The apostle Paul, in I Corinthians chapter 10, outlines one of the purposes of Israel’s travails in the Old Testament; they are examples of sin and unfaithfulness for New Testament saints to avoid. After summarizing their wilderness journey, Paul writes concerning the children of Israel, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Cor 10:6-11).
Paul begins and ends this passage with the reminder that Israel’s sins instruct us in what not to do. In between, Paul lists Israel’s craving evil things, idolatry, immorality, trying the Lord, and complaining as examples to learn from and avoid.
Now you may recall that we started these Old Testament posts as an offshoot of our parenting discussion and I would like to return to the topic here. In our family, we found these Old Testament stories of warning to be very powerful in teaching our children about the attitudes and actions that displease the Lord.
For example, here is a story we read and discussed on more than one occasion with our children. It is a story about complaining, and the lesson begins in Numbers chapter 11 with, “And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’ ” (Num 11:4). The people then reminisce about the days of free fish in Egypt. But here in the wilderness, their appetite is literally “dried up” since “there is nothing at all to look at except this manna” (Num 11:6).
To fast forward the story, Moses appeals to the Lord on behalf of the people’s desire for meat. The Lord responds that He will give them meat every day for a month. In fact, God promises to send so much meat that “it will come out of your nostrils and become loathsome to you because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have complained before Him saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ ” (Num 11:20). As Moses contemplates where this much meat will come from, God sends a wind from the sea. Upon the wind are enough quail to cover the camp three feet deep in birds. And the children of Israel rush to gather up hundreds of bushel of quail (Num 11:31-32).
But in a plot twist more stark than any Hollywood ending, something strange happens when the people begin to eat. Let Moses finish the story himself, “While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague. So the name of that place was called Kibrothhatta-avah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy” (Num 11:33-34).
This story is a powerful lesson about complaining that we and our children took to heart. And it is one of many stories of warning for our benefit in the Old Testament. But as we share these lessons with our kids we need to remember an important balance. As New Testament believers, we are not destined to follow Israel’s example. We are not doomed to repeat their mistakes. Having been set free from the power of sin by the provisions of the new covenant, Israel’s folly is not our destiny. Albeit, we can choose to act like we are doomed to failure, but that would be ignoring what our Savior has done in us!
Paul says it this way as he ends his passage on Israel’s example with, “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” (I Cor 10:13). The promise of the new covenant is victory over sin. So while we sound, use, and explain these Old Testament warnings about sin, we also teach our believing children about who they are in Christ and the promise of victory that is theirs.
This is how we use Old Testament warnings without falling into a “parenting with fear” mentality that we have written about here. By the promise of who we are in Christ, the promise of power over sin, we can overcome Israel’s example. Teaching our children these two great truths together – the example of the sins of Israel to avoid and the power for good inside you by God’s Spirit – brings a balance into your parenting that will serve you and your children well. It is deeply hopeful, positive, empowering, and Christ honoring!