In the above statement, recorded in 1 Corinthians 10:5, “them” refers to the children of Israel who journeyed in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan. God blessed them immensely. He delivered all of them from Egypt and through the Red Sea (10:1,2). He provided all of the Israelites with spiritual food and spiritual drink (10:3,4). In short, He rescued them and took care of their every material and spiritual need. What a great God!
Though Jehovah heaped blessing after blessing on His people, in general their response was not one of grateful submission. Hear the cold facts: “But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5). Why? Why was the Lord not well pleased with His people?
God’s Spirit guided Paul to enumerate some of Israel’s sins during that period of time, with the added warning that the saints in Corinth must not allow themselves to participate in such things. The wandering Israelites did the following: lusted after evil things (10:6), served idols (10:7), committed fornication/sexual immorality (10:8), tempted the Lord (10:9), and complained (10:10). Again, the consequence of such was “their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (10:5) – they did not enter into the Lord’s promised rest in Canaan. Why does God bother telling us of such unpleasant matters? “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition . . .” (10:11). So, our Lord wants us to learn from the Israelites’ choices.
Let us jot down some lessons to take away from this passage in 1 Corinthians 10, coupled with other Bible passages which touch on Israel’s crash in the wilderness. Consider:
Let none of us be deceived into thinking that we are so strong and mighty that none of those sinful affairs could ever wiggle their way into our hearts and lives. Wrong! After Paul listed the tragic sins of God’s people during Moses’ day, what immediate warning did he give to those who are God’s people under the new covenant? “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (10:12). Are we listening, or do we still think that such an appeal is only for “those other members” of God’s family?
Complaining is bad stuff. We might be inclined to think, “Now those other sins which they committed, things like idolatry and fornication, now those were really bad. But surely complaining against God is not that big of a deal.” Think again! Destruction came to the murmuring Israelites (10:10). Complaining stinks in God’s nostrils; always has, so let us not try to minimize how serious it is. “Do all things without complaining . . .” (Philippians 2:14).
All the Israelites were delivered from Egyptian bondage, but many fell before reaching the land of promise. Here is a clear perspective on just what took place: “. . . the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5). The Deliverer became the Destroyer, and the delivered ones became the destroyed. Those truths catch my attention! After passing through the Red Sea, believers became unbelievers (Psalm 106:12,24). That is what doomed that generation: “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19).
While it is true that many Israelites in the wilderness turned against the Lord (see this article’s title), it is also true that with some of the people, He was pleased. Though it may be common for teachers to highlight the stumbling of the majority, let us not forget that there were some who remained steadfast to the end. “Nobody today wants to do what is right. No one cares about what God says.” Such statements do not reflect reality. In fact, while great numbers of folks are not prepared to submit to the authority and teaching of King Jesus, there are those who are (Matthew 7:13,14). Thus, to state that “nobody” wants to please the Lord is a false claim. Such a defeatist attitude is no good! It pours water on the fire of evangelistic zeal. Some remained faithful to God in Moses’ day, and some do the same today. Thank God for every single one of them!
The evil choices of some did not prevent others from making the correct choices. For anyone who did not enter Canaan, that person could only blame him/herself. Yes, good people in Israel’s camp found themselves in an environment of wavering faith, griping, and immoral choices. But they still got to decide for themselves how they were going to behave. Caleb chose to have “a different spirit” and fully follow the Lord (Numbers 14:24). Let us take courage and comfort from that godly man’s choices and the fact that God blessed him for it.
Among the 603,550 Israelite soldiers who were numbered at Mt. Sinai, only Caleb and Joshua were allowed to enter Canaan (Numbers 26:63-65). The math: 99.997% of the soldiers died in the wilderness. Those two surviving men of God were not sinless, but neither did they waver. They stood faithful, though small in number. Let us not be intimidated or feel inferior if someone today makes a mocking comment about the size of Jesus’ blood-bought church. Let us stand firm and committed to our God.
Just as Israel passed through a wilderness, so we must pass through the wilderness of life’s fiery trials. Staying faithful through such is tough, but not impossible. Let us ever look to Jesus and the thought of dwelling with the Godhead forever. “To Canaan’s land I’m on my way, where the soul never dies . . .”
— Roger D. Campbell