Who were the people Paul was describing in 1 Corinthians 10:8-10, the thousands who “fell in one day,” the masses who were killed by snakes, and others who were “destroyed of the destroyer”? These were not Moabites, Canaanites, Philistines or any of the other heathen surrounding Israel. No, Paul was speaking here of believers—people of God’s own choosing!
In the wilderness God’s people witnessed incredible miracles. They had been fed spiritual food by supernatural means and had drunk spiritual water from a rock Paul says was Christ Himself. They were well taught and well taken care of. Yet, many of these same people were consumed by God’s fiery wrath and destroyed by serpents.
The apostle tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:5 that these Israelites so displeased God that He “overthrew” them in the wilderness. The Hebrew word used here means, “He cast them out of His hand, scattering them to the ground like so much dust.”
What does this mean? The Lord was telling Israel, “I will not accept this from you. If you were innocent—if you weren’t well trained, or hadn’t received spiritual food from My hand or seen evidence of My glory—then I would deal with you. But in spite of My many blessings to you, you have chosen lusts and idols. So, now I am going to scatter you and cast you out of My hands completely.”
How could this be? Why would the Lord deal so severely with His own people after they had benefited so fully from Him? Paul tells us very clearly in verse 9 that they tempted Christ! “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted.”
What does Paul mean when he says we are not to “tempt the Lord”? He is referring to an episode in Exodus 17 when the Israelites had just experienced the miracle of manna—a white wafer containing all the nutrition they needed to sustain them. This “small, round thing” appeared on the ground in their midst every day. The people did not earn or merit this supernatural food; the Lord fed it to them by His grace alone and all they had to do was gather it up. But then they had no water. They came to a place called Marah, where the water was too bitter to drink, and once again they were in a crisis, facing yet another test.
Immediately, the people began chiding their leader, Moses, accusing him of being a heartless liar who had led them into the wilderness to destroy them. And then we see in verse 7 that “they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?”