1 Corinthians 10:1–13 (NRSV)
Warnings from Israel’s History
10 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
Where is God when…? Have you ever asked that question? Where is God when I cannot seem to cover all my bills at the end of the month? Where is God when my dreams seem to fade into darkness and I am left in the struggle? Where is God when your children seem to turn from the paths you taught them, or when you find yourself or a loved one in a situation that just does not seem fair? We often ask that question, and to be honest there really is not a good answer for it. At least not one that seems to ease that pain during the struggle. Often we are left seemingly all alone wondering, “Where are you God?”
It is common for us to lament in life. We face struggles constantly and during those struggle we feel as if we were not at all prepared to handle. The worst part of facing a struggle is that it seems that no one else is there that can help you through. You feel alone, as if you are walking on a deserted pathway. A pathway that might have been walked many years ago but is currently overgrown and eroded, every step that we take seems to contain one more trial that endangers our lives. A vine or root wraps itself around our ankles pulling us to our knees, spider webs getting wrapped around our faces and hanging from our ears causing us to dance in such a way that we are glad no one is on the path with us. We step into darkness only to have our feet fall out from under us as we step into a hole or crevasse. Our knees get scrapped our shirts get snagged in branches. And our minds keep telling us to run back to what we knew before, but our hearts keep urging us on even though they feel as if they are about to break.
Paul in this passage takes the readers back to formation of the nation or people of Israel. He takes them to the Exodus. I say that this is where and when the nation was formed because prior to this time they were tribes united only by a common ancestor but other than that as different as Texas is to New York. He speaks of these dark and trying days, the days that tested and tried the people forming them into the nation that would one day give birth to the savior of the universe. He speaks of the trials because out of the trials a nation emerged united in faith. Look at the past Paul seems to say. Look at the trials, the success and the failures. Reflect on that as you gaze into the future. But there is a warning there as well. Learn from the past so that you do not make the same mistakes and find yourselves in similar situations.
I do not want you to be unaware, Paul says. This idea of unaware is another one of those loaded words that is pregnant with meaning. The word is one that speaks of ignorance, error, misunderstanding, and lack of knowledge. Paul does not want the people of Corinth and along with them everyone that reads this letter to be uninformed of the truth. There is something very important in this one simple statement. It encourages us to pursue knowledge, to study and examine, to observe and to act upon our observations. Paul is telling us that we should pursue knowledge and wisdom with passion. We are not serving God well if we remain in ignorance, if we never deepen our understanding or mature in our faith we can be easily swayed by the emotions of the moment. Reacting to situations in ways that do not bring glory to God or progress to humankind.
Paul then dives into theology. All were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses under the cloud and in the sea, all at the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink. This is just a bit confusing. Is Paul saying that all of Israel is saved by their heritage? One could make that argument and most would say that it is a valid point to be made, but I think we are missing something if we just take that at face value. All have the opportunity to know God, because they all were traveling together and witness the same events. All were under the cloud, this speaks of the cloud that guided them through the wilderness, the cloud that rested on the mountain from which Moses emerged to bring the law to the people, the cloud that filled and rested in the tent of meeting. The cloud that represented God’s presence with the people as they wandered through the wilderness toward the land of promise. All of Israel saw the cloud.
All of Israel passed through the sea. Every man, woman, and child in the nation of Israel that left bondage in Egypt participated in the miraculous event of walking through the Red Sea on dry ground. Every member of the community. They all ate the mana that miraculously appeared every morning while, they all drank the water that sprang out of the rock that Moses struck. They each participated in the amazing events that brought the people of Abraham out of captivity and set their course to the land promised to their patriarch. They all witnessed it yet not all fully grasped what was happening around them. God fed the wicked among them just as he fed the righteous, he quenched the thirst of the evil as well as the good they were each saturated in the presence of God, yet some did not recognize his presence.
They experienced all of this yet even as they walked in the shade of the cloud a visible witness to the presence of God, they turned to idolatry. Do not be unaware, Paul says. All of Israel had the same revelation given to them, the same law, the same signs yet many refused to believe. Even as the very law that would unite them as a nation under God was being given to Moses, many were engaging in lude activities that had root not in holiness but in the selfish desires of man. Yet all were given the same opportunity.
Do not be unaware, Paul reminds us. Look at the past, examine the examples provided to us by our anciestors both physically and spiritually. Learn from those examples and do not fall victim to the same follies.
All of Israel was equal they all had the same knowledge and opportunities, yet many rejected God. This leads us to the twelfth verse in this passage, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” If we look at this passage we would see that there were many in Israel that felt that their place was secure no matter what. They are children of Abraham heirs to the promise, they have nothing to fear, yet the promise was only for those that were obedient to God.
If we were to look at the Law and the Prophets we would see that in the history of Israel there was rarely if ever a time that they fully fulfilled the requirements of the Law. Usually they would get very close to the letter of the law but failed to meet the intent behind the law. Yet still they held tight to the security of their heritage. If we were to read through the law we would find that many of them do not make much sense. After so many years all debts were to be forgiven, entire houses would have to be burned to the ground if there was the presence of mildew, certain food combinations should never be eaten. Just one transgression would separate them from the fellowship, and yet history cannot prove that debts were ever fully forgiven after the allotted time.
“So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” How many of us can honestly say that we are perfect? Not one of us can, and if we do there will be several that would quickly rise up to let us know that we have failed. Paul is telling us to look back and remember the lives of those that have gone before us and also to be honest with ourselves. We all have failed to live up to the standard, but that does not leave us separated from the fellowship. Even though Israel failed to live up to God’s standard God was still gracious to them. Even though many faced the judgement and wrath of God they still had the opportunity to repent and call on his name to be saved.
Be honest. The number one reason people have turned away from the church is because it is full of hypocrites. This is a slap to the face of all of us that attend meetings for worship because it is saying that we are not authentic. It is saying that we are living a lie. We lay claim to one life but live something totally different. Watch out that you do not fall. The truth be told we are often hypocritical, we often fail to live up to the expectations of others and the expectation of Christ. The reality is that even the Apostles failed to live up to that standard. Peter denied Christ three times the very night that he claimed that he would never do such a thing. We do fail, we are human but are we willing to admit that we have fallen short?
That is why scripture is filled with the examples of failure. In most ancient religious writings the heroes could do no wrong, they were the strongest most moral and perfect people that could walk the face of the earth. If they were to stubble into some trouble it was not their fault but it was the result of some jealous deity that was attempting keep the hero from achieving the perfection. That is not the case of our scripture, we highlight the failures of our heroes. David openly admits that he sinned before God, Gideon freely shares his lack of faith and trust, Paul admits that there are aspects of his life that his prayers will not bring healing. Honesty and humility are important. Just when we think we are standing firm trials happen that seemingly take us right back to where we began. Yes our meetings are filled with fallen and broken people, but that is not a weakness but a strength.
When we can openly admit to our failings and weaknesses and bear witness to God helping us through, our stories hold power that can encourage others to pull their feet out from the snares and to continue to take steps of faith. But how can we bear witness if we fail to reflect on the past? How can we share the light of Christ in our lives if we are unaware of his presence even when He does not seem close?
This is where the laments are important, this is where study and wisdom help carry us through. It is during those times of trials when we can look back and see where God was in the past we are able to have the faith that God will stand with us in the future. He is faithful and will not allow the testing to be greater than our strength, and he will provide a way out so that we can endure it. It sounds clique and it is often misinterpreted and twisted to the point that we should have the strength in ourselves to overcome all trails but that is not exactly what is being said. God is faithful, and will provide a way to give us the strength or a way to endure. But where is God when the stress of my career is causing turmoil at home? Where is God when a parent is hospitalized? Where is God when… Where is God? The real question is where are you? Are we seeking God in our trials or are we seeking ourselves? Are we looking to God to provide the answers or are we resting in our own wisdom? Are we enduring the trial or are we seeking our own personal preference?
We will always face trials, we will always have trouble, and God will remain faithful. He will provide peace through the storm even though we would prefer that the storm be removed. But are we looking to Him? I do not have the answers for why God allows the specific trials in our lives but I do have experience in walking through trials. I can honestly say that I have complained with the best of them but in my complaints I continue to look toward Christ. We are here to live life with God, and to live that life with others around us. It is through that life, as we trip and struggle through being honest with ourselves and with others that the light of Christ shines in the darkness. When we walk humbly with Him, He will use those trials as examples that will encourage others to continue in faith as well.