IN THE WILDERNESS WITH MOSES
1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12
There is a great story about a man who was walking along the lonely beach when he suddenly hears a deep voice that says to him: DIG!
He looks around: nobody’s there: I SAID DIG!
So he starts to dig in the sand with his bare hands, and after some inches, he finds a small chest with a rusty lock.
The deep voice says: OPEN!
Okay, the man thinks, let’s open the thing. He finds a rock with which to destroy the lock, and when the chest is finally open, he sees a lot of gold coins.
The deep voice says: TO THE CASINO!
Well, the casino is only a few miles away, so the man takes the chest and walks to the casino.
The deep voice says: ROULETTE!
So he changes all the gold into a huge pile of roulette tokens and goes to one of the tables where the players gaze at him with disbelief.
The deep voice says: 27!
The man takes the whole pile and drops it at the 27. The table nearly bursts. Everybody is quiet when the croupier throws the ball.
The ball stops at 26. People gasp. The man looks at the sky. The deep voice says: OOPS!
Last week, we were in the wilderness with Abraham where God promised Abraham that he would father a great nation. But Abraham’s wife Sarah was far past her childbearing years and was barren. Abraham wondered if one day he would hear the voice from the sky say, OOPS!
This week we are with Moses and the children of Israel, as told by Paul in First Corinthians 10. Moses, you’ll remember, obeyed God when God told him to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” Now Moses and the children of Israel are in the wilderness where, amazingly, they will wander for 40 years.
Surely in these 40 years there were times when Moses thought he might hear a voice from the heavens: OOPS! He did not, of course. But 40 years is a long time to make a journey that should have taken 11 days.
In First Corinthians Paul tells Moses’ story and gives his own interpretation of that story. And the interpretation boils down to this: God was faithful to the children of Israel, but they were unfaithful to God. Paul writes, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors 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 drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did …” Paul goes on to cite such evil practices as idolatry and sexual immorality as reasons God was not pleased with the people of Israel.
God brought the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. He sustained them daily in the wilderness with manna to eat and water to drink. How did the people of Israel respond to God’s providence? By holding on to some of the unsavory practices they picked up in Egypt. God was faithful to them, but they were unfaithful to God. Paul recites this story because he sees the same thing happening in the church at Corinth. The members of that church had experienced God’s grace in their lives, but they were not living according to the standards one should expect from followers of Christ, and Paul was disturbed.
We need to remember that many of the converts at Corinth had been pagans before they met Christ. They had been slaves to the immoral culture to which they belonged. Old habits die slowly. It’s easy to slip back into unsavory ways. So, too, with the children of Israel. For 400 years they had been in Egypt. The Egyptian lifestyle had permeated their lives. Perhaps God kept them in the wilderness for 40 years hoping to purge them of their old ways. But old ways of doing things are difficult to purge.
People talk about the culture wars in our own society. And there is a war going on, but it is much broader than conservative and liberal, left and right, Red states and Blue. Think about values in our culture that are a challenge to Christians today.
First and foremost has to be the rampant materialism of our society. The children of Israel had their idols, we have our plasma TV sets. (Of course, I’m saying that because I’m envious!)
Think of the homes our parents lived in. One bathroom. Horrors. A carport, not a three car garage. How did they manage? 1200 ft.². An un-air-conditioned car. Remember when people actually drove around with their car windows open? And they had to open them manually, not with the button! It’s a wonder they survived.
I’m not complaining. I enjoy the fruits of our affluent society. But some people are paying a terrible price to keep up. Children are neglected. Why? Because Mommy and Daddy have to put in long hours to sustain their lifestyle. Marriages are under strain. What’s the greatest stressor? Not sexuality. Money. And some people are being left out altogether–especially those without health insurance.
But the greatest toll may be spiritual.
Lutheran pastor John D. Herman visited Northern Tanzania in East Africa. He was amazed at how the people he met were so hospitable, so kind, so generous, so joyful, so content when they had almost nothing.
“You Americans,” one Tanzanian pastor told him, “are rich in things. We are rich in time.”
“The love of money is the root of all evil,” wrote Paul. It would do us well to ask if nice things–high tech toys, luxury automobiles, oversized houses–have not become our modern-day idols.
Paul is also concerned about sexual immorality. That should be a concern of ours as well.
It’s difficult for the modern church to speak with clarity about the moral climate of our time. Things have changed so much, so quickly. The sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s had a profound effect.
I ran across a limerick recently, a limerick that speaks of that change:
There is an old geezer of Frimly
Who seems to remember, but dimly,
The days when persuadin’
A kiss from a maiden
Took decades of wooin’ her grimly.
Times have changed. Television is a culprit in all of this. Are any of you amazed at the type of things that are being shown on broadcast television? There are shows that are now shown during the so-called family hour from 8 to 9 PM that would have been banned in the late hours of the night just a few years ago. We have become a sex-saturated society, and the price on family life is getting higher and higher. How many of today’s divorces are the consequence of people crossing lines that were once regarded as uncross-able?
Author Tom Wolfe wrote a best-selling novel titled, I Am Charlotte Simmons. It is based on extensive research on college and university campuses looking at all aspects of college life as it is being lived today. Those who have read it say there is a lot of profanity in the book and a range of activities that Tom Wolfe claims are common on college campuses today. Some of the reports on the book’s contents sound like descriptions of the sexual excesses of the old Roman Empire.
The story is about a poor mountain girl from a small town in remote western North Carolina. She is a quiet girl, very intelligent, religious, and pretty. She wins a full scholarship to a prestigious university in the Northeast, which is full of sophisticated young men and women, many of whom are rich, smart, socially adept, and many are found to be members of fraternities and sororities that sometimes invite the worst social behaviors. At first she is treated like a country bumpkin. Her rich and snobbish roommate makes her feel pretty terrible, but it is only a matter of time before she is noticed for her intelligence and beauty. But she is naïve and falls prey to the very things her mother most feared in her moving away from home. The biggest athletic star on campus brings her into his world, a world that reveals to the reader the unseemly side of college athletics. Charlotte is enjoying her newfound status, but predictably she ends up in a very compromised situation that brings her untold shame and grief to herself and to her family.
How did she lose her way? She lost it because she is part of a culture that glorifies that which the Bible warns against. Friends, this is not prudery. This is not being out-of-touch. This is but an acknowledgment that sex is one of the most powerful drives we have, and if it is treated inappropriately–that is, if it is used in a way other than for which God designed it–it can bring much harm. Inappropriate sexual activity has destroyed many people in our society–physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It has destroyed reputations and destroyed families. Anyone who does not understand that simply has his or her head buried in the sand. And it hurts the heart of God. It hurts God to see men and women debased and distraught because they chose to disregard their faith in this one area of their lives.
I realize we have the tendency to blow sexual sins out of proportion in our culture compared to other sins such as avarice and prejudice, but it is a problem that has brought much pain to many people.
Fortunately there is hope. It is found in the grace of God.
It grieves Paul that the people of the church at Corinth are making the same mistakes as the people that Moses led through the wilderness in the Exodus. But then he adds these hopeful words, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
We often excuse our misdoings by saying that we are “only human.” And that’s true. The CEO driven by excessive greed is only being human. The husband or wife unfaithful to their marriage partner is only being human. But there’s another angle to being human and that is we are able to choose. We don’t have to give into our baser instincts. We can choose that which is right and good. If we turn to God, God will give us the ability to resist the Tempter.
This is serious business. Our very souls are at stake, as well as the influence we have on others.
Have you ever heard the name William Mulholland? Mulholland was an engineer, a man with many engineering feats to his credit. Unfortunately, history remembers him for something else beside his strengths as an engineer.
A few minutes before midnight on March 12, 1928, St. Francis Dam in San Francisquito Canyon, California, gave way and some 500 people lost their lives. Water that reached a height of 80 feet destroyed everything in its path.
The bitterly sad part of the story was that the dam had begun leaking the day before and Mulholland and others knew it, but they didn’t think it mattered. Mulholland meant no harm. The Department of Water and Power valued life is much as anyone. They just didn’t believe that the leaks they were seeing could result in the damage that occurred.
Beloved, there can be leaks in the dam that holds our society together, leaks that one day may overwhelm us. I pray they will not. Some of us are already overwhelmed. Listen, the Bible is clear on two things: there is forgiveness for the sinner and there is help for the person seeking to resist sin. God will give us the grace for both–forgiveness and restoration if we have fallen, and the ability to stay on the path of righteousness if we are being tested. Whatever your need may be, God’s grace is sufficient.
God was faithful to the people of Israel, but they were unfaithful to God. So they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. You may be wandering in the wilderness as well. There is hope, but only one hope: the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.