By Joe Neil Clayton
When God saved Israel from bondage in Egypt, He led them in the wilderness, and provided for them there. By miracles he protected them from enemies and gave them food to sustain their lives. He spoke laws to them directly and through Moses, and commanded them to heed these laws. Jude tells us, however, that “the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.” (Jude 5). When Paul issues a similar warning to Christians, and illustrates it with a description of the sins of Israel, the accusations suggest monstrous sins, such as lust, idolatry, fornication, etc. However, we can be profitably enlightened, if we go back to the accounts of the actual events. We think that we do not need warnings against such terrible sins, but we may learn that we can easily imitate the Israelites, and receive the same condemnation.
For example, Paul says, “We should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.” (I Co. 10:6). Without knowing the details of the actual sin, we might picture in our minds all sorts of morbid and sensual sins that could have been called lust. Yet, in fact, all they were guilty of was a desire for a change of diet! In Numbers 11:4-6, Moses records that the children of Israel “lusted exceedingly” for flesh to eat (mentioned is fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic). All they had to eat was the manna God sent each day. Later, they were to say, “Our soul loaths this light bread.” (Num. 21:5). Remember that these people began this trek into the desert on a 7-day diet of unleavened bread (Ex. 12:15). Ever since, die diet had been manna. For months, or even years, they had eaten nothing else, apparently. If we had been confined to such a diet, would we have “lusted” for a change? Certainly! We cannot condemn them, yet God charged them with sin, and “smote the people with a very great plague.” (Num. 11:33). So, the enormity (i the sin is not so apparent, when we view the circumstances. Our own lack of contentment and our restlessness could easily supply fertile ground to be tempted, as they were.
Again, Paul says, “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them.” (I Co. 10: 7). The same verse identifies the incident Paul had in mind. It was the making of the Golden Calf. But, when we think of Idolatry, we identify it with heathen worship of dumb images. We protest, then, to God that we are not like the heathen. Yet, we can be guilty of the idolatrous worship of God. It is revealing to notice that the worship of the Golden Calf was in the form of a “feast to Jehovah” (Ex. 32:5). The Israelites were not worshipping false gods. Rather, they worshipped Jehovah God by their own method. It must be an easy thing to do this, since so many religious people do it. The first time we worship God in some way other than His prescribed plan, we become idolaters.
The pattern of this warning runs true in the other faults of Israel. They were guilty of fornication, Paul says. Yet, what they actually did seems to relate more closely to our concept of idolatry. We abhor the thought of Christians defiling their bodies in sensual fornication, but Moses says that the fornication of Israel was spiritual; “. . . the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab: for they called the people unto the sacrifices of their Gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods” (Num. 25:1-2). This quotation from the American Standard Version casts a different light on the action. Their fornication was like that idolatrous worship described in Lev. 20:1-5. The man today who would shrink from joining his body with a harlot might make light of the sin of “exchanging the truth of God for a lie.” (Rom. 1:25).
Paul says that the Israelites “made trial of the Lord” (I Co. 10:9). We think that we would never deliberately “make trial” of the Lord, but we might if we had suffered the same discouragement they did. Moses says, “. . . the soul of the people was much discouraged, because of the way.” (Num. 21:4). They complained to the Lord because they were footsore, perhaps. We would have to walk over the same rough wilderness ground to test our own ability to resist the temptation to complain, probably, but it is likely that if we were honest, we would admit that we are made of the same fabric.
The “murmuring” mentioned by Paul (I Co. 10: 10) refers to the reaction of the people to the report of the spies sent to Canaan (Num. 13:25-14:2). The fears confronting them exceeded those left behind. Their faith to follow the Lord was weak. Can we be guilty of this? Of course, many Christians figuratively “return to Egypt” in their hearts after beginning the journey to heaven.
We see then that the warnings of Paul were not “far-fetched.” On the contrary, they touch on sins that we are capable of doing. “Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Co. 10: 12). Our security rests on our endurance quotient. Can we survive the wilderness of mortality, so as to enter into the Canaan land of blissful immortality? We must, because the alternative is unthinkable.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 36, pp. 12-13
July 20, 1972