The five dangers mentioned by Paul were stated in Part 1. Here is an analysis of each of them, by referring to the Old Testament writings.
“We should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.” (1 Cor.10:6)
“And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept again, saying, ‘Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlick; but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have nought but this manna to look to.'” (Numbers 11:4-6)
“They soon forgot God’s works and waited not for His counsel, but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.” (Psalm 106:13-14) “And God smote the people with a very great plague.”
The problem is plain enough. As a redeemed people, they had initially rejoiced at being delivered from the “iron furnace” of Egypt. But their memories were short, and their fleshly appetites demanding. God had provided them with manna. It was “heavenly food”, “angels’ bread.” But they wanted their “pre-conversion” diet, with so much more variety for the palate. In fact, God listened to their cries and gave them quails to eat. But a spiritual price had to be paid for this. God “sent leanness into their soul.”
Once we come to know the Lord, once we “sign on for discipleship training”, we are taken (spiritually) into a desert region. God does it purposely, because there are no distractions in the desert. Jesus spoke about this as “the narrow road that leads to life.” It is a restricted path, but God provides “hidden manna” for our diet, and this should be more than adequate for the journey. If we grumble, saying the Christian life is “too hard”, then we may find God making things a bit easier for us, but our spiritual sensitivities will be dulled as a result. We cannot have it both ways. This is Paul’s lesson under the heading of LUST. Clearly it is a timeless lesson, and is bang up to date for the 21st century.
“Neither be idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” (1 Cor.10:7)
“And Aaron received the gold from their hands, and fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it a molten calf, and they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’ And when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it, and made a proclamation saying, ‘ Tomorrow shall be a feast unto Jehovah.’ And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and then rose up to play.” (Exodus 32:4-6)
The eating and drinking refers to the edible portions of their sacrifices. The rising up to play refers to the orgiastic behaviour that followed. The word “play” is a sadly inadequate expression for what they were doing. The scene as depicted in the film “The Ten Commandments” was a graphic display of licentiousness, and showed exactly what the “play” was all about.
Obviously this has no relevance to the Christian life today? We are not in danger of pooling our possessions to make images, and then having a sumptuous feast followed by all manner of immorality, are we? Christians would never countenance such behaviour, would they? Perhaps some of them still did in Paul’s day, but not now. So what, if anything, can we learn from this?
Before writing it off quite so hastily, we might do well to stop and reflect for a moment. Why did this situation arise in the wilderness? “When the people saw that Moses delayed his descent from the Mount, they approached Aaron and said, ‘Up, make us a god to go before us; for this Moses who brought us out of Egypt, we know not what has become of him.'” (Exod.32.1) In other words, they could not bear waiting around with nothing happening. Their patience had run out, just as it did in later years for King Saul, waiting for Samuel to appear. In the wilderness they made a golden calf; and Saul performed (illegal) sacrifice. Both incurred wrath for their behaviour.
The aspect of idolatry was due to their inability to rely wholly on the Lord, regardless of any apparently strange times of silence. When man thinks that God is no longer in full control, he turns aside to something of his own making,whereby he thinks that by his own devices, his own inventions, he may assist his progress on the pilgrim journey to the promised land. Now translate this into contemporary Christian life. How many times are we being told that in order to make satisfactory progress, we need to do any one of a hundred extra things, such as going to church twice on Sundays, plus mid-week Bible study, plus Thursday evening’s prayer meeting, plus help with the Sunday School, plus a share in the missionary activities, plus cleaning, plus flower arranging, plus plus plus, until family life is all but thrown out of the window. But unless this “wholehearted” approach to church life is adhered to as a “proper commitment”, we are told that we shall be considered as “backsliders” or something worse. Hence an atmosphere of guilt is engendered. But in point of fact, all this so-called “commitment” is nothing short of idolatry. This is just such an area where idolatry must be recognised. There are many others.
In the wilderness there was a massacre that day, when about 3,000 people were put to the sword. We are not being told to copy that, but we are expected to stand against all such evil pressures to put something, anything in place of the Lord’s own requirement of walking in the spirit and not in the flesh. To add anything to a straightforward daily walk with the Lord is idolatry.
“Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and 23,000 fell in one day.”
(1 Cor. 10:8)
“And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit fornication with the daughters of Moab, for they called the people to the sacrifice of their gods, and they ate, and bowed down to their gods, and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.” (Num.25:1-2)
How did this come about? It was the wily work of Balaam the magician, who’d been hired by Balak to curse Israel, but had been restrained by the Lord each time he tried. Having failed to fulfil his hire, he decided on a subtle tactic, whereby the daughters of Moab were encouraged to entice the young men of Israel. It wasn’t just the act of fornication that caused the Lord’s anger, but what followed, namely the worship of false gods. What followed was aplague, and it consumed 23,000 people.
Now fornication is the in-thing today amongst sexually-active young people. They have been taught that it is an allowable pleasure, to be thought of in the same way as having a drink, going out for a meal, the cinema, the theme park, ten-pin bowling, and a host of other legitimate pursuits. We are “training” our nation to know how to handle fornication successfully without contracting the “plague”. This plague is not just AIDS, but a whole variety of STDs. (Sexually Transmitted Diseases). Don’t imagine that people who go to church all live a different life-style. It may be less frequent, but it still affects young Christians who are influenced by peer pressure almost too strong to resist.
One daily newspaper reported on March 8th 2004 the disturbing news that 160 new cases of STDs are being reported in the UK each working day. Records reveal that 40,821 teenagers sought treatment in 2002, a 62% rise on the figure of 25,143 in 1997. The Director of “Family and Youth Concern” was reported as saying, “Young people today are very relaxed about sexually transmitted infections. They think there is nothing serious about them. Sadly that is not the case. They are growing up in a culture where there is widespread pressure to have promiscuous sex. We ought to be telling them that such behaviour comes with a health warning attached.” But what about telling them that it is contrary to God’s laws, and incurs not just unhealthy bodily conditions, but also spiritual damage?
Is there some other way of interpreting Paul’s warning to us about fornication? What is fornication? It is doing the right thing with the wrong person, and if it is practised by married people it is called adultery. Spiritual fornication is seeking gratification apart from the Holy Spirit. Included in this are the antics performed at Toronto and elsewhere, called a “blessing” but in fact is a disgrace to the intelligence, let alone the falsifying effects on unbelievers as to what is the nature of godliness.
4. TEMPTING CHRIST
“Neither let us over-tempt the Lord as some of them tempted, and perished by the serpents.”
“And the people journeyed by way of the Red Sea to compass the land of Edom, and they were greatly discouraged because of the route. And they spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness, for there is no bread and no water, and we loathe this vile bread’ And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and many died.” (Numbers 21:4-6)
It was not the first time they grumbled in this manner, laying an accusation against Moses, and therefore in effect against God Himself. But in each case they had a price to pay for their insurrection. First it was the great plague, then the sword, followed by another plague, and now fiery serpents.
When the serpents came, the people realised they had made a grievous mistake, saying, “We have sinned, because we spoke against the Lord. Pray that He will take away the serpents from us.” But the Lord didn’t want to take them away. Instead they had to learn a lesson the hard way. But at the same time, the remedy was within reach. “And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon a standard, and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked upon the serpent, he lived.” (Num.21:9)
Paul calls this “tempting the Lord.” In fact the Greek word means “over-tempting”, showing that it was not a passing thought, a slip of the tongue, or just feeling fed up with the tough route. No, it was a deliberate and corporate sin against God. Furthermore, it came right on the heels of a significant victory over the Canaanites at Hormah, which made things worse. This “tempting” was nothing short of plain accusation.
Again we must ask, how does this affect us today? It is quite likely to hit us for six just after some significant victory in our lives. Let us say that I have perhaps spent much time praying for someone, and the hand of the Lord is bared, bringing healing and salvation, and we all jump for joy. Then the following week I get a puncture in an awkward place on Monday; a tax demand arrives on Tuesday, showing twice what we had budgeted for; Wednesday was washing day. The line was full and the sun was out, but a strong wind blew up before my wife and I could rescue it. Then the line broke and most of it fell into muddy grass. Thursday was not much better. I went down with a nasty cold when we expected to go to a concert in the evening. That was a disappointment and a waste of money on the tickets. Friday found young Johnny being bashed about at school, and yet the teacher insisted it was his fault. By evening time, I cry out to the Lord saying it’s not fair. “Why have you allowed all this to happen to me?” The emphasis on the word “me” indicates the root of the problem. It suggests I have an exalted opinion of myself because of the previous victory, and expected divine favours to continue unabated. But I failed to see that it was God’s grace, not my prayer barrage, thatbrought healing. Perhaps this is just a minor (fictional) event compared with the children of Israel, and I don’t expect to get plagued by a swarm of wasps in our bedroom as punishment, but once I accept that my attitude was wrong, I go out softly with my “tail between my legs.”
“Neither murmur, as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer.” (1 Cor.10:10)
“And all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried [after the evil report from the 10 spies] and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘Would God we had died in the land of Egypt!’ or ‘Would God we had died in this wilderness,’ and ‘Why did the Lord bring us to this land to fall by the sword? . . . would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?'”(Numbers 14:1-3)
Joshua and Caleb had brought an enthusiastic message, saying, “Let us go up at once and possess the land, for we are well able to overcome it.” (13:30) But the other ten spies vigorously denied that, saying, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than us.” (13:31) But the faithful two were not going to sit under such gloomy words. They said, “It is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, He will bring us into the land and give it to us. Do not rebel against the Lord, neither fear the people of the land for they are bread for us, and their defence is removed from over them.” (14:7-9) The result? “All the congregation decided to stone them with stones.”
This was the last straw. The Lord had endured their complaints, rebellions, and murmuring ten times, and now the end had come. Moses pleaded with the Lord to pardon them, and by the kindness and longsuffering of the Lord, He pardoned them. But that generation were excluded from entering the land. They were PARDONED but PRECLUDED.
This brings us to the conclusion of this study. The whole of the generation of those who left Egypt died in the desert during the following 38 years. Only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to live and plant their feet in the Promised Land. All the rest died. They were a FORGIVEN people, but a FAILED people. This speaks volumes to us. Are we on the brink of the “Promised Land”? Why has God been calling out His remnant from amongst the nations these last 2000 years? Is it not for them to become His ruling, governing ministers in the manifest Kingdom just ahead? Are we bold enough to follow in the footsteps of Joshua? Or are we frightened by the “Prince of the power of the air”, who now rules in that heavenly environment we are meant to conquer?
The two years of wandering in the wilderness are a type of the 2000 years from Christ’s resurrection until now. Have we allowed the Lord to rule in our lives without murmuring? Have we been willing for Him to strip us of all earthly “Egyptian” delights, to traverse the “Valley of the shadow of death” and be made ready for the Promised Land of His Millennial Kingdom? Has the going been rough? But wasn’t that His design, to see what sort of stuff we are made of? Shall we deny Him the suffering? Didn’t Paul warn us that if we do that, we shall be denied the reign? (2 Tim.2:12)
“Now all these things happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. Wherefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. There will be no testing beyond what you can bear. God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your power of endurance. Along with each test He will make a way of escape, so that you can go through with it.” (1 Cor.10:11-13)