The Old Testament can sometimes seem obscure and difficult to understand. There are all the laws, sacrifices, and festivals in the Pentateuch that often seem quite disconnected from where and how we live, then there are some weird stories in the historical books (e.g., Judges 19 and 21), and it all culminates in the prophets who said and did some pretty difficult and strange things (consider much of Ezekiel’s ministry, including Ezk. 4:1-8; 12:1-16).
How are we to understand these things? Is there any sense to them?
In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul gives us a basic interpretive principle for reading and understanding the Old Testament after the advent of Christ. [Note: this is not the only way to understand the Old Testament, but it is certainly a significant component to comprehending it.] To understand the Old Testament, we must read it as examples for how to live to please the Lord. The lives and actions of our predecessors in the Old Testament serve to instruct and teach us. Specifically, much of what we learn from the OT is how not to live. For example,
- Do not crave evil things (v. 6). And understand that more of what we do is considered evil than we might suppose. For instance, grumbling (v. 10) is an evil that is to be avoided. And the temptation of the flesh is that we will often (always?) be tempted to desire and crave evil.
- Do not be idolators (v. 7). There is only one God and only He is worthy of our worship and desires, and He will not share His glory with another.
- Do not act immorally (v. 8). Immorality is deadly, as 23,000 in Israel discovered on one fateful day. Never trivialize or be entertained by immorality. It will kill you — heart and soul.
- Do not try (tempt) the Lord (v. 9). The Lord is serious about his Word and He gives it for our good and protection. He is merciful to withhold wrath, but do not tempt and provoke Him by flaunting sin.
- Do not grumble (v. 10). He does all things well. And when we grumble, we question His authority, wisdom, and goodness. It really is evil to complain.
Notice also that many of the historical references in these passages are based on pretty mundane and ordinary circumstances. Paul is quick to note that we must not believe ourselves to be superior to those who were pre-Christ. We, too, may fall into similar kinds of sin (vv. 11-12).
But there is also hope for us:
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (v.13)
Our temptations and trials are not unusual, but common to mankind. And God is not disinterested, but faithful — so that He will not allow temptation to enter our lives that will take us beyond the abilities He has given to us, and He will also provide a refuge of escape in each circumstance (e.g., trust and dependence on Him) so that we can endure whatever is given.
So whether it is a temptation to crave evil, or a desire for idolatry or immorality or grumbling, or anything else, we know that we need not succumb to the temptation, but we can rest in the promise of His provision. We have been given an example of how to live (and how not to live), and we have been given a hope (confidence) that God has provided for us all that we need so we can live in a way that pleases Him.