Bill McFarland

June 1, 2003

I want you to think with me for just a moment about the value of taking the time to learn the great stories of God's word from early on in our lives. You realize that what we do as we make ourselves familiar with these events that are recorded in scripture is to store up in our minds memory of those great events. And then as we go about life, we are able to call to our minds those occasions when people learned a lot about living for the Lord and about what it is to serve God. Then we are able to apply those examples to instruct ourselves about how to live.

That really is what the great passage that Scott read this morning does. Paul uses the tool in this great paragraph at the beginning of I Corinthians 10, calling before the eyes of his readers their memories of these great events that happened during the period of the Exodus, as the Old Testament records. What really is at stake when Paul writes here is the problem of complacency on the part of some of the members of the church at Corinth. They had become complacent, oddly enough, because of what they knew. They knew that idols are no gods at all, and so they had lost sight of the danger of what could happen to other people and then to themselves by overlooking the moral connotations of idolatry and by involving themselves in some of the things that went on in a great worldly city like Corinth. Paul combats the problem of complacency because of their knowledge with their knowledge of these stories of God's people from their past. And especially Paul applies these stories to teach us the danger of temptation and the need for us to overcome the pressures of temptation in everyday life.

A Funny Thing Happened

I want you to notice with me this morning that a funny thing happened on the way to the promised land. By "funny" I don't mean humorous, but I mean unexpected, odd, really. Paul takes our minds back to what he calls "our fathers" in chapter 10:1. The reason he does this is to try to show that the church has something in common with the people of Israel as they pass through the wilderness in those days when God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. These people were never meant to be at home in the wilderness. They were only passing through on their way to the land that God had promised then. They were sojourners and pilgrims who were there for a while on their way to what God wanted to give them. That is where every Christian has something in common with these folks. You and I are not at home now. We are on our way home. We have a promised inheritance. We have here no abiding city. We seek the one which is to come. Our home is that city whose builder and maker is God. So, while we are here in this world, we are sojourners and pilgrims. We are travelers on our way through. We are making a journey as we move toward our own promised home. In that way, we have a lot of things in common.

Now notice that Paul calls attention to some things that all of those men and women of the exodus experienced. In fact, he uses the word "all" five times, as if to emphasize his point here. All of these people who were passing through the wilderness on their way to the promised land experienced the blessings of God. First, he says, "they all were under the cloud." The cloud, if you remember, was the visible demonstration of God's presence with the people to guide them and protect them. By day it was a pillar of cloud; by night it was a pillar of fire. By day it lead them along the way; by night it gave them light. It was a way of saying, "I am with my people." God is demonstrating his presence with them. Wouldn't you and I like to enjoy always the sure knowledge that God is with us to lead us and to protect us? That is the privilege these folks have.

Secondly, Paul says, "they all passed through the sea." You remember the story in Numbers 14 how the Pharaoh was angry and had changed his mind and pursued the people to the edge of the Red Sea. They all panicked and thought, "now we are going to die." But God told Moses to have them stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. And you will remember that as the cloud went around behind them to stand between them and the Egyptians, God parted the sea. There was a wall of water on the right and on the left and the people passed through on dry ground. When the Egyptians endeavored to follow them, God clogged the wheels of the chariots of the pharaoh and weighted his horses down and then destroyed the army and the soldiers and the chariots of the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt and God saved his people that way that day, the Bible says. All of these people passed through the sea from slavery to deliverance.

And then, it says, "that all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." In other words, with the presence of the cloud and then through that experience of the sea, these people all came into the leadership and under the authority of Moses. The very last very of Exodus 14 says, "when the people saw all of this, they feared God and they believed his servant, Moses." God got respect for himself that day and trust in the leadership of Moses. They all had been through that.

And then, next, he says, "they all ate the same spiritual food." You remember the story of how the people began to complain and to wonder why God had brought them all out here in the wilderness to perish. God provided for them bread from heaven, manna, it was called. For every new day except for the Sabbath, they could go out and gather up enough food to sustain them. And then on the sixth day, they were to gather twice as much in order to sustain them over the Sabbath day. They all ate of that same spiritual food, much as you and I do when we remember that Jesus is living bread, the bread of life, according to John 6, to sustain and nourish us spiritually through our lives.

And then they all drank from the same spiritual rock. They complained, you remember. God had Moses first in Exodus 17 to take his rod and go out and smite that rock and water came from the rock at Horeb and God again sustained and satisfied the thirst of his people and kept them alive. We have living water in Christ.

All of these people had the demonstrations of God's presence to guide and protect, to sustain them, and to save them in their lives. All of them. And yet in the understatement of all understatements, Paul reminds them in verse 5, "Nevertheless, with most of them, God was not pleased," for they were overthrown, they were scattered in the wilderness. That "most" is all but two. A whole generation, all but two, Joshua and Caleb. Their dead bodies were scattered in the wilderness as demonstrations of God's judgment on them because of their unbelief. We learn from that that God is not only a God of love, but also a God of holiness. And we are reminded of the need for us to follow him truly.

It is very, very instructive that it is the apostle Paul who makes this point here. Nobody believed in the security and the assurance of God's children more strongly than Paul did. Paul is the one who said, "I am not ashamed because I know him whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed unto him against that day. It was Paul who said, "we are more than conquers through him that loved us." It is Paul who said that God has saved us because he wants to show us some day the exceeding riches of his grace, Eph. 2:7. It is Paul who is stressing the wonderful blessing of assurance in Christ and yet it is Paul who says, "I don't want you to be unaware that even these people who enjoyed such wonderful and precious and impressive blessings," were scattered in the wilderness because of their unfaithfulness.

The Hebrew writer at the end of Hebrews, chapter 3, stresses the reason for this. The Hebrew writer having pointed out that God had to say to them, "they will not enter my rest." It says beginning in verse 16 of chapter 3, "For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for 40 years? Was it not with those who sinned whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter into his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief." Notice the parallel between unbelief and disobedience in that passage.

Powerful Temptations

They failed. On the way to the promised land their dead bodies were scattered in the wilderness. That has to tell us that they must have met some powerful temptations. They must have encountered some difficult obstacles to their faith. It must be true that if people who have seen all of this can be brought to the place where their hearts are hardened by unbelief, there are some real challenges before them on the way to the promised land.

Here again, we learn from their examples, according to verses 6 and following, what some of those obstacles are. They may take different forms for us, but on our way to the promised land, the same sorts of temptations are going to be encountered. First, there is lust for evil things. Just having our hearts set so much on things that that is all we can see and all we can consider in our lives. It is noteworthy in Numbers 11 how this happens. Verse 4 says, "Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, "Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." The next few verses explain what manna looked like, what its appearance was like, how they prepared it, and interestingly, at the end of verse 8 it says, "And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil." My experience is that's not too bad! And yet these people had gotten to the place where they would have preferred to sit by slaves' fire in Egypt than to have eaten what they had gotten there. Why? They have gotten bored. They have gotten dissatisfied. They are people who can't stand it unless something new comes along every day. God never meant for them to have to eat manna for 40 years. That was their own doing. He meant to feed them while they made that journey on to the promised land. And it was their unbelief that caused them to say, "We can't take it. We are like grasshoppers compared to the folks up there." Be careful that we don't desire, lust after, evil things.

Secondly, there is the problem with idolatry, a religion which is focused on what we get out of it. Remember, they had Aaron to make them a god they could see. "And then the people sat down to eat and drink and they rose up to play," according to Exodus 32. They had to have a religion that satisfied their visual desires and their craving for enjoyment and activity that made them feel good. On the way to the promised land, if we get to thinking that our worship of God is about us, then we are in danger.

Third, on the way to the promise land we encounter the problem of immorality, and particularly, sexual immorality. The issue is personal purity. Verse 8 of Numbers 25 shows that they got involved in the worship of Baal at a place called Peor and they did so by engaging in sexual immorality with those who were supposed to have been priest or priestesses at the high place of Baal. It was an ugly and degrading kind of Pagan ritual. It defiled the people.

And then there is the problem of seeing just how far we can go before God has to take action, of putting God to the test. In Numbers 21 the people murmured for the umpteenth time against God and this time he sent fiery serpents among them and bit many of them. Without God's intercession, many more would have been destroyed.

And then the problem of grumbling or murmuring in verse 10, as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer. Grumbling or murmuring broke out as the people grumbled against Moses and wondered why Moses took so much on himself. It was led especially by three men, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. On that occasion, God had these set off by themselves and the earth swallowed them up. They went alive down to the pit, all that pertained to them, 250 persons. The rest of the people, rather than standing in awe of God's judgment, used that as an occasion to grumble about how harsh God was and how unfair it was. Then God sent a plague to deal with the grumblers. Halford Luccock wrote, "Grumbling is more than a peccadillo, a somewhat unfortunate trait of personality. The habit of grumbling is a major sin, judged by what it does to character. It can spoil the whole climate of life." That is for sure the truth.

The thing that is emphasized throughout this part of the paragraph is the serious consequences of falling through unbelief and disobedience. As we work our way down through it, the numbers of people who apparently fell because of these sins grows with each step, emphasizing that Paul is dealing with something of some urgency here. That is what these stories are meant to teach us.

What Is Needed

So we come to the "what's needed" part of this study. A funny thing happened on the way to the promised land. They met some real obstacles and potholes on the way. So will we. So here's what's needed. And what he says is what's needed is a balanced understanding and view of temptation. What's needed is for Christians to be mature enough to take a balanced view toward the dangers and the temptations that threaten us.

On the one hand, there are those who think they stand. Nothing can happen to me. No danger could come my way. I'm strong enough. God is loving. I, therefore, could never stumble. Paul has mentioned at the end of chapter 9 that it would be possible for even him to be disqualified after he had preached to others. It certainly happened with Israel. And so Paul is saying, "Christian, remember, it is possible." So, he says, "don't be overconfident." I read in some bulletin this past week this statement, "The peacock of today is the feather duster of tomorrow." Pride is a dangerous thing. So the one who thinks he stands needs to realize that, and then he needs to be alert. He needs to take heed. He needs to pay attention. He needs to not grow complacent about his spiritual life and his relationship to the Lord. And so he says, "This person who thinks he stands should pay attention, be alert, and then not fall." He needs to stay with it in his Christian life.

On the other hand, there is a word here that balances out verse 12. There is a word here that says, "Here's the message to those of us who think we can't stand." If overconfidence is a threatening danger, then the lack of heart is a threatening danger. And so Paul says to all of us, "You haven't faced any temptation or trial or test that other people haven't already also faced." None of us have unique temptations. We may have our own but they are not unique. Other people have faced them too.

Second, Paul says, "God is faithful. God can be trusted and depended upon." There are two demonstrations of this. "He won't let you be tried or tempted beyond your ability." In his providence, the faithfulness of God says, "I won't let it be beyond your ability." And then he says, "He will with the temptation provide the way of escape." The word for "way of escape" is like a mountain pass that let's an army that looked like it was trapped escape to safety. God and his providence protects us according to our ability and opens up a way of escape. Notice carefully that the way of escape, though, is not to get out of this responsibility, but that you may be able to bear it or to be able to endure it. God is faithful but God is different. I want to get out of the responsibilities that I have. God wants me to be strong enough to get through it.


A funny thing happened on the way to the promised land. These people who were so blessed fell. So, let me learn balance with regard to temptation.

Back up with me to verse 4 of this passage and notice that Paul makes the unusual statement, "That rock that they drank of was Christ." Paul is saying there that first our Lord is deity. He is giving to Jesus the same title, "the Rock," that Deuteronomy 32 gave to the God of heaven. He is the rock. You can take your stand on him because he is the Son of God. Secondly, he is saying that Jesus existed back then. Before he came here in the form of a man, he existed. And thirdly he is saying that all of the blessings that that whole generation experienced through the wilderness came from my Lord and from your Lord, Jesus Christ.

Where are you building your hopes as you spend the time of your sojourning and pilgrimage? Fame? Fortune? Lands? Or upon the rock, who is Christ Jesus? Anyone present can drink of the rock. He wants to give us living water, the water of life. Whoever will may come to him placing trusting faith in him, repenting of sin and selfishness in life, and being baptized into him for the forgiveness of sins. Have you made that beginning? Won't you think about that beginning today and if you have made it, please remember the people of this story and take this as an encouragement to deal with temptation as the victor through this week. Live for the Lord and serve him only. If you need to come to him this morning, why don't you act now while we stand and sing together?