(1) Moreover, brethren,. . . .—Better, For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant. From the strong statement of personal self-distrust with which the previous chapter concludes, the Apostle now passes on to show that Jewish history contains solemn examples of the falling-away of those who seemed to stand strong in divine favour and privilege. The same kind of dangers still beset God’s people, but they will never be greater than the strength which God will give to bear them. These thoughts are then applied to the immediate subject in hand, viz., the partaking of meat which had been used in the heathen temples. The subject is, as it were, taken up from 1 Corinthians 8:13, where an expression of personal willingness to forego a right, led the writer aside to the subject which occupies 1 Corinthians 9. Uniting 1 Corinthians 11:1, with the last verse of this chapter, the general outline of the argument is as follows:—
1 Corinthians 10:1-11. The history of the Jewish Church contains examples which ought to be warnings against self-confidence.
1 Corinthians 10:12-14. These thoughts should make the Christians distrustful of themselves, but not hopeless.
1 Corinthians 10:15-17. The unity of the Christian body with Christ, as expressed and realised in the Holy Communion, renders impossible a communion of the same body with the objects of idolatrous worship.
1 Corinthians 10:18-22. Any partaking of idolatrous feasts would involve union to such extent as would compromise, just as Israel’s partaking of sacrifical offerings involved union with the altar of Jehovah.
1Co 10:23 -1Co_11:1. An enunciation of the principles deduced from the foregoing considerations which should guide the Corinthian Christians in their partaking of meat which might have been offered to idols.
That ye should be ignorant.—The thought here is not that his readers were at all likely to be ignorant of the mere historical fact which he now recalls, and with which they were doubtless quite familiar, but that they were probably unmindful of the spiritual lessons which are to be learnt from such a grouping of the facts as the Apostle now gives, and of the striking contrast between the enjoyment of great privileges by all (five times emphatically repeated) and the apostacy of the greater part of them. The Apostle assumes their familiarity with the facts referred to, and does not feel it needful to mention that of the “all,” literally only two (Joshua and Caleb) gained the ultimate approval of Jehovah.
Our fathers.—These words need not limit the reference of this teaching to the Jewish Christians only. It would include all Christians by right of spiritual descent.
The “cloud” and the “sea” refer to the cloud that overshadowed the Israelites (Exodus 13:21, and see Numbers 14:14), and the passage through the Red Sea (Exodus 13:22; Numbers 35:8).
And that Rock was Christ.—As Christ was “God manifest in the flesh” in the New Dispensation, so God manifest in the Rock (the source of sustaining life) was the Christ of the Old Dispensation. The Jews had become familiar with the thought of God as a Rock. (See 1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 91:12; Isaiah 32:2.) Though the Jews may have recognised the Rock poetically as God, they knew not that it was, as a manifestation of God’s presence, typical of the manifestation which was yet to be given in the Incarnation. Such seems to be the force of the statement and of the word “But” which emphatically introduces it. But though they thought it only a Rock, or applied the word poetically to Jehovah, that Rock was Christ.
To the intent.—St. Paul regards everything that has happened in history as having a divine purpose of blessing for others. All this material suffering on their part will not be in vain if it teaches us the spiritual lesson which God would have us learn from it.
We should not lust after evil things.—The Apostle now sets forth the causes with which the majority of the Israelities neutralised the great advantages in which all had shared. The lusting after evil things must be taken as applying to their general conduct (evidenced especially in the circumstances mentioned in Numbers 11:4; Numbers 11:18). “As they also” directly connects the sins which the Corinthians were in danger of with the sins which led to the overthrow of the Israelites. The idolatry and eating and drinking and committing fornication all refer to kinds of sin which the Corinthians were liable to commit if they did not keep themselves perfectly distinct from the heathen. (See 1 Corinthians 6:12.)
The real meaning of the passage, however, is evident. The Israelites had, by their longing after the things left behind in Egypt, tried God so that God had asserted Himself in visiting them with punishment, and so Christians must be on their guard, with such a warning before them, not to tempt their Lord by hankering after those worldly and physical pleasures from which He by His death has delivered them. (See Numbers 21:4-6.) Some of the Corinthian Christians seemed by their conduct, as regards eating and drinking and indulging in sensuality, to long for that liberty in reference to things which they had enjoyed before conversion, instead of enjoying these spiritual blessings and feeding on the spiritual sustenance which Christ had provided for them.
Were destroyed of serpents.—Better, and were destroyed by the serpents. The article before “serpents” indicates that the reference is to a particular and well known fact.
The ends of the world.—Better, the ends of the ages (Matthew 13:39).
The word “devils” means evil spirits. The heathen world is regarded by the Christian Church as under the dominion of the Evil Spirit and his emissaries (Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12), and in reminding the Corinthians that in Israel an eater of the sacrificial meat became a partaker with the altar of God, the Apostle meant to warn them that they would, if they partook of sacrificial meats offered on an altar of devils, become a sharer with that altar and the beings to whom the altar appertained.
The word (hierothuton) here used (according to the best MSS.) for “offered to an idol” is different from the condemnatory word (eidolothuton) elsewhere used; as natural courtesy would lead a Christian at the table of a heathen to use an epithet which would not be offensive to his host. A lesson in controversy—Don’t conceal your conscientious convictions, but don’t express them in language unnecessarily painful to your opponent.
The repetition of the words “The earth is the Lord’s,” &c., in this verse is an interpolation not found in the best MSS., and tends to interrupt the thought which is carried on in 1 Corinthians 10:29.
With the last verse of this chapter we must connect the first verse of 1 Corinthians 11, “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” This is the completion of the exhortation. The Apostle refers to his own example, but only to lead his readers up to Christ as the great example of One “who pleased not Himself” (Romans 15:3). His own example is valuable inasmuch as it is the example of one who is striving to conform to the image of his Lord. With the mention of the holiest Example and the most sacred Name, the whole of this argument and exhortation reaches its natural climax and conclusion.