Today we are going to conclude our study of 1 Corinthians chapter 10. This one is probably the most difficult one to study. Yet, when we remember who Paul is speaking to, we can hopefully move from a posture of judgement. Too often Christians speak phrases of judgement upon the world. And, I too think this is true…I often think the world gets exactly what it asks for…Only to not like it once we get it. Sin is strangely full of beauty and common sense on the front end. It’s the backside that stinks.
But here in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, Paul isn’t writing to the world, he is writing to the church. These judgement stories are for you, not the world. But please note…God’s judgement isn’t on all his people. In the 4 examples Paul gives, these judgements are on people who said they were people of God yet lived like their surrounding world. So, I’ve been asking this question, “Are you, the Christian, acting as you are supposed to?”
Here is our key scripture passage for this series.
"For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, 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. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. But God was not pleased with most of them, for they were cut down in the wilderness. These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. So do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” And let us not be immoral, as some of them were, and twenty-three thousand died in a single day. And let us not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by snakes. And do not complain, as some of them did, and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (NET)
Here, Paul provides four “things that happened” (to followers of God) as examples for Christians to learn from. With each example Paul offers a quick summary and then the Biblical reference. I am going to give this four examples in list form, today we are going to look at example number 3.
- Don’t be idolaters - Exodus 32:1-29
- Don’t be immoral - Numbers 25:1-9
- Don’t complain about God’s provision - Numbers 21:1-9
- Don’t question God’s judgement - Numbers 16:20-50
Today is a long passage. And, it’s probably going to mess with you. But this is the example that Paul wants you to understand. It’s found in Number chapter 16. I am providing verses 1-35 and 41-50.
"Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent 2 and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. 3 They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”
4 When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. 5 Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. 6 You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers 7 and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the Lord. The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!”
8 Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! 9 Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? 10 He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. 11 It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?”
12 Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. But they said, “We will not come! 13 Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honeyto kill us in the wilderness? And now you also want to lord it over us! 14 Moreover, you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Do you want to treat these men like slaves[b]? No, we will not come!”
15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the Lord, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.”
16 Moses said to Korah, “You and all your followers are to appear before the Lord tomorrow—you and they and Aaron. 17 Each man is to take his censer and put incense in it—250 censers in all—and present it before the Lord. You and Aaron are to present your censers also.” 18 So each of them took his censer, put burning coals and incense in it, and stood with Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 19 When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the glory of the Lord appeared to the entire assembly. 20 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 21 “Separate yourselves from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.”
22 But Moses and Aaron fell facedown and cried out, “O God, the God who gives breath to all living things, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins?”
23 Then the Lord said to Moses, 24 “Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’”
25 Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 He warned the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.” 27 So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.
28 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”
31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the realm of the dead,with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!”
35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.
The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the Lord’s people,” they said.
42 But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the tent of meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared. 43 Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord said to Moses,45 “Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” And they fell facedown.
46 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the Lord; the plague has started.” 47 So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. 48 He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. 49 But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. 50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting, for the plague had stopped."
There’s a lot going on here. It is my hope to keep us focused on why we are even studying Numbers 16. Paul gives this account as an example of so that “we will not crave evil things as they did.” Before I begin, I want to give you an opportunity to discover truths from these scriptures.
1. What did Korah do that led to his destruction?
2. What was the cause of the plague at the end of this text?
There are two sinful actions that take place in this account. Let’s work on number one first.
At first glance you might think that Korah messed up when he questioned Moses leadership position. Korah did question Moses’ leadership but I don’t believe that is why God destroyed him and his followers. I think Moses rebuked Korah and God destroyed Korah because Korah wanted Moses’ position. Let’s be clear. Moses had a lot of power. But it was a position of power given to him by the one true God. And it was a position that Moses strived to honor (although he did mess up at times). Notice what Moses says, Moses became very angry and said to the Lord, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.”
Why is Moses saying this?
Because, Korah has come up against him with 250, well respected supporters, and is basically setting himself up to replace Moses. Korah wants Moses’ power.
What is Paul wanting the church to understand through this example? I don’t think it’s complicated at all. I believe Paul is saying, keep your heart in check…Have a posture of humility. This reminds me of a passage of scripture found in 1 Peter 5:6
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."
This verse is in opposition of the American dream. We are conditioned to achieve our dreams. Go after it. You can do it. But this isn’t what Peter taught. Peter said to humble yourself. But pay close attention to the context of how to humble. This isn’t lazy. This isn’t not going after it. It’s actually a very faithful posture. Notice the context. Humble yourself where? “under God’s mighty hand.” Humility isn’t an “awe shucks, God could never use me” way of thinking. Humility is being teachable. Humility is being faithful with your current position of authority. It’s okay to want a bigger position or more responsibility. But how you get it is very important. The best way to get a bigger position or more responsibility is for God to give it to you.
Here’s what I would encourage you to do. Be your most faithful in your current opportunity. And keep being your most faithful until God gives you something more. Notice the hope found in this type of humility, “that he may life you up in due time.” God has the best understanding of when you are ready. Trust him.
I’m reminded of a time when I served at Flamingo Road Church in South Florida (now Potential Church). I was on staff there for almost 10 years. Around the 7 year mark I found myself being upset that two leaders, one younger and one the same age, who had recently been hired on staff, were offered the leadership position of Elder. I couldn’t believe that they were selected above me. Didn’t the Pastor know how much better I was than them? I couldn’t understand it (I can look back now and see this as a great learning moment…but at the time I was really ticked off). Here’s the truth. I wasn’t ready to be an Elder and God knew it. It wasn’t the responsibility of Elder that I desired, it was the title, the position, the power. I can’t imagine how big my ego would have gotten if I had been given that position. Even though I was so upset, looking back, I’m so grateful that God is way smarter than I think I am!
I hope that to be encouraging to you. However, there is a strong warning here. Be very careful that you don’t try to usurp what God has put into place. Ask yourself the dangerous question, “Why do I want his/her position?” When you start using language like, “I could do it better” or “I deserve it” or even more dangerous “They don’t deserve it.” Be careful, you just might be picking a fight with the creator of the universe. Notice what Peter writes just prior to the verse I shared above, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5 (NET) The phrase “God opposes” is the same as “God goes against.” Think on this. When you get proud (not teachable because you know it better), God goes against you. What stinks the most in this…Typically when God goes against you…There are others who are close by that get wounded because of your pride.
Let’s now look at the second sin that takes place in Numbers 16. This one is found toward the end of the passage. "The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 'You have killed the Lord’s people,' they said.”
This is difficult to discern. I don’t have a clarity on how to discern what is and what isn’t God’s judgement. However, I do think I understand what is taking place. It is never in your best interest to question God’s judgement. That’s exactly what happens here. The people are ticked that God was so harsh on Korah and his friends. They come to Moses and Aaron with this complaint. But before Moses and Aaron have the opportunity to respond, God shows up and He’s brought a plague. 14,700 people die before Aaron can make an atonement for these people’s sin.
Like I said, I can’t discern this for you. I’m wrestling with this one myself. What is below is my rambling as I process Numbers 16 myself. I don’t expect it to make a lot of sense to you but I wanted you to see how I too am working out my faith. **I don’t know more than God. God sees the whole story while I only see parts. God never asks me to understand it all but to simply trust Him. I think it is very unwise to shake your fist at God because you don’t think He is just. In times of great agony, when things happen that I don’t understand, my best posture is to be facedown on the ground. Just like Moses. Just like Aaron. It isn’t my place to question God. It is my place to worship Him with all my life. If people must first fully understand God before they worship Him I fear that they will never be able to worship. If I were to only have Numbers 16 to read, and were ignorant of the rest of God’s Word, I would come to this conclusion. Sometimes, people you love and care about choose to go against God’s ways. When this happen God brings judgement. And, God’s judgement always has consequences. When this happens, all I can do is cry out to God in worship. Though he slay me I will follow.**
I hope you have enjoyed this study of 1 Corinthians chapter 10. I hope most of all that it has cause you, the Christian, to live as God desires. Remember, before God wants to use you to do something big, He first wants to do something big in you.