1 Corinthians 10:1-4

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 Paul gives a history lesson on Israel and the Exodus from Egypt. He is continuing to address the whole issue of meat sacrificed to idols that the Corinthian church is hung up over. “I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.” Paul wrote about the need to finish what God has set before us, and how dangerous it is to refuse to give up something that gets in the way of finishing. Now, he will use Israel’s experience in the Exodus from Egypt to illustrate this principle.

Paul has already established two principles related to this topic in prior chapters of his letter to the church:

  1. An idol really is nothing, and it was fine for Corinthian Christians who understood this to act according to this knowledge, in regard to themselves.
  2. For Christians love is more important than knowledge. So even though I may “know” eating meat sacrificed to an idol is all right for myself, if it causes my brother to stumble, I won’t do it, because it isn’t the loving thing to do.

He also has shown how important it is for Christians to give up their “rights.” Just as Paul gave up his “right” to be supported by his own preaching of the gospel, so some of the Corinthian Christians must sometimes give up their “right” to eat meat sacrificed to idols, based on the principle of love towards a weaker brother. He wants to have them focus on all the blessings Israel had in the Exodus from Egypt!

Paul reminds them of the cloud of Shekinah glory that overshadowed Israel throughout their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. During the day, the cloud sheltered them from the brutal desert sun, and during the night, it burned as a pillar of fire. It was a constant, ready reminder of God’s glory and presence. He also recalls how all Israel came through the Red Sea and saw God’s incredible power in holding up the walls of the sea so they could cross over on dry ground. Then they saw God send the water back to drown the Egyptian army. This was not only an amazing demonstration of God’s love and power, but also a picture of baptism – by “passing through water,” all of Israel was identified with Moses, even as by “passing through water,” a Christian is identified with Jesus Christ.

All of Israel was sustained by God’s miraculous provision of food and drink during their time in the wilderness. This was a remarkable display of God’s love and power for Israel, and a picture of the spiritual food and drink we receive at the Lord’s table. “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” Israel even had the presence of Jesus Christ with them in the wilderness! Here, in identifying the Rock that followed them, Paul builds on a tradition that said Israel was supplied with water by the same rock all through the wilderness, a rock that followed them. Some scholars question this, but the point is the same: Jesus Christ was present with Israel in the wilderness, providing for their needs miraculously.

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