts through confusion. After his warnings, exhortations, and explanations of complex issues (the Lord’s Supper, food sacrificed to idols, etc.) he concluded with, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” so that many might be saved. (vv.31–33) This is the aim of his dire warnings—not simply so that we avoid the sins of our forefathers, but so that we would participate in the mission of glorifying God and calling others to him.

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