In this chapter the Apostle reminds the Corinthians that faith and baptism are not sufficient to ensure salvation, without perseverance and obedience, using the example of the people of Israel, who were delivered from bondage in Egypt, but did not enter the land of promise. And applying this to the question under consideration in the two previous chapters, he gives his final decision as to participation in pagan sacrifices, admitting the general principal asserted by learned men, but forbidding the practice as likely to occasion scandal.
1Co 10:1 For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud: and all passed through the sea.
1Co 10:2 And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud and in the sea:
1Co 10:3 And did all eat the same spiritual food:
1Co 10:4 And all drank the same spiritual drink: (And they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ.)
He said in the last chapter, All run, but only one receives the prize; I chastise my body, lest I prove reprobate. The same idea is enforced and repeated here. All our fathers were delivered from bondage in Egypt; all were under the protection and guidance of the fiery column that led their march, a cloud by day, (Ex 13:21; Num 9:15-16), and covered them with its shadow when they rested, from the heat of the sun. All passed through the waters of the Red Sea to deliverance and freedom. This is a figure of Christian baptism. The cloud overhead represents the water of baptism, ready to descend, with the grace of the Holy Spirit. The water of the sea is the immersion in the fount of regeneration. The destruction of the Egyptians is the blotting out of sin. Estius suggests that in their passage they were not improbably sprinkled and wetted with the foam of the sea. All subsisted on the manna from the skies, which is called spiritual food because it was prepared by the hands of Angels, and tasted variously according to the palate of the consumer, but always wonderfully and deliciously; and because it was a type of Christ, the living bread who comes down from heaven, and of the Holy Eucharist, which confers in this life desires and graces miraculous and supernatural, and eternal life hereafter. And all drank of the spiritual rock, the water which flowed miraculously and supernaturally from the rock in Horeb struck by the rod of Moses (Ex 17:6), and which continued to follow them, at least for some distance, in their wandering in the desert. And as the passage of the Red Sea was a figure of Baptism, so this rock was a figure of Christ, from whose side, struck by the spear, water flowed for the refreshment of His Church.
Theodoret says: The sea was a type of our baptism; the cloud a type of the grace of the Holy Spirit; Moses, a type of the priest; his rod, a type of the cross; Israel crossing the sea, a type of those who receive baptism; the Egyptians who followed, a type of the hosts of evil spirits, pursuing, baffled, defeated; Pharaoh, a type of the devil, ruined and overthrown.
Divine grace warms and illuminates, like the fiery cloud; refreshes like the same cloud by day; supports and sustains, like the column. It gives us the fire to persevere. The fire, the loud, the column, never desert or leave us.
Cornelius a Lapide enumerates fourteen points of resemblance between the manna and the holy Eucharist.
The water from the rock follows us on our march. The grace of Christ is never wanting us. I am with you all days.
All this is true, but there is nevertheless another and further truth, which the Apostle presents in the following verses.
1Co 10:5 But with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the desert.
1Co 10:6 Now these things were done in a figure of us, that we should not covet evil things, as they also coveted.
1Co 10:7 Neither become ye idolaters, as some of them, as it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
1Co 10:8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them that committed fornication: and there fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
1Co 10:9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted and perished by the serpent.
1Co 10:10 Neither do you murmur, as some of them murmured and were destroyed by the destroyer.
5. In most of them God was not pleased. In spite of all this, two only of the whole number of the people of Israel, who came out of Egypt, and of whom there must have been at least three millions, entered the land of promise, namely, Joshua and Caleb. The proportion of the numbers is not, however, what the Apostle insists on, merely saying, the greater number. The Vulgate will bear the meaning, with many of them, God was not pleased, the proof of which was that they fell in the wilderness. Your dead bodies lie in the solitude (Num 14:32). They longed for flesh to eat instead of the manna (Num 11:4, 33-34). God sent them quails in abundance, but while they were eating, his wrath came upon them, and many died of pestilence. The place where this occurred, and the dead were buried, was called the graves of concupiscence. They worshiped the golden calf, as described in Exodus 32, and, having offered incense before it, sat down to feast, and rose to dance round the idol. Twenty-three thousand were killed by the Levites, by command of Moses, on that day. Many years afterwards they committed fornication with the daughters of Moab, on which occasion twenty-four thousand were killed (Num 25:9). The Apostle does not confuse these two histories, but the numbers being so close, it was not worth while to state the separately.
9. Neither let us tempt Christ. There is an ancient tradition that the Angel who conducted the people of Israel in the desert, was Christ, or represented Christ. The people tempted or distrusted the promises of God, but the occasion particularly referred to here is recorded in Numbers 21 when they were discouraged at the length of their route, which led them all round the land of Edom, and spoke against God and Moses, saying, Why didst thou bring us out of Egypt to die in the desert? In punishment for this fault, many were killed by fiery serpents.
10. Neither do you murmur, as some of them murmured. This probably refers to the insurrection of Core (i.e., Korah) and Dathan, and Abiron (i.e., Abiram), related in numbers 16. On this occasion, the three conspirators, and their families and households, were swallowed up by an earthquake, and two hundred and fifty men who offered incense with them, were destroyed by fire from heaven. But unhappily the great bulk of the men of Israel took their part, and murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, You have killed the Lord’s people. God’s anger then broke out in a pestilence so terrible that it would have occasioned the instant destruction of the whole nation, if the intercession of Moses and Aaron had not protected them, and which, as it was, caused the death of fourteen thousand and seven hundred.
It is obvious that all these five instances of God’s justice in ancient times, and the way they are put, are intended by the Apostle to point to the case of the Corinthians. They lusted after evil dainties, the feasts in the idol temples. They were at least in danger of being made idolaters, by taking part in such proceedings. They encouraged sin by their presence in buildings consecrated to the worship of Aphrodite. They distrusted the promises of Christ, as we shall see further on, by denying the reality of the resurrection of the body. And they murmured against the authority claimed by the Apostles, and set up rival teachers like Core, Dathan, and Abiron.
1Co 10:11 Now all these things happened to them in figure: and they are written for our correction, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
1Co 10:12 Wherefore, he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.
11. All these things happened to them in figure. Tertullian says that God, when he made Adam, thought of Christ. When he ordained the ancient law, he thought of the Church of Christ. The things are written for our reproof, in the Syriac, for our instruction or admonition, who live in the last age of the world. Saint Paul was not acquainted, anymore than we are, with the date of Christ’s return to judgment.
12. He that thinketh himself to stand, as the Hebrews stood on the seashore after their deliverance, and saw their enemies overwhelmed in the flood. Yea they fell in the wilderness