We have considered the two occasions when Paul would not have the saints to be ignorant of personal matters (Rom 1.13 and 2 Cor 1.8). We now turn to the second couplet, two verses where his concern is expressed in another issue.
I would not have you to be ignorant in practical matters
The first of the two references is in 1 Corinthians 10.1: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea", after which the apostle develops teaching from the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament. The second is in 1 Corinthians 12.1: "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant", and here the apostle gives teaching for the church relative to the pattern for New Testament days. In this study we shall confine ourselves to the first of these two references, and the lessons that Paul draws from the Old Testament.
The profit to be derived from Israels history
Pauls opening words in the chapter are a reminder of the importance of Old Testament history and the timely instruction that is to be derived from it, something that he will emphasise in v.6 and again in v.11 (see also Rom 15.4).
At v.6 where Paul writes, "Now these things were our examples", we learn that the Old Testament narratives have a message that reaches down, and is relevant, to the days in which we live. They have a timeless character because they are not just a record of happenings in history, but also an account of the dealings of God with men, and embrace unchanging principles in His ways with us.
At v.11 Paul states, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition". We notice that the focus in this chapter is not especially upon the people, but "the things which happened unto them", the product of Gods dealings with them. These are recorded for our "admonition", the word having the idea of "to put in mind", that we might understand and retain basic principles relative to Gods ways with men, and take warning from them. So he asserts, "these things were our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things" (v.6), and then, "they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (vv.11-12). It is sobering to observe that the apostle, in drawing attention to the things that happened in earlier generations, intimates that we, in our day, have come to the "ends of the world" ("end of the ages", JND). None of the preceding ages had the privileges that we enjoy; none had the lessons available to them as we have.
The points developed in Israels history
Paul begins by drawing attention to five privileges. These are identified by the use of the word "all" in vv.1-4, thereby indicating that these were privileges enjoyed by all the children of Israel.
(1) The presence of the Lord (v.1): "All our fathers were under the cloud", the cloudy pillar which guided them from Egypt through the wilderness.
(2) The power of the Lord (v.1): "All passed through the sea", the Red Sea as recorded in Exodus 14.22.
(3) The prophet of the Lord (v.2): "And were all baptised unto Moses, in the cloud and in the sea". With the waters on each side and the cloud above them, they were completely separated from Egypt and baptised unto Moses. No longer to be commanded by the Egyptians, they were now to be identified with Moses, who would guide them according to Gods will.
(4) The provision of the Lord (v.3): "And did all eat the same spiritual meat". This refers to the manna, which is first mentioned in Exodus16.4 (cf Ps 78.25 - "Man did eat angels food").
(5) The preservation of the Lord (v.4): "And did all drink the same spiritual drink". This is first mentioned in Exodus 17.6. Throughout their journeys they continued to drink of the rock. Paul adds "and that Rock was Christ"; not only typical of Christ, but provided because the angel of His presence was with them (see Is 63.9). We should not miss the fact that these five privileges conclude with a reference to Christ.
Yet despite all those blessings, we read that "with many (most) of them God was not well pleased" (v.5). The word "most" stands in contrast to the "all". They all had the same privileges, but most "were overthrown in the wilderness". Why? It was because they lusted "after evil things" (v.6).
Following the five privileges, Paul records five failures (vv.6-10).
(1) Their iniquity (v.6): they lusted "after evil things". The reference is to Numbers 11.4-6: "the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes". The misery of Egypt was forgotten; they only remembered the rich variety of fare that Egypt provided to satisfy carnal appetites.
(2) Their idolatry (v.7): "Neither be ye idolaters as were some of them". This alludes to Exodus 32.6 where they made a god, before which they played. What a contrast to Hebrews 12.19 and a God before whom they trembled.
(3) Their immorality (v.8): "Neither let us commit fornication as some of them committed". The reference is to Numbers 25.1-9 where they committed fornication in two ways, physically with the daughters of Moab, and spiritually in being joined to Baal-Peor.
(4) Their impunity (v.9): "Neither let us tempt Christ as some of them also tempted". This refers to Numbers 21.
(5) Their ingratitude (v.10): "Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured". The reference could be to either Numbers 14 or 16, where those initially responsible for the murmuring were visited with judgment. It is however possible that v.10 describes the general character of the people throughout the whole of the wilderness period.
Despite their privileges they were not immune to failure. Just as those things happened to the children of Israel, so similar features can be discerned at Corinth. The Corinthians had been blessed by God. Paul describes this as, for example, "in everything enriched by him, in all utterance and knowledge" (1.5); "ye come behind in no gift" (1.7); "ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1.9); "partakers of the Lords table" (10.21); "all made to drink into one Spirit" (12.13). Yet, as we read through the epistle, we learn what carnality and corruption was manifest amongst them. It happened to Israel, it happened at Corinth, it would be foolish to think that it cannot be repeated today.
The principle drawn from Israels history
Mindful of the danger, we are not to stand aloof in condemning the Israelites, but rather we are to learn from their experience (v.11). Privileges are no guarantee against exposure to temptation, a subsequent fall, and reaping in consequence the discipline of the Lord. There is, alas, always the danger of complacently thinking it can happen to others but it will not happen to me. Paul says, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (v.12). Do not be ignorant: take heed.
To be continued.