First Corinthians 10--Communion, part 1
May 24, 2017
Having established that there is always a “way of escape” when a person is tested, Paul enlarges upon the example of testing from 1 Corinthians 10:7, where he says,
7 And do not be idolaters, as some of them were: as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.”
Virtually all tests revolve around idolatry of some sort. Idolatry is a soulish desire that is stronger than the desire of one’s spirit, or spiritual man. So Paul concludes his remarks about testing (or temptation) by saying in 1 Corinthians 10:14, “Therefore, my brethren, flee from idolatry.”
This verse transitions us into a discussion of communion and how idolatry can affect it. Many idolatrous Israelites partook of communion with the Moabites in Numbers 25:1-3,
1 While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry with Israel.
Peor means “open wide, open mouth, gap.” Baal-Peor means “Lord of the Opening.” It was the name of a mountain in Moab in the Abarim mountain range, not far from Pisgah (Numbers 23:28), no doubt named in honor of the god of the Moabites. Perhaps the Moabites had a shrine in a gap or open space in the mountain of Peor. The meaning of the name Peor apparently was derived from their practice of opening up their mouth to perform oral sex or opening their clothing to expose themselves during festivals. The Jewish Encyclopedia online says,
“The worship of this idol consisted in exposing that part of the body which all persons usually take the utmost care to conceal. It is related that on one occasion a strange ruler came to the place where Peor was worshiped, to sacrifice to him; but when he heard of this silly practice, he caused his soldiers to attack and kill the worshipers of the god (Sifre, Num. 131; Sanh. 106a).”
Baal-Peor worship focused upon sex and marriage. Another source says:
“Another name for Baal-Peor is Belphegor who was depicted either as a beautiful naked woman or a bearded demon with open mouth, horns, and sharply pointed nails (the open mouth being an indicator of the sexual rites used to worship him). St. Jerome reported that statues of Baal-Peor he encountered in Syria depicted the god with a phallus in his mouth.
“Legend has it that Satan sent Belphegor from Hell to validate a rumor that people were experiencing marital happiness on earth. Belphegor was able to report back that the rumor was baseless. In this depiction, Belphegor (Baal-Peor) is seen as an adversary against happy marriages.”
On Balaam’s advice, the Moabites had invited the Israelites to join them in a religious festival. When many Israelites joined them and participated in their sexual rites, it exposed the idols of their hearts. This became Paul’s main example of idolatry that was to be avoided, and Paul also used this example to launch his discussion about communion in the church.
1 Corinthians 10:15 begins with a statement of confidence:
15 I speak as to wise men, you judge what I say.
Paul felt it necessary to let them know that he was confident in their wisdom about communion, on account of his previous scolding over their lack of judicial wisdom in 1 Corinthians 6:5,
5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brothers?
In his introduction to communion, Paul seems confident that the church of Corinth—or at least the elders, regardless of their faction—understood the principles on which communion is based.
The Cup of Blessing
Paul begins in 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17,
16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
The cup of blessing was traditionally the first of four cups of wine that were consumed at the Passover celebration. The four cups are:
1. The cup of blessing
2. The cup of plagues
3. The cup of redemption
4. The cup of praise
These four cups originated from Exodus 6:6,7, where four words stand out:
6 Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver [natsal, “rescue”] you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7 Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
God blessed Israel by bringing them out of Egypt. The plagues of the second cup referred to their manner of deliverance. God also redeemed Israel and then took them as His people.
The Fourth Cup (Praise)
At the last supper when Jesus instituted communion at the time of Passover, He drank only three cups of wine with the disciples, saving the last one for a later time. Matthew 26:29 says,
29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.
That fourth cup was the cup of praise, commemorating how God promised to “take you for My people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7). So why did Jesus postpone this cup? Was He not taking the disciples as His people?
The concept of being God’s people is more than just a designation of fleshly people of the nation of Israel. God seemed to take them as His people at Mount Horeb when they vowed obedience to Him, for we read in Exodus 19:5, 6,
5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…
Most people assume that this was when the Israelites became God’s people. However, God did not say that they would be His people if they vowed to obey Him. A vow is only as good as one’s ability to fulfill it. No, being His people was conditioned upon their actual obedience and keeping His covenant. Did any of them do this? Not in the ultimate sense that would satisfy the perfect standard of a righteous God.
Hence, forty years later God made a second covenant with them (Deuteronomy 29:1), in which God Himself took an oath to do whatever was necessary to make them His people. He told Moses to gather all the people before Him (including aliens), and we read in Deuteronomy 29:12, 13,
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into HIS OATH which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This second covenant on the plains of Moab differed from the first covenant that was made at the base of Mount Horeb. The first was man’s vow to God; the second was God’s vow to man. The first covenant could make Israel God’s people only if they were truly obedient. But that covenant did not work, because “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).
So God made a second covenant—one that was sure to work, because it was based upon God’s ability to keep His vow, not upon man’s ability to keep vows. This second covenant, Moses said, was like that which had been made previously “to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” God had made promises and vows to them as well.
God’s vow to Abraham was that he would be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). Acts 3:25, 26 interprets “blessing” to mean that God will turn them from their wicked ways. Hence, God vowed that Abraham’s “seed” was to bring about worldwide repentance, and God took personal responsibility (by His oath) to ensure that this will indeed take place.
So we find that God included non-Israelite aliens in His great oath, the multitude that had come out of Egypt with the blood-line Israelites (Exodus 12:38). The worldwide scope of blessing that was promised to Abraham was restated and defined more specifically in Deuteronomy 29:14, 15,
14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.
God’s covenant and oath, then, was being made with the whole earth, or all families and nations. For this reason, the fourth cup (of praise) was postponed to the time of the great reunion when Jesus drinks it with His people in the Kingdom. That cup prophesied of the day when God would fulfill His oath, the New Covenant in His blood, whereby He promised to turn all men to Himself, to make them His people, and to be their God.
In order to accomplish this, He must perfect them all. Even if all men vowed obedience and proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ, this would only accomplish good intentions on the order of Israel’s vow at Mount Horeb. Such vows of men do not actually make them God’s people, at least not in the fullest sense of God’s ultimate purpose.
The cup of praise is fulfilled only when men truly praise Him. But praise that is tainted by idols in the heart and imperfect motives and behavior can never satisfy God, nor can it fulfill God’s intent and purpose for all nations. Praise is fully acceptable to God only when it is a “sacrifice” offered with a pure heart—that is, from one who has been transformed fully into the image of Christ. God will not cease His work until every man who has ever lived praises Him fully. Because God has not yet reached that goal (except insofar as it is a divine certainty), Jesus set aside the fourth cup until a future day.
In essence, the four cups of wine in the original communion prophesied of the divine plan, beginning with our deliverance from the house of bondage to the day when all things are under the feet of Christ and all are restored to Him. Yet because the divine plan has yet to be completed, we have partaken of a partial communion during the Age of Pentecost.
This is part 47 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.