In Romans 15:3, Paul quoted from Psalm 69:9 to show that Christ did not seek to please Himself. I am sure that there are some today who would balk at Paul’s use of this Psalm; perhaps there were some in his day as well. It seems that he understood the criticism because he then wrote Romans 15:4: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” The significance of this verse is that God provides to Christians the writings of The Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets for our learning, patience, comfort, and hope; the Old Testament is relevant to the life of the Christian!
Paul reiterates these thoughts in 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.” The context that 1 Corinthians 10 has in mind is the Old Testament period of wanderings, and specifically, the lessons that Christians may learn from the sins of the children of Israel during their time in the wilderness. Paul begins 1 Corinthians 10 with some familiar reminders of Israel’s identity. Just as Christians today are God’s people, so the Israelites were God’s people. He points out that they were baptized “in the cloud and in the sea” (2). They had spiritual food and drink (3-4). They drank from that rock which was Christ (4). His point is that we, in essence, are no different from them: they had a baptism; we have a baptism. They had spiritual food; we have spiritual food. They had spiritual drink; we have spiritual drink. They had Christ; we have Christ.
He then says, “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (5). Why did this happen? Paul says that they lusted after evil things (6). They were idolaters (7). They committed fornication (8). They tempted Christ (9). They murmured (10). These sins were recorded in the Old Testament, and the majority in the book of Numbers. Numbers 11:4 talks about how the children of Israel lusted after flesh to eat. Exodus 32:6 records how they committed idolatry sitting down to eat and drink, and rising up to play. Numbers 25 discusses the sin of Israel in committing fornication with the women of Moab. Numbers 21 speaks about how the children of Israel spoke against God (Paul said they tempted Christ!). Numbers 14 tells about the murmuring of Israel against God.
What is it that God wants us to learn from these things? First he wants us to learn not to sin against Him. Simply put, sin is an offense against God. Joseph would not commit fornication with the wife of Potiphar because it would be a sin against God (Gen. 39:9). In Psalm 51, when David lamented his sin with Bathsheba, he said to God, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” Isaiah tells us that when we commit sin against God, we cause a rupture in our relationship with God; it is our sins and our iniquities that separate us from God (Isa. 59:1-2). If we truly love God, then we will not behave so as to offend Him.
Second, we learn that God punishes those who commit sin. When the children of Israel lusted after flesh to eat, God sent so much quail that it made them sick (Num. 11:33). When they committed idolatry, God made them grind up the golden calf, put it into the water, and drink it (Ex. 32:20). As a punishment for committed fornication with the women of Moab, God sent a plague that killed 24,000 (Num. 25:9). In Numbers 21, the Lord sent fiery serpents among them to punish them for speaking against Him. And in Numbers 14, when the people complained about being out of Egypt, God cursed them to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Sin doesn’t just offend God; sin merits/deserves punishment. The notion that evil actions ought to be punished because they merit such is not in favor in our society today, but the Bible teaches that God punishes those who commit sin for the sole reason that the sinner deserves such punishment.
Third, God wants us to learn that we have an opportunity to be redeemed. None of the punishments that God gave to the children of Israel were punishments from which they could not recover as a nation. In each circumstance, God gave them the opportunity to begin again. He saved them from themselves (their own sins) by providing a means of escape. He told Moses to set up the bronze serpent for those who were bitten by the serpents (Num. 21:8-9). When Phinehas put to death those involved in defiling the tabernacle, God ended the plague (Num. 25:8-9). And after they were in the wilderness for forty years, Joshua led them into the land of promise (Joshua 1). Isaiah wrote regarding God’s redemptive love, “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9).