Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 10:6-13
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and 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 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 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 explains the purpose of the Israelite struggle with sin and idolatry, in the wilderness, after leaving Egypt. We’ll begin by looking in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary at its note for verse 6:
(6) Now these things were our examples.—Better, Now these things were types of us. “Now” introduces the contrast between the physical Israel and the spiritual Israel, between the physical death which befell the majority of the former, and the spiritual death which, if privileges be neglected or abused, must befall the latter.
To the intent.—St. Paul regards everything that has happened in history as having a divine purpose of blessing for others. All this material suffering on their part will not be in vain if it teaches us the spiritual lesson which God would have us learn from it.
We should not lust after evil things.—The Apostle now sets forth the causes with which the majority of the Israelities neutralised the great advantages in which all had shared. The lusting after evil things must be taken as applying to their general conduct (evidenced especially in the circumstances mentioned in Numbers 11:4; Numbers 11:18). “As they also” directly connects the sins which the Corinthians were in danger of with the sins which led to the overthrow of the Israelites. The idolatry and eating and drinking and committing fornication all refer to kinds of sin which the Corinthians were liable to commit if they did not keep themselves perfectly distinct from the heathen. (See 1 Corinthians 6:12.)
The first five verses of Chapter 10 describe the Israelites as a bad example, and here Paul explains that there was nevertheless a divine purpose and blessing that can be taken from that experience. Paul’s concern is that Christians (particularly his audience in Corinth), with many of the same advantages possessed by the Israelites (more, actually), might fall into the same traps. He hopes to help them avoid those traps. The expectation is not that Believers will never sin, but that they continually learn and improve in their struggle against sin.
Paul explains the traps that the Israelites fell into. Picking up with The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 7:
As were some of them. As in the case of the golden calf, the worship of Moloch, Remphan, Baal-peor, etc. In the prominent instance of the calf worship, they (like the Corinthians) would have put forth sophistical pleas in their own favour, saying that they were not worshipping idols, but only paying honour to cherubic emblems of Jehovah. To play. The word is, perhaps, used euphemistically for the worst concomitants of a sensual nature worship (Exodus 32:3-6), which resembled the depraved and orgiastic worship of Aphrodite Pandemos at Corinth.
Commit fornication. This sin was not only an ordinary accompaniment of idolatry, but often a consecrated part of it, as in the case of the thousand hierodouloi, or female attendants, in the temple of Aphrodite on Acro-Corinthus. Three and twenty thousand. The number given in Numbers 25:9 is twenty-four thousand. We cannot give any account of the discrepancy, which is, however, quite unimportant.
The two types of sin that Paul mentions first are 1) idolatry, and 2) sexual immorality. The note points out that the two sins often accompany each other, and often do so explicitly (as was the case in Corinth at the time, in the temple of Aphrodite.)
It might be useful to take a moment and ask what “idolatry” really is.
- Worship of idols.
- Blind or excessive devotion to something.
- The worship of idols or images; more generally, the paying of divine honors to any created object; the ascription of divine power to natural agencies.
Does idolatry, by necessity, need to include a named deity? No. Look at Colossians 3:
3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
Paul is also the author of Colossians. He does not narrowly define idolatry to only include worship of named pagan deities. He states that the sin, placed above God, is the idol. What does this mean in the modern context? It means that a lot of people are likely committing the sin of idolatry, without thinking of it by that name. From ChristianityToday:
Here are five modern-day things that we find it hard to admit are actually taking over our lives.
Work. Many people look to work for a sense of significance and security. While there is nothing wrong with work, it can be dangerous when it drives our decision-making to the point of completely ignoring God’s ways and desires, or we put it before things that are equally or more deserving of our time.
Success. God wants us to be successful, but He does not desire success to take His place in our hearts. When we pursue success outside of God’s will, we will find no satisfaction, but when we choose to surrender to God and His ways, Joshua 1:8 promises that we “…will be prosperous and successful.” It’s particularly easy to make success an idol when we follow other people’s definitions, rather than God’s.
Phones. Or tablets or whatever shiny piece of kit you carry around with you and can’t stop checking every five minutes. If you’re giving your electronic device more time and attention than your loved ones, something’s wrong.
Image. In the age of Facebook and Instagram, we can be obsessed with projecting the image of the perfect life, perfect relationship, perfect kids, perfect holidays, perfect friendship group…Just choose your filter and in one click, your life can look like everybody else’s dream come true. But the Christian faith is about the joy found in God, more than in ourselves or the things of this world. Let’s make sure we’re projecting this image to others more than anything else. In amongst all those pictures of yourself and all the great things in your life, are there any pictures of your church or anything that would speak to the world of your faith in God?
Materialism. This is a prevalent problem most especially with younger generations with all the peer pressure. But that’s not to say that older generations are free from it, as today’s consumerism – not to mention billion-dollar advertising industry – drives us to believe that we need certain objects, possessions and substances to feel happy and content. And with internet shopping and today’s global market, there’s no end to the things we could buy. Now more than ever we need that fruit of the Spirit, self-control.
Sex. Although sex was designed and created by God, man has maligned and distorted its value and purpose. We can be easily driven by the flesh instead of the word of God, especially in an age when nudity is celebrated over modesty, sexual exploits are boasted over, and our visual culture is awash with provocative images. In this day and age, sex has become an idol that drives us to make small and big decisions that will lead us away from Christ if we’re not careful.
Money. Ok so it’s not exactly a modern-day temptation only, but the lesson remains the same. There is much value in money, but it is not the most valuable thing. That’s why Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
People reject God, or the message of the Gospel, for all of the above reasons. Many people who purport to be Christians live in regularly and overt disobedience and attribute any of the above as the reason for why. I would probably add “entertainment” to the list above also.
So understanding that idolatry is not stricly a problem for pagan societies, let’s return to the text at verse 9, in Ellicott:
(9) Neither let us tempt Christ.—Better, Neither let us tempt the Lord, as some of them tempted, and perished by serpents. There is much controversy as to whether the word here is “God” or “Christ” or “the Lord,” each having a certain amount of MS. support. On the whole, the reading here adopted (the Lord) seems from internal evidence to have been most likely the true reading. It is possible that the word “God” crept into the text, having been put as a marginal explanation to get over the supposed difficulty involved in applying the words which follow, “they also tempted,” to Christ. For in what sense could it have been said that the Israelites tempted Christ? There is no reason, however, for connecting “some of them tempted” (the word “also” is not in the original) with the object of the previous clause: and it is noticeable that the second word translated “tempted” is not the same as the first. “Let us not tempt” is in the original an intensified form of the verb which is used in its simple form in “some of them tempted.” The reading “Christ” may have come into the text as being an explanation that by the word “Lord” St. Paul meant the Redeemer.
The real meaning of the passage, however, is evident. The Israelites had, by their longing after the things left behind in Egypt, tried God so that God had asserted Himself in visiting them with punishment, and so Christians must be on their guard, with such a warning before them, not to tempt their Lord by hankering after those worldly and physical pleasures from which He by His death has delivered them. (See Numbers 21:4-6.) Some of the Corinthian Christians seemed by their conduct, as regards eating and drinking and indulging in sensuality, to long for that liberty in reference to things which they had enjoyed before conversion, instead of enjoying these spiritual blessings and feeding on the spiritual sustenance which Christ had provided for them.
Were destroyed of serpents.—Better, and were destroyed by the serpents. The article before “serpents” indicates that the reference is to a particular and well known fact.
The note here explains a historical debate over the inclusion of the word “Christ” in the text here. Paul is recounting an episode from the Book of Numbers, wherein Israelites were bitten by serpents, and many of them died. From Numbers 21:
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze[c] serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
This story was very familiar to Christian converts from Judaism, as it parallels the crucifixion of Christ. Jesus refers to this incident in the Gospel of John, Chapter 3:
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Is it a problem though if “Christ” is the correct word choice rendering of verse 9? No. Keep in mind that Christians believe Christ was present throughout the Old Testament. They do not believe that Christ is a created being, in the same way that a human is. Returning to John’s Gospel, this time in Chapter 1, we can clarify this further:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Further, many early Christians identified – in their studies of the Old Testament – Christophanies (i.e. appearances of pre-incarnate Jesus.) From Wiki:
Certain early Christian writers identified the Angel of the Lord as a pre-incarnate Christ. For example, Justin Martyr claimed that the Angel was the Logos. He writes that “He who is called God and appeared to the patriarchs is called both Angel and Lord …The word of God, therefore, recorded by Moses, when referring to Jacob the grandson of Abraham, speaks thus”  and that “neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor any other man saw the Father … but saw Him who was according to His will His Son, being God, and the Angel because He ministered to His will”. Irenaeus also held to this view; he wrote that “when the Son speaks to Moses, He says, ‘I have come down to deliver this people’.”
A popular Christian understanding of the relationship between Melchizedek and Jesus is that Melchizedek is an Old Testament Christophany. Romanos the Melodist interpreted the figure with whom Abraham spoke in Genesis 18:1–8 as being Christ himself.
Some church fathers such as Origen and later theologians such as Martin Luther believed another example is the “Man” who appears to Joshua, and identifies himself as “the commander of the army of the LORD.” (Joshua 5:13–15). The standard argument that this was in fact Christ is that he accepted Joshua’s prostrate worship, whereas angels refuse such worship ; see Revelation 19:9–10. Additionally, he declared the ground to be holy; elsewhere in the Bible, only things or places set aside for God or claimed by him are called holy; see Exodus 3:5. Jewish commentators  reading the same text do not accept that this figure was Christ (or even Adonai), but rather the Archangel Michael.
The vision of Isaiah (Isaiah 6) may be regarded as a Christophany. It appears to have been seen as such by John the evangelist, who, following a quote from this chapter, adds ‘Isaiah said this because he saw His glory and spoke of Him’ (John 12:41).
So, you can understand that it does not really matter if Paul writes that the Israelites tested “Christ” as he believed Christ was present at that event. The idea of God being present in more than one person, among the Jews, actually pre-dated the birth of Jesus. Jewish scholar, Alan F. Segal wrote in his book Two Powers in Heaven that the idea was discussed in Rabinnic circles during the Second Temple Period, as a potential explanation for the things which Christians subsequently began to describe as Christophanies. From the Jewish perspective, this doctrine of “Two Powers” was a heresy, but the general awareness of it among Jews, as a concept, provided fertile ground for early Christians in their efforts to convert Jews.
Returning to the text, at The Pulpit Commentaries, in verse 10:
Neither murmur ye (Numbers 14:2, Numbers 14:29; Numbers 16:41, Numbers 16:49). The Corinthians were at this time murmuring against their teacher and apostle. Of the destroyer. All plagues and similar great catastrophes, as well as all individual deaths, were believed by the Jews to be the work of an angel whom they called Sammael (see Exodus 12:23; 2 Samuel 24:16; Job 33:22; Job 2:0 Macc. 15:22). In the retribution narrated in Numbers 16:41, etc., fourteen thousand seven hundred perished.
For ensamples; literally, by way of figure; typically. The rabbis said, “Whatever happened to the fathers is a sign to their children.” The thought is the same as in Romans 15:4, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.” The example in this instance would come home more forcibly from the sickness and mortality then prevalent among the Corinthian Christians (1 Corinthians 11:30). The ends of the world; rather, of the egos. The expression is in accordance with the view which regarded the then epoch as “the close or consummation of the ages” (Matthew 13:39; 1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is at hand;” 1 John 2:18, “It is the last time;” Hebrews 9:26; Matthew 13:39).
The note provides some background on Jewish belief regarding “The Destroyer” mentioned in verse 10. For further reading on the Jewish and early Christian views on evil spirits, demons, etc., I recommend a book I recently reviewed by Dr. Michael S. Heiser, aptly titled “Demons.” In verse 11, Paul again reminds his audience that God used these events to provide present-day instruction. One wonders whether he had in mind that his letters might be used in a similar way. It is likely that he did, given the widespread copying and disseminating of Paul’s Epistles that occurred in and among the early Church.
Continuing on with Ellicott in verse 12:
(12) Wherefore.—This is the practical conclusion of the whole matter. We are to look back on that strange record of splendid privilege and of terrible fall and learn from it the solemn lesson of self-distrust. Led forth by divinely appointed leaders, overshadowed by the Divine Presence, supported by divinely given food and drink, the vast hosts of Israel had passed from the bondage of Egypt into the glorious liberty of children of the living God; yet amid all those who seemed to stand so secure in their relation to God, but a few fell not. Christians, called forth from a more deadly bondage into a more glorious liberty, are in like peril. Let the one who thinks that he stands secure take great heed, lest he fall. The murmuring against their apostolic teachers, the longing to go so far as they could in indulgence without committing actual sin, were terribly significant indications in the Corinthian Church. When we feel ourselves beginning to dislike those who warn us against sin, and when we find ourselves measuring with minute casuistry what is the smallest distance that we can place between ourselves and some desired object of indulgence without actually sinning, then “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
This verse is a warning. The “anyone who thinks he stands” sounds like a potentially prideful person, or someone who is treating their security with indifference. The warning might feel frustrating. Christianity often asks Believers to feel both assurance and caution, simultaneously. Being bounded by both on either side is possible, though it is a narrow path.
Continuing on with Ellicott in verse 13:
(13) There hath no temptation taken you.—What is meant by a “temptation common to man” (or rather, suited to man) is explained further on as a temptation which one is “able to bear.” From the warning and exhortation of the previous verse the Apostle passes on to words of encouragement, “You need not be hopeless or despairing.” God permits the temptation by allowing the circumstances which create temptation to arise, but He takes care that no Fate bars the path of retreat. With each temptation he makes a way to escape from it. And that is so, must be so, because God is faithful. The state of salvation to which God has called us would be a delusion if there were an insuperable difficulty to our continuing in it. We have in this verse, perhaps, the most practical and therefore the clearest exposition to be found of the doctrine of free-will in relation to God’s overruling power. God makes an open road, but then man himself must walk in it. God controls circumstances, but man uses them. That is where his responsibility lies.
This is a verse of encouragement, following the warning given in verse 12. It’s also a very widely misquoted verse. Christians often wrongly cite a version of verse 13, as “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” That is of curse not what Paul wrote and it is also false teaching. God often gives human beings more than they can handle alone. However, God does not give a person more than He can handle. Note the following clause from verse 13:
but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape
God promises to help. It may be that God allows “too much” to happen to a person, sometimes, with a goal of humbling that person into seeking God and God’s help. Alternatively, it may be that “too much” is just an unavoidable consequence of living in a sinful fallen world wherein spiritual rebellion has occurred and people have free will. Maybe it’s both. In any case, though, the message of the Gospel is that Christ came to save us.
In the next section of verses, Paul continues the warning against idolatry.