Learning By Example—1 Corinthians 10:1-11


Levi Durfey




We all learn from both good and bad examples. What we learn—well, that all depends—but no one can deny the power of an example.


[At an] annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Atlanta, [thousands of] doctors, nurses, and researchers came together to discuss, among other things, the importance a low-fat diet plays in keeping our hearts healthy.


Yet during mealtimes, they consumed fat-filled fast food, such as bacon cheeseburgers and fries, at about the same rate as people from other conventions. When one cardiologist was asked whether or not his partaking in high-fat meals set a bad example, he replied, “Not me; I took my name tag off. 


(Stephen Nordbye, “Always an Example,” PreachingToday.com, qtd in Craig Brian Larson…, 1001 Illustrations That Connect, [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008], 155–156)


In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul points to the bad example of the Israelites and warns us not to follow them into their sins. He starts by showing us that they had every blessing they could need from God…




1 Corinthians 10:1 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; 


This Is Instruction For Us


First, notice the phrase, “our fathers.” It refers back to the Israelites in the days of the Exodus. Here’s the thing though: most of the Corinthian church was Gentile, not Jewish. 


The Israelites of the Old Testament were not their “fathers” in the sense of being their physical ancestors, but they were their spiritual ancestors.


This is an important point to pick up on. The people of the Old Testament are our spiritual ancestors as much as any Jew’s spiritual ancestors, and as such, we have something to learn from them. 


In verse six, Paul says, “Now these things were our examples.” And in Romans 15, we read:


4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4)


What can we learn from the Israelite “fathers” from long ago? Mark your place here in 1 Corinthians, because we are going to be running to the Old Testament a lot. First, we can learn from the blessings that God gave them:


Blessing: Baptized Into The Family Of God


The phrase in verse one, “how that all our fathers were under the cloud,” refers to the great pillar of cloud that the Lord used to lead Israel from Egypt:


21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: (Exodus 13:21)


“all passed through the sea” refers, of course, to the parting of the Rea Sea so that Israel could escape the armies of Egypt.


21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. (Exodus 14:21–22)


1 Corinthians 10:2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 


What does it mean that they were “baptized unto Moses”? It’s not a literal baptism, but a figurative one. It means that they became followers of Moses, and so doing, they became part of the Old Covenant—the family of God.


In the New Testament, every believer is spiritually baptized the very moment they believe in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 12:13).


Just as the Israelites became part of God’s family through Moses, so we today become part of God’s family through Christ.


Blessing: Spiritual Food And Drink


1 Corinthians 10:3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 


The first thing Israel complained about in the wilderness was not having food to eat. So God gave them manna to eat. 


Why is it called “spiritual meat”? Because it came, every day but the Sabbath day, from heaven. Asaph in Psalm 78 says:


23 Though he had commanded the clouds from above, And opened the doors of heaven, 24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, And had given them of the corn of heaven. 25 Man did eat angels’ food: He sent them meat to the full. (Psalm 78:23–25)


God fed them in the wilderness. He provided for them, and he provides for us today. Not only do we have physical provisions in abundance, we have a much more important provision from God—his Word as our spiritual food. 


That was the lesson the Israelites needed to learn—Moses told them:


3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deuteronomy 8:3)


Jesus would later quote that very verse to fight off Satan’s temptation. The next time we feel the urge to complain about what we don’t have, we ought to go read our Bible and get fed with what we really need—God’s word.


Not only were they fed with food, they were also given water to drink:


1 Corinthians 10:4a And did all drink the same spiritual drink: 


On two occasions during their wandering in the wilderness, Israel drank water that came from a rock. 


At Rephidim:



6 Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. (Exodus 17:6)


And at Kadesh/Meribah:


11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. (Numbers 20:11)


If that weren’t amazing enough, Paul says…


1 Corinthians 10:4b for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 


Whoa there! They drank of a “spiritual Rock” that was following them around? 


Ancient Jewish writers made up a story that said that rock—a real, literal rock—did follow the Israelites around in the wilderness. It was their traveling water fountain. How did it move? Did it have legs or wheels or did it just float around? 


At any rate, Paul doesn’t approve of that story, he says, “that Rock was Christ.” How is that possible? This is figurative language—Christ is not a literal rock that followed them around. 


Jesus Christ is God himself (Colossians 1:15-17). So Christ was there in the desert with the Israelites because he is God and he is everywhere.


In the New Testament, it’s revealed to us that Christ is the source of salvation that any person who believes can drink from:


14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)


Have you drank of the water that Jesus’ offers? Have you placed your trust in him for your salvation? Have you become part of the family of God?


Despite all the blessings given to the Israelites in the wilderness, they were not true to God. We’ve seen Israel’s blessings, now let us learn from…




In the last four verses, the word “all” appears five times. They were all under the cloud, they all passed through the sea, they were all baptized into Moses, they all ate the same spiritual meat and they all drank the same spiritual drink. 


In short, they all had the same advantages and blessings from God…


1 Corinthians 10:5 But with many of them God was not well pleased (εὐδόκησεν, VAAI3S, εὐδοκέω, was not satisfied): for they were overthrown (κατεστρώθησαν, VAPI3P, καταστρώννυμι, they were laid low, killed) in the wilderness. 


Despite having all those blessings from God, many of them disobeyed God over and over again. 


Paul warns Christians in verse six:


1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things were our examples (τύποι, NNPM, τύπος), to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.


What “evil things” should we watch out lusting after?


1) The Evil Of Idolatry


1 Corinthians 10:7 [1] Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written [in Exodus 32:6], The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 


In the previous chapters, we saw that there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been used in a pagan temple sacrifice. That’s not committing idolatry, it’s recognizing God’s good gifts.


However, what the Israelites did was commit idolatry:


4 And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 5 And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD. 6 And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:4–6)


Notice that they didn’t totally forget about the Lord, instead they mixed him in with other gods. That’s the kind of idolatry that Christians are prone to do. 


None of us would totally deny our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. But we do mix him in with our other gods—materialism, fame, self-centeredness, pride, and so on. What did Jesus say about doing that?


24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)


How do you know if you have idols that you worship? If you examine idolatry in the Bible, you’ll discover that an idol wants your attention, your obedience, your allegiance, and your sacrifice. 


You can test whether or not something is an idol by seeing if it is taking and consuming your attention, your obedience, your allegiance, and your sacrifice. 


Take work, for example. Is work your idol? Run it through the the test.


  • First, it’s going to take your attention. You’ll think about work all the time.


  • Second, it takes your obedience. You rise early to go to work…you’ll stay late.


  • Third, it takes your allegiance. When others say that you work too much, you deny it and call them lazy goof-offs.


  • Fourth, it takes your sacrifice. You let your marriage go down the drain. You miss out on your kids during their growing up.


Attention, obedience, allegiance, and sacrifice. That’s what your idols take and consume. That’s how you can tell what your idols are. 


Your idol might be your it might be your hobby that consumes you; your ideas about how the church should be run; it might be a lust for food; it might be the inappropriate relationship you are in or a sin that you can’t let go. 


Because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t have idols. What are they?


2) The Evil Of Fornication


1 Corinthians 10:8 [2] Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. 


This event is described in Numbers 25: Israel had played the harlot with the daughters of Moab. They worshipped Moab’s gods, so God sent a plague that killed thousands of Israelites.


Christians think that they can sleep together before marriage because, “Culture has changed” or “We really love one another.” But folks, God doesn’t change and he defines what true love is.


When we commit fornication with someone, we place a relationship with that person ahead of our relationship with God—that is the very definition of idolatry. We are saying to God, “I care about this person more than I care about you.”


Heed what we read in the New Testament, “Flee fornication” (1 Corinthians 6:18).


3) The Evil Of Testing God


1 Corinthians 10:9 [3] Neither let us tempt [put to the test] Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. 


You would think that someone released from slavery would be grateful to the one who rescued them. 


But that was not the case with the Israelites after being led out of captivity in Egypt:


5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died (Numbers 21:5-6).


Christians can also test God by pushing the boundaries of what they think they can do and get away with. Aren’t we always like that? How many parents have had the following happen?


Toddler: Walks towards the stairs to the basement.

Mother: “No. Don’t go there.”

Toddler: Stops, looks at mother, looks at stairs and takes one more step.

Mother: “No.”

Toddler: Locks his eyes with mother, giggles, and takes one more step.


What’s the toddler doing? He is pushing the boundaries and by doing so, he is testing his mother.


The Corinthian Christians were pushing their freedom in Christ to the limit—seeing how much they could get away with. Later we will learn that some of the Corinthians had passed the limits and, as a result, had died (1 Corinthians 11:30).


Many Christians have a mindset that says, “Do as much as you think you can get away with.” Then, as long as nothing bad immediately happens, they think that God approves. But that doesn’t mean that God approves.


Sometimes God just keeps letting out more rope, but the time will come. Consequences eventually catch up with you and, after they do, all you’ll be able to do is look back with regret.


Adopt a different mindset—obey God as much as you can and live your life as close to him as possible. Don’t try to test the Lord. I heard someone say, “Christian maturity is not to be expressed in how close we can come to evil without being harmed—it is expressed in staying away.”


4) The Evil Of Mumuring


1 Corinthians 10:10 [4] Neither murmur (γογγύζετε, VPAM2P, γογγύζω, grumble, speak secretly) ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. 


Israel’s murmuring—complaining—is recorded several times in the Bible. We’ve already seen how they complained about a lack of food, but they complained about other things as well.


On one occasion, Korah and some other men complained that Moses was hogging the leadership role—they wanted a share in the leadership. 


The Lord punished them for complaining against the leader he had chosen:


32 And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. 33 They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. (Numbers 16:32–33)


If you think that was harsh of God to do, well, so did the Israelites:


41 But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD (Numbers 16:41).


And as a result of that complaining, 


49 Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah. 50 And Aaron returned unto Moses unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the plague was stayed. (Numbers 16:49-50)


What’s the point here? It’s that God takes complaining among his people very seriously. It’s not a minor sin to him. Even the best church has complainers in it. The church at Philippi was Paul’s joy and crown, yet he had to remind them:


14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; (Philippians 2:14–15)


What’s wrong with murmuring and complaining? Many things, here’s a few for you to ponder:


  • Complaining reveals sin and selfishness in our hearts. 
  • Complaining takes after Satan who also complained against God. 
  • Complaining does not bring joy to our hearts; it makes us bitter and angry.


So we are presented here with the example of Israel. What are we to do with it? We are to…




1 Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.


1) First, learn, that as a Christian, your sins are forgiven. But that does not mean that sin is not serious any longer. God takes all of our sins seriously. 


He does discipline us for our sins today, because he loves us and knows that sin does not do anything good for us (Hebrews 12:5-11).


The lesson that we learn from the Israelites is don’t push God to discipline you before you stop your sin—by then it may be too late.


2) Learn, second, to appreciate the blessings that God gives us. 


Remember, the greatest blessing is the rock that we have in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the water of salvation—have you drank of that water today?

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