The biblical book of Numbers may not be one of the most popular books of the Bible, but it is an important and timely one. It is the story of this book that Paul was referencing when he wrote:

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers 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, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)

Paul is talking in this passage about what happened to the nation of Israel when they were “in the wilderness.” The Hebrew title of the book of Numbers is “In the Wilderness.” In English, it is called the book of Numbers because of a verse in which God instructs Moses and Aaron to take a census. But this book is not primarily about numbers or censuses. It is about the years that Israel spent wandering in the wilderness before they entered the land that God had promised them. So, how is this relevant to us? Read what Paul said next:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:6-13)

According to Paul, this narrative of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness was written:

  • So that we might not desire evil as they did (v. 6)
  • So that we would be warned against idolatry, sexual immorality, testing God and grumbling against Him (vv. 7-10)
  • So that we would have an example to follow (v. 11)
  • To point us to Jesus (v. 4) “…and the Rock was Christ.” This phrase is a reference to the rock from which the Israelites drank in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:2-13.
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