Paul’s comments on Moses and how the people “all passed through the sea and all were baptised into Moses” (1 Corinthians 10:1,2) relate to the Exodus. “For they all drank from the Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (verse 4). What does he mean?
Their baptism in the Red Sea was symbolic of the baptism to come and which the Corinthian believers had experienced. At God’s command Moses had been able to produce water from the rock (Exodus 17). This pointed forward to Christ, Jesus knew this and said, “on the last day of the feast” when he “stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37,38). These words related to his conversation with the Samaritan woman that, if she had asked, “he would have given (her) living water” (John 4:10) which he then explained, “the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (verse 14).
Paul draws a lesson from the tragic failure of the Israelites in the wilderness, a failure the Corinthians must aim to avoid. Paul writes, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (verse 6) despite the evidence of God’s care and guidance. Paul makes a particular point in verse 11, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction”. Among the things written down Paul particularly notes, as a common temptation, “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 … we must not put Christ to the test …” (verses 7-9).
Our Master sees the motives of our hearts. Near the end of today’s chapter Paul states a simple but profound principle we must all aim to keep, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (verse 31).
A final thought: a “rock” cannot literally follow, but Jesus used exactly the same phrase as Paul did when he taught, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12) and again, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). In following Christ, it means he also follows us, providing for our needs (not wants). Let us learn the lessons that were written down for our instruction.