In this chapter, Paul teaches the Corinthian church to flee idol worship and to withhold themselves from appearing to support demonic practices. Ultimately they must be willing to put away their freedoms and rights so that it may not hinder others from coming to Christ and for the glory of God. So, Paul is addressing general Christian living, particularly concerning idolatry. Paul uses an illustration from redemptive history as an example of the damage that happens when God’s people engage in idolatrous practices. In the first fourteen verses of chapter 10, Paul discusses Israel’s history, applies it to the current church in Corinth, and uses it as a powerful warning to all of us.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.“
Paul teaches that in verse 2, the act of passing through the sea, all of Israel was baptised into Moses. What is Paul saying here? Paul illustrates from the Old Testament that Moses represented the people of Israel and was the mediator of the Sinaitic covenant. Moses was a servant of God and represented the Old Testament covenant, whereas in the New Testament, Jesus, the Son of God, is of the new gospel covenant. John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Also, Hebrews 3:5-6 says, “Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son…”
The Israelites believed in Moses as God’s representative by the cloud that protected them and by Moses leading them safely through the Red Sea, so they are said to be baptised into him. Exodus 14:31 says, “Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” The Israelites went through this trial and experienced deliverance from Egypt through their identification with their leader Moses. Moses was a mediator of the mosaic covenant who typified the true mediator Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:2-6).
(Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 280.)
There is a resemblance between the symbols also: for the cloud and sea consist of water, and as these took the Israelites out of sight, and then restored them again to view, so the water does to the baptised [Bengel]. Olshausen understands “the cloud” and “the sea” as symbolising the Spirit and water respectively (Jn 3:5; Ac 10:44–47). Christ is the pillar of cloud that screens us from the heat of God’s wrath. Christ as “the light of the world” is our “pillar of fire” to guide us in the darkness of the world. As the rock when smitten sent forth the waters, so Christ, having been once for all smitten, sends forth the waters of the Spirit. As the manna bruised in mills fed Israel, so Christ, when “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him,” has become our spiritual food. A strong proof of inspiration is given in this fact, that the historical parts of Scripture, without the consciousness even of the authors, are covert prophecies of the future.
Paul is saying that all of Israel was joined with Moses and experienced miraculous events. Still, God was displeased with most of them, and as a result, they never entered the promised land but died in the desert because of God’s great displeasure. The Israelites experienced many blessings and witnessed miraculous signs and wonders, yet they fell into idolatry and sexual sin. Likewise, Paul is teaching the Corinthian church that even though they have been physically baptised into Christ and identified with God’s deliverance in Christ, it does not guarantee that God is pleased with each of them without exception. Without saving faith, the external act of baptism will not accomplish anything, just as for the Israelites.
Outward acts and associations do not save a person, and you cannot rely on them for salvation. Just like the Israelites, the human heart does not change as it is subject to temptations across all ages. That is why these events were written down as counsel for the Corinthians church. Likewise, it serves as an example to the church today. Many believers today erroneously rely on their service, good works, the type of church they are affiliated with, religious activities such as baptims and many other things to save them from the judgment of God. These are just outward acts. Without a heart transformation by the power of His Spirit and faith in Christ, there is no hope. The question is, are you trusting in the finished work of Christ and is your elections sure? 2 Peter 1:10 says, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
I encourage you not to put Christ to the test as some Israelites did and, as a result, were punished. These things are written down for us as an example and for our instruction being careful not to think too highly of ourselves, leading to false confidence and pride, leading to our fall into the idolatries and temptations of this world. Instead, be a new person relying on Him daily by putting on Christ and being baptised in Him. God is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but He will provide a way of escaping that you may be able to endure (1 Corinthians 10:8-13). Amen!