Written by: Don Carson
FIRST CORINTHIANS 10 INCLUDES several passages worthy of prolonged meditation. But today we reflect on a passage which, superficially speaking, is one of the easiest of them.
Paul tells the Corinthians that the things that happened to "our forefathers" (1 Cor. 10:1) that are recorded in Scripture "occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did" (1 Cor. 10:6). After giving some examples, the apostle again says, "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11).
(1) It is important to observe the diversity of purposes the Scriptures have. Elsewhere we learn, for instance, that the Old Testament Scriptures, or parts of them, were given to make sin appear as the awful thing it is, nothing less than trangression; to prepare the way for Christ, not only by prophetic words but also by models, patterns, and "types" that anticipated what Christ would be like; to announce the time when God would take definitive action on behalf of his people; to warn against sin and judgment; and much more. But here, the Bible provides us with examples to keep us from pursuing evil things. That means that although the Old Testament narratives doubtless offer more than "mere" moral lessons, they do not offer less. While we seek out the complex layers of inner-canonical connection, we must not overlook the moral instruction that lies on the very surface of the text.
(2) The gross sins that Paul lists by way of example--idolatry, sexual immorality, "testing" the Lord (i.e., by doubting his goodness or ability, as in Ex. 17:2), and grumbling (10:7-10)--are not unknown among contemporary believers.
(3) According to Paul, God's intention was that the writing down of these materials in Scripture was so that we should benefit from it--the "we" referring to those "on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11). Doubtless this should not be taken as an exhaustive statement of God's intention, but it is certainly meant to be a foundational one. Thus from God's perspective, the Old Testament books were not meant simply for those who read them when they were first written, but for "us" who live at this formidable moment in world history when the first installment of the promises of the ages is being experienced.
(4) Implicitly, it is all the more shocking if we who have received so much instruction and warning from ages past ignore the wealth of privilege that is ours. In our blindness we sometimes marvel at how some Old Testament figures or groups could so quickly abandon the godly heritage and covenant they received. How much worse if we do so!