Don’t Let History Repeat Itself
Ninth after Trinity
Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (KJV)
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;
2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat;
4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.
7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.
10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.
11 Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
12 Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said Spanish philosopher, George Santayana. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant...” He wanted them and us to remember Israel’s history so we won’t let it repeat itself.
Paul can use the history of Israel to teach Christians because there is a continuity between God’s Old Testament people and God’s New Testament people - between Israel and the Church. Though almost all the members of the Corinthian church were Gentiles, Paul calls Israel “our fathers.”
God does not have two peoples, but one people. The Old Testament church was predominantly Jewish.They lived in the age of preparation for the coming of Christ. We live in the age following the coming of Christ, the age of consummation. We are the people upon whom “the ends of the world have come” (v. 10) - the age after Christ’s first coming that will end with his coming again.
There were two two things all Israel experienced that parallel two things all Christians experience.
Israel underwent a baptism. The Lord sent Moses to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt and to lead them to the Promised Land. The Lord gave them a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud to guide them.
The Egyptians regretted letting them go, and Pharaoh and his army gave chase. The Egyptians caught up to them near the Red Sea, and Israel was trapped between the Sea and the pursuing Egyptian. At that point the Lord moved the cloud behind Israel, and prevented the Egyptians from attacking.
The Lord also opened the Red Sea so that Israel crossed as if walking on dry land. When Israel had crossed and the Egyptians followed, the waters crashed over the Egyptians, destroying Pharaoh and his army.
Being under the cloud and crossing the sea was a baptism into Moses. This baptism united them to their Deliverer and Leader.
Israel also participated in a Holy Communion as the Lord miraculously provided food. Every morning six days a week a flake-like material they called Manna was on the ground. It was bread sent by God. It was “spiritual” food, not because it wasn’t real, but because it was the bread of heaven given to them by God’s special provision.
They also needed water. Twice the Lord provided miraculously causing water to come out of a rock. It was spiritual drink, as the bread was spiritual, because it was given by miracle. The Rock the water came from was Christ. St. Paul says it followed, not that a rock literally followed them, but that Christ was always with them.
Paul wanted the Corinthians and wants us to think about parallels between Israel and the church. What was true of all Israel is true of all of us. Christ has delivered us from our Egypt of sin and death and leads us to the eternal Promised Land. All of us are baptized into Christ our Savior and Lord. All of us eat and drink the spiritual bread and spiritual drink of the Lord’s Supper.
a. Many Overthrown
All Israel received baptism and spiritual food and drink, but other things were true of some of them. It turned out that God was displeased with many Israelites who were baptized and received spiritual food and drink. The proof of God’s displeasure was that many were overthrown in the wilderness. Many died under judgment and never got the Promised Land.
The warning to us is clear. We dare not think, “I am a baptized Christian, and I receive the Lord’s Supper; therefore, I will certainly be numbered with God’s people on the Last Day.” Sacraments are effective instruments of God’s conveying grace to us, but it is dangerous to rely on them, for they are not magic; they do not work automatically or inevitably.
b. Negative Examples
St. Paul says what happened to Israel are examples for to us of what to avoid - not to crave after evil things that displease God and harm our spiritual welfare.
1) Idolatry (Exodus 32). Remember the Golden calf incident. While Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law, the people demanded that Aaron make them gods, so he made a golden calf. When Moses came down from Sinai, he found the people eating, drinking, and dancing before their idol - having a drunken orgy.
Paul confronts the practice of some Corinthians who said they had the freedom to go to the pagan temples and participate in the temple feasts. Paul agrees that idols are not real and that food is food. But he wants the Corinthians to understand that behind pagan worship are demons and that to participate in idol feasts provokes God and is spiritually destructive to those who participate in them.
There is a warning also for us. Whether we join in false worship, or devote ourselves to evil desires, or give good things the place of God in our lives, idolatry destroys pure worship and harms our souls and the souls of others.
2) Fornication (Numbers 25). When Israel came near the land of Moab, the men “began to whore with the daughters of Moab.” This in turn led to Baal worship. At Sinai idolatry led to immorality; here immorality led to idolatry. Over 20,000 were killed for this sin.
The Corinthians needed to deal with immorality among them. One man had an incestous relationship with his stepmother. Some did not understand that involvement with prostitutes is against God’s will. They needed to deal with these things in their personal and congregational life.
Many are distraught because of the Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage. But standards of sexual morality eroded a long time ago, even in the church. Sex has become disconnected from marriage. While sexual immorality is common, God is not pleased. Sexual sins destroy souls and churches.
3) Testing (Numbers 21). Some of them tempted Christ, or put him to the test. They said it would have been better to have stayed and died in Egypt. They were displeased with the variety of diet, tired of not having a reliable water supply, and bored with the manna. They were saying, “Can God provide? Why doesn’t he provide better?” God sent fiery serpents among them as punishment.
Whenever we say in our hearts, “Is Christ enough? Do we need to hedge our bets about our salvation?” or “Do we need to look to other sources for our security and happiness?” we put him to the test, saying, “Are you really enough for us?”
4) Murmuring (Numbers 11:1-3, 14, 16).
Murmuring or complaining was Israel’s chronic sin. It began at the Red Sea, when they said, Did we really need to come out here to die?”
They complained about the Lord’s provision, the leaders he gave them, the hardships of the wilderness, and about the Lord himself. They suffered judgments of the Lord such as outbreaks of fire and plague. Murmuring comes from discontentment, which comes from a lack of faith, failing to trust in the Lord to be our only God, Savior, and Provider. All sins are traced to a lack of faith. Lack faith will keep us from eternal joy.
St. Paul tells us that the history of Israel is recorded for our benefit. “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: they are written for our admonition.” Paul’s admonition includes a warning and an encouragement.
The warning is, “Let him who thinketh he stands take heed lest he fall.” Paul wants to undermine false confidence. Sometimes people are indifferent to their heart health.They reason, “It couldn’t happen to me. Nobody in my family has ever had heart disease.” So they don’t pay attention to symptoms and don’t get medical care.
Paul warns those who think, “I don’t need to be concerned about my salvation or spiritual health. I have a strong faith. Temptations don’t bother me. I can endure trials. I’m not much worried about a fall.” But Paul says, “Remember Israel. Some became idolaters. Some fell into sexual sins. Some tested Christ. Some complained and murmurred. These were serious sins that revealed lack of real faith. Don’t think these things could not happen to you. No one is that strong. Strong Christians can and have fallen into all sorts of sins. Take heed.”
Paul offers strong encouragement.
Paul uses the word “temptation.” That’s one of two English words that translate one Greek word. Sometimes the word is translated “temptation” and sometimes “trial.” All temptations to sin are trials of our faith. All trials of our faith present temptations to sin.
You don’t experience any unique temptations or trials. All of them are common to man. Sometimes we are tempted to think, “My temptations are stronger than those of other Christians, My trials are worse than others’.” Not true. Not only are they common to all people, but they are trials and temptations that other Christians have endured without falling into sins or falling away from Christ.
“God is faithful.” Our confidence needs to be not in our faith but in God’s faithfulness.
One option for God is that he will not allow us to go through a trial or temptation that is too much for us. God will tailor the trial or temptation to strength of your present faith.
Another option for God is to give you a way of escape. What that means is not necessarily that God will give you a way to get away from the temptation or trial. Sometimes God will do that. But other times God will provide you with a way to escape from sin in the trial or temptation.
Paul’s point is that we are never in a position where there is no way out but to fall - no way not to fall to the temptation, no way but to fail in the trial. There is always some way to endure the trial with faith, always a way to get through the temptation without sinning.
We are going to celebrate the Holy Supper, by faith to eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord. Don’t think that participating saves you. It does not. But don’t think that because you feel your trials are too hard or you temptations too strong for you that you should stay away. The Eucharist assures us of God’s love and faithfulness and strengthens our faith so that we may stand in the grace of him who gives us strength.