Examples of Disqualifying Behavior
In 1 Corinthians 10:5, 6 Paul says,
5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved.
Most of the Israelite believers in the time of Moses craved evil things, and God was not well-pleased with them. Therefore, that church was “laid low in the wilderness,” not being qualified to receive the promise of God. They were all justified by faith when they came out of Egypt, but this leaving Egypt in itself was not the promise of God. The promise of God was to enter the Promised Land.
Many today do not understand the distinction. They are content to be “saved” or “born again,” having been justified by faith. Many are given the impression that once “saved,” all they need to do is wait for the rapture or wait to die and go to heaven. Justification is their goal, and they see no point in journeying beyond the border of Egypt into new and deeper experiences with God.
Most have seen the need to cross the Red Sea (baptism), and many have even proceeded to Mount Horeb to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). But many build houses and temples in the wilderness, thinking incorrectly they have acquired the promise—or at least that they have secured it in the future. Hence, they live according to the standard that they believe is the basic minimum requirement to maintain their salvation.
Hence, many believers follow Israel’s poor example in their spiritually-immature behavior, not realizing that they will suffer the same fate as the majority of Israelites in that first church. How many of those Israelites would have left Egypt, if they had known that they would die in the wilderness without seeing the Promised Land? What about today’s believers?
Those who fail to gather daily manna will soon starve spiritually. They will remain immature. They will follow the example of the Israelites, with whom God was not well-pleased. Yes, they will be saved, but “so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). It is better to be purified and to grow to maturity in this life than to wait for the fire of the Great White Throne judgment to purify and mature us.
Idolatry and Immorality
Paul sets forth a few notable examples of Israel’s bad behavior. 1 Cor. 10:7 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.”
To “crave evil things” is to violate the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet.” In Col. 3:5 (KJV), Paul speaks of “covetousness, which is idolatry.” Many of the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, which was their most striking example of idolatry. However, the golden calf only brought to the surface the unlawful desire which was already in their hearts. The people had been too fearful to approach God when they were invited to hear the rest of the law (Exodus 20:18-21). So Moses went up the Mount by himself, spending forty days receiving the law (Exodus 24:18).
The people were impatient, thinking that no one could survive that long without food and drink. Their faith rested in Moses, not in God. So when Moses seemed to have died, they had to create other gods to replace him. So we read in Exodus 32:1,
1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Aaron then made a golden calf after the manner of the familiar gods of Egypt (Exodus 32:4). This idol was only a visible manifestation of the idol within their own hearts. It resonated with the people. Though they had come out of Egypt, Egypt had not come out of them. It took only a test of patience to subvert their faith.
Aaron then proclaimed “a feast to Yahweh” (Exodus 32:5, literal rendering). It may seem strange that Aaron and the church in that day would build a golden calf and then proclaim “a feast to Yahweh.” Looking back on it from today’s vantage point, it makes no sense, for Christians today say, “If we had lived in that day, we would not have made the same mistake.” Really? Most do not know their own hearts.
The apostle Paul certainly was concerned about this problem in the Corinthian church. Although they did not fashion a golden calf to worship, he was aware of the golden calf within the hearts of many in the church. That is why he warned the church in his letter. He worked to bring the believers to the place of spiritual maturity; but as we have already seen, Paul found it necessary to address the problem of immorality (1 Cor. 5:1). The old man (soul) still ruled in men’s lives, blinding them to the revelation of the inner spiritual man (1 Cor. 2:14).
Hence, Paul labored hard to turn the believers into overcomers, to get them to root out the mindset and immorality of “Egypt” and the heart-idolatry of the golden calf. Though Paul saw the problem quite clearly, it is plain that many in the Corinthian church were blind to it. The same is true today, for the soul is still infused with death, and human nature has not changed.
So in 1 Cor. 10:7 Paul quotes from Exodus 32:6, saying, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Exodus 32:18 mentions “the sound of singing.” When Moses returned to the camp of Israel, he broke the tables of the law and killed 3,000 people (Exodus 32:28). This ought to be contrasted with the 3,000 who were saved on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:41.
Consequences of Immorality
Israel’s idolatry resulted in the deaths of 3,000. Paul does not mention this casualty rate for idolatry. Instead, he moves quickly to a prime example of immorality in the church under Moses, a sin which had even greater consequences. Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:8,
8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.
This was a later incident, recorded in Numbers 25, where the Israelites were induced to participate in the immoral religious feast of the Moabites. Paul says that 23,000 died “in one day” by the plague. Apparently, another thousand died in the next days, for Num. 25:9 says, “And those who died by the plague were 24,000.” Moses gives us the total number of casualties, while Paul tells us how many died on the first day alone.
Many idolatrous Israelites partook of communion with the Moabites in Num. 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 (Num. 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 online Jewish Encyclopedia 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.
As a whole, the church in the Pentecostal Age, from the time of Paul to the present, has followed Israel’s example. The overcomers are few, for idolatry and immorality has again corrupted the church. Sexual relations outside of marriage is rampant and is becoming more and more acceptable.
Christians seek abortions. Homosexual behavior is now becoming accepted as “normal” and is being taught to little children in the public schools. Pedophilia is on the agenda to be legitimized, followed by bestiality. We can only hope that the baptism of fire will be sent to the church before it is fully corrupted.
Worse yet, many worship idols while believing that they are keeping a feast to Yahweh-Jesus. Those who remain blind in this way will not inherit the promise when Christ comes at the time of the first resurrection. They will remain mortal and die in the wilderness until finally they receive life at the general resurrection a thousand years later (John 5:28, 29).
Another mark of a non-overcomer is that they tempt God. Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:9,
9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.
Paul was referring to the story in Num. 21:4-6, which occurred shortly after Aaron died near the end of their wilderness journey.
4 … and the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 And the people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.” 6 And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
One would think that after 39 years in the wilderness the people would have reached some level of spiritual maturity. But this did not happen. Why? Because even though God provided them with manna, the people hated it, saying, “we loathe this miserable food.” The daily manna, the revelation of God, was not a delight to the people, for their hearts were hardened.
It is yet the same today. People go to church, but they prefer to play than to share manna. Many churches have become entertainment centers, suitable for children and babes who are yet in need of milk (Heb. 5:12-14). The desire to know God and understand His word has been lost, as many are drawn to holy entertainment that keeps them ignorant, immature, and simple minded.
In 1 Cor. 10:10 Paul gives a final example in the list of things that Israel did that disqualified them as overcomers.
10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
Israel began to murmur in Exodus 15:24, and it continued throughout the next forty years. God loves rejoicing, because it indicates that a person is satisfied and in agreement with God. To murmur and complain indicates dissatisfaction, displeasure, and disagreement. Those who remain in disagreement with God are not overcomers.
Overcomers are Amen people. They do not necessarily understand all that God is doing in their lives, but they have confidence that God knows what He is doing, and that He will work all things together for good.
If we view this distinction in terms of being children of either Sarah or Hagar—that is, children of promise or children of the flesh—we can take note that the name Hagar is related to the Hebrew word hagiyg, “a complaint,” and hagah, “to murmur.”
Paul tells us in Galatians 4 that those who adhere to the Old Covenant are children of Hagar, while New Covenant believers are children of Sarah. The children of Hagar are not inheritors of the Kingdom, nor are they “chosen,” regardless of their biological ancestry, “for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman” (Gal. 4:30).
Old Covenant believers, then, are in the category of the Israelites under Moses, who murmured and complained against both God and Moses. It takes a New Covenant understanding to change a person from a child of the flesh (fleshly birth) to a child that is begotten by the Spirit. The amount of complaining against God is a good indication of which type of believer a person is.
So Paul concludes in 1 Cor. 10:11,
11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Israel’s problem cannot be safely tucked into the Mosaic era and then pointed to as an example of an ignorant people from the past. They were not exceptions, but examples of human nature found everywhere. For this reason we must be vigilant and study these examples, so that we may learn to avoid the same mistakes.
If we refuse to study the Scriptures, it is likely that we too will fall into the same pattern as the Israelites under Moses.