SETTING A GOOD EXAMPLE (part three)
We have learned from the good examples of Jesus and Paul and we learned some ways that we can be good examples. However, it's not just the good examples we can learn from; we can learn from the bad examples too.
On September 19, 1997, a drivers-ed teacher gave a lesson he would like to forget. The teacher had one student at the wheel and another in the back when a car suddenly cut them off. The teacher went into a road rage. He ordered the student driver to pursue the other car. When the car pulled over, the teacher got out and went over and punched the driver in the face. The bloodied driver pulled away.
Amazingly, that wasn't enough for the drivers-ed teacher. He again ordered the student to pursue the car. Eventually the police pulled the drivers-ed car over for speeding, and the motorist with the bloody nose circled back to report what had happened. The drivers-ed teacher was arrested and charged with assault. He was later suspended from his job.
Obviously, this was not a good example of a drivers-ed teacher. As there are bad examples in the world, there are bad examples in the bible too. Although there are many we could look at, I'm going to focus on the ones Paul talked about in 1st Cor. 10.
The Israelites were bad examples.
1st Cor. 10:1-13, "For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.
We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
In the first four verses you have some interesting phrases. 'Baptized into Moses' and 'drank from the spiritual rock, which was Christ'. Rather than get into the exegesis of all that, I'm just going to focus on the main thing Paul was communicating; that the Israelites were God's people in the OT, just like we Christians are God's people of the NT. Paul wants them to realize this so that what came next would register. As we see in vs. five, 'yet God was not pleased with most of them'. So, even though they were God's people, that didn't mean they could do whatever they wanted and God would be okay with it.
Then in vs. 6 and then again in vs. 11 Paul states that these things serve as examples and warnings. So Paul sets up what he is about to say in vs. 6 and then restates it for emphasis in vs. 11. Therefore, everything in verses 7-10 is meant for the Corinthians to take seriously the examples of bad behavior as well as God's response to their bad behavior. Which is why he warned them in verse 12 to be careful that they didn't fall.
Paul lists four things the Israelites did as bad examples. Let's look at them and see how they apply to us today. Vs. 7-When Moses was up on the mountain in the presence of God for 40 days and nights, the Israelites got a little panicked. They thought perhaps Moses wasn't coming back. What did they do about it?
Exodus 32:1-6, "When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”
So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry."
No doubt they reverted to the gods they knew back in Egypt. Yet it's pretty interesting that Aaron fashioned a false god but then he announces they will have a festival to the Lord. So they sacrifice offerings and then indulge in some pagan partying. The Corinthians were challenged to turn away from the false gods they would've known in their region and rely on the one, true God.
We are challenged likewise. What gods or idols were we attached to before Christ? What did we look to or hope in or trust in before Jesus? How are we tempted to go back to any of those weak and miserable things? When it seems like God is far off? When we've prayed but haven't got the answer we've been looking for? "I guess God isn't listening to me. Maybe he's mad at me; maybe he's forgotten about me. I guess I'll just go back to my old ways." Do we try to do both? Do we have our golden calf but still hold our 'festival to the Lord'? Paul warns that if we do such things God will not put up with it.
Vs. 8-This is taken from Numbers 25:1-9, "While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD'S anger burned against them.
The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD'S fierce anger may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.”
Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them—through the Israelite and into the woman’s body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000."
We see that it started with sexual immorality but it didn't stop there; that devolved into idol worship. Once we compromise in one area it's easy to do so in other areas. One sin almost always opens the door to another.
And then we see something pretty bizarre. You have all these people killed and exposed and here comes this guy just waltzing through carrying on as if nothing happened. Perhaps he was out of town carousing and reveling and didn't know what happened. Okay, but I would think seeing all these men impaled on poles and people weeping would communicate that something serious was going on.
Plus, he's doing it in broad daylight in front of everyone. Talk about being brazen. And he's bringing her to his family. What's up with that? Sometimes we can get so deep into sin and so desensitized to it that we don't even bother trying to hide it anymore. That's sad. And it was a sad ending for this couple as we see Phinehas dealing with the shamelessness. That's when the death stopped but the damage was done; 24,000 people were dead.
But 1st Cor. said it was 23,000. From the commentaries I studied, it's supposed that the extra 1,000 was probably the leaders that were killed and then the death of the 23,000 happened the following day. Regardless, the point is clear-God was not going to tolerate this blatant sexual immorality and idolatry.
Paul had addressed this topic earlier in 1st Cor. 5 when he rebuked them for being proud of sexual immorality. He told them they should've expelled the immoral brother instead. Paul later said that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. If the sin was left unchallenged it would work through the whole church. That's why God did what he did in Numbers 25. If the sin was left to continue it would've worked its way through the whole camp. God dealt with sin seriously and Paul instructed the church to deal with sin seriously.
Vs. 9-The Israelites tested the Lord on numerous occasions. They tested his patience and they tested his wrath. When the Israelites didn't have any water and were grumbling against Moses he asked them in Exodus 17:2, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?"
But the specific incident Paul refers to is understood to be Numbers 21:4-6, "They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died."
When we test the Lord we will suffer consequences. When we test his patience or his authority he will do what it takes to get our attention and take him more seriously. In the desert Satan used scripture erroneously to try to get Jesus to test God. Matthew 4:5 says that Satan took him to Jerusalem and he was at the highest point of the temple.
Then he challenged Jesus to throw himself off because it was written (in Psalm 91:11-12) that he will command his angels concerning you and they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. In other words, 'if you throw yourself off, God's word says he will rescue you so why don't you test that'? But Jesus answered him by quoting Deut 6:13, 'It is also written: do not put the Lord your God to the test'.
Sometimes I think we do what Satan did with scripture. We see a promise of God and we try to obligate him to it. One promise we might do that with is in Mal. 3:10 which says, 'bring the whole tithe in the storehouse and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it'.
Now, God did say, 'test me in this', so the promise is valid. However, we want to call the shots and make God honor this promise in our way and in our time. So we say something like, 'I'll tithe for two weeks and if I don't see this promise come to pass then the deal's off'. Testing God like this is a sign of mistrust; like we can't count on him to honor his word.
We also put God to the test when we push the limits and basically dare him to do something. We might not consciously do that that but when we willingly go against his commands we are testing him; like what a child would do to their parents to see how serious they are. It's never a good idea to test God.
Vs. 10-In Numbers 13 you read about Moses sending out the 12 spies to explore the land of Canaan and bring back a report. Ten of the spies came back and gave a bad report, saying the people there were too big and powerful for them to try and take it over. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, were positive and optimistic, trusting the Lord's word that they could take over the land promised to them. But the spies who gave the report instilled fear in the whole community. There were consequences.
Numb. 14:36-38, "So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it-these men responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived."
And not only that, not one of the whole community of grumbling Israelites from that generation made it to the promised land; they all died in the desert. Grumbling and complaining to the Lord shows ingratitude. "We detest this miserable food [manna]"! If we don't appreciate God's blessings he may just remove them. If he blesses us and we're not satisfied then he may remove it to teach us a lesson.
Because they detested the manna, in Numbers 11 you'll read how they wanted meat. God gave them so much it was coming out their noses! God rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery yet soon afterward they were grumbling. If we complain after being rescued from spiritual slavery to sin and eternal damnation then we have lost sight of the monumental blessing of salvation.
One thing that's important to realize in all this is that we can have the tendency to think God is one way in the OT and a different way in the NT. The God of the OT is harsh and full of wrath and the God of the NT is loving and forgiving. That's a wrong conclusion. God does not change; he's the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. God loves us so much he sent his son to die for our sins but that doesn't mean we won't have to deal with his anger toward sin.
There may have been more severe consequences in the OT but that doesn't mean God's attitude toward sin has softened. Rom. 5:9 says we are saved from God's wrath through Jesus. While this is true in a judgment sense, that doesn't mean we won't suffer when we sin. God is loving, patient, gracious and merciful but not in a tolerant way. Sin is still evil and it will be dealt with justly by God. God was loving, patient, gracious and merciful in the OT too.
When we see what God handed down as consequences for his people's sin in the OT we need to take notice. Maybe the earth might not open and swallow us up but we can't make the mistake to think God has gotten it all out of his system and now he's a more laid back kind of God. Kind of like when two parents have a lot of kids and are more strict with the first few then they are with the baby of the bunch. God's not that way.
Like Paul was trying to get across, we need to take these warnings and examples seriously; lest we suffer like the Israelites did. Just like Paul was warning the Corinthians, God had warned the Israelites. Deut. 18:9, "When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there."
But they didn't listen. 2nd Kings 17:15, "They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, “Do not do as they do,” and they did the things the LORD had forbidden them to do."
They didn't take God's warnings seriously. They took him seriously after the consequences came, for a brief time anyway, then they were right back in their disobedience. We can be like that too. We see the warning, we ignore the warning, we suffer the consequences and then we smarten up. But, after a while when the pain of our consequences wears off, we find ourselves right back where we were-disobeying God and testing him again.
Paul gave these warnings from Israel's history so we wouldn't take things too lightly. He would say, 'if you think you are standing firm and have nothing to be concerned about-watch out. For just as God didn't let the Israelites get away with their sin, he won't let you get away with it either'. If we are humble we will realize that the mistakes the Israelites made are possible for us to make too. We can criticize them and wonder how they could've been so obstinate but that would be a mistake if we are not willing to accept that we will be no different if we're not careful.
But Paul provides some encouragement in verse 13. God will always provide a way out of every temptation. He will be faithful to do that for us. He wants us to be victorious; he wants to see us win the battle. He will give us the power to resist and the escape route to get away. Sometimes the escape is hard to see but it's there. Sometimes the escape is simply in us shifting our thoughts onto something else.
Sometimes it's necessary to physically escape from the environment that's tempting us. Sometimes we will need to use tactics like picking up the phone or listening to positive music or reading our bible or another inspirational book. Jesus fought the devil with the word; he fought the devil's lies with truth. We need to do that. So we learn about what happened with the Israelites and we take it to heart so we don't repeat their mistakes.