Most of the time, as we look through the Bible and study its characters, we look for the good in each. We learn leadership skills from Moses and Joshua, we see that God’s hand is in all that happened to Joseph so admire his lack of bitterness. And we can hardly believe the patience and perseverance of Noah, who worked on an ark for over 100 years. And that’s the right way to approach the Bible – we look for the good and seek to apply those characteristics to our lives.
There is an exception, though. In the book of Numbers, the children of Israel were wandering because of their disobedience – they couldn’t enter in to the Promised Land until all of the generation who disobeyed died. If we used our normal interpretive journey – finding their redeeming characteristics and working to apply those – we’d be doing it wrong. First Corinthians tells us how the Apostle Paul wanted us to look at this Old Testament time period. “For I (Paul) do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all 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 drinking from a spiritual rock with followed them; and the rock was Christ.”
These verses take the reader’s mind to the context of the wandering period in the books of Exodus and Numbers. The children of Israel were accompanied by a pillar of cloud during the day, they passed through the Red Sea, followed Moses, ate manna every day and, in the book of Numbers, God made water come from a rock for them when they were thirsty. So to get in context, our minds go to the wandering period and we automatically get ready to find the redeeming qualities of the wanderers. But First Corinthians goes on, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased, for they were laid low in the wilderness.” Oh! Well, if God was NOT well-pleased with them, then we have a clue that our interpretive approach is not to emulate them, but to learn from their mistakes: we’re to use them as examples of what not to do!
1 Corinthians 10: 6, “Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and stood up to play.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (emphasis added).
The children of Israel of this period craved evil things, they were idolaters, they acted immorally, they tried the Lord, and they grumbled. We will be studying the book of Numbers this quarter, and we’ll see in detail the instances of these negative examples. Our focus will be to learn as much as we can from the wandering children of Israel, follow the instructions of 1 Corinthians 10 regarding them, and learn what not to do.