Paul, writing to the Corinthians, documents the experiences of Israel in the wilderness:
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. 9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. 10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.” (1 Cor 10:1-10)
Paul is speaking of those who passed through the sea (the Israelites) and lists specific things they did with which “God was not well pleased” (v 5):
• Idolatry (v 7)
• Fornication (v 8)
• Tempting Christ (v9)
• Murmuring (v 10)
In each of the first three cases, Paul connects that fault/sin with a specific incident:
Idolatry – While Moses was up in the mount with God, Aaron made the golden calf and said “To morrow is a feast to the LORD.” (Exo 32:5) Then it is recorded (and Paul even says he is quoting this):
“And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” (Exo 32:6)
Fornication – Israel began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab (Num 25:1) with the result that a plague killed many of them:
“And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.” (Num 25:9)
Paul is referring to this incident with the slight difference that he says 23,000 died in one day. Perhaps there was another 1000 that succumbed to the illness the next day.
Tempting Christ – The people tried God’s patience with the result that the protection against the serpents was withdrawn:
“And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” (Num 21:6)
It needs to be understood that the word “sent” (Hebrew “shalach” H7971) is often used in the sense of “to release,” “to let go” or something similar. Troy Edward’s book “The Lord Sent It” (available as a free pdf download) gives a very thorough explanation of how this works in scripture. This verse shows that God had been protecting them along the way:
“Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;” (Deut 8:15)
Note that the incident of the serpents could be included in the cases of murmuring covered below (“the people spake against God, and against Moses” – Num 21:5), however, it is clear that the people died from forces of nature already present – the serpents, not from the destroyer.
Murmuring – So far, Paul has been quite specific in the “examples” (1 Cor 10:6) he listed. In the fourth case – murmuring – it is not so easy to link that to a specific incident as murmuring happened a number of times. What we want to determine is whether Korah and his fellow murmurers could be understood to have been “destroyed of the destroyer” as mentioned in 1 Cor 10:10. We will now look at the incidents of murmuring in the wilderness and see what happened in each case.
1. Murmuring about bitterness of the water:
“And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?” (Exo 15:24)
Result: the waters were made sweet by a tree cast into them.
2. Murmuring about lack of food:
“And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:” (Exo 16:2)
Result: quail and manna were provided.
3. Murmuring about their thirst:
“And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” (Exo 17:3)
Result: Moses struck the rock and water came out.
The first three cases are the Israelites murmuring over their felt physical needs. God had promised to take care of those and so He did in each case.
4. Murmuring against Moses and Aaron and (believing the evil report from the ten spies) expressing a preference to have stayed in Egypt to die there or in the wilderness rather than go into the Promised Land:
“And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!” (Num 14:2)
Result: Those age 20 and older died not right then but over the next almost 40 years as God gave them their expressed desire allowing them to die of illness or old age in the wilderness (v27-29). Their rebellion included dissatisfaction with the leadership of Moses:
“And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” (Num 14:4)
That dissatisfaction continued and was a major factor in the next two incidents.
5. Murmuring against Moses as leader and against Aaron as priest:
“For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?” (Num 16:11)
Result: a dramatic event in which the murmurers were swallowed by the earth. The question is: were they destroyed of the destroyer or by God? We will look at that shortly.
6. Murmuring by all the congregation against Moses and Aaron charging them with killing Korah and his sympathizers:
“But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the LORD.” (Num 16:41)
The murmuring was because they thought Moses had killed Korah and others. So this incident is directly connected to the rebellion earlier in Numbers 16. The result was a plague that quickly killed a large number of the murmurers:
“Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.” (Num 16:49)
The last two passages above that deal with murmuring are a continuation of the murmuring that started with the dissatisfaction of Moses leadership in Num 14:2.
7. This was the attempt to put an end to the same murmuring through a miraculous sign and one directly related to the status of Aaron as high priest:
“And it shall come to pass, that the man’s rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you.” (Num 17:5)
The result, of course, is that Aaron’s rod budded (verse 8) as a sign to confirm Aaron’s role as high priest and end the murmuring over his status. The rod was presented as evidence to end the murmuring:
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.” (Num 17:10)
8. This verse is Moses making reference to the earlier murmurings:
“And ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because the LORD hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.” (Deut 1:27)
That is a reference to their murmuring after the report of the spies (#4 above); they feared that they were going “to fall by the sword” (Num 14:3) in war with the various nations in the land including the Amorites.
So incidents 4-6 of murmuring in the list above are all connected. They were not so much expressing their immediate physical needs as in incidents 1-3 but were displaying their lack of faith and dissatisfaction especially with leadership. They murmured in response to the report of the spies expressing their preference to have stayed in Egypt. Then their dissatisfaction only grew into further murmuring over the leadership of Moses and Aaron.
So all the incidents of murmuring in the Old Testament that resulted in people being destroyed were linked together, happened about the same time and involved the same people. Again, looking at the passage we started with, we see that Paul has provided insight into who was the real active agent in their destruction:
“Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.” (1 Cor 10:10)
Paul connected each of the first three faults listed in the passage we started with to specific incidents. There is no reason to think he was not thinking of a specific case that related to the fourth fault as well. As all the cases of murmuring resulting in death were connected to the same people and the same events it must be that Paul was saying they were destroyed by the destroyer.
So while it reads like God caused the earth to swallow Korah and his sympathizers (Num 16:21) and it reads like God sent a plague (Num 16:46), Paul is saying something quite different. In the Old Testament, we see that often God takes the blame while the New Testament gives further light exposing who was really responsible – Satan the destroyer. See further evidence that Satan is the destroyer.
We also find a common pattern in scripture in which God, when His presence or protection is neglected or even despised, will allow those who reject Him to receive the results of their choices. There are over 70 examples in scripture of this very common pattern.
Finally, we should consider the long-term effects of the story of Korah. It is quite possible that Satan has twisted our understanding in order to cause confusion over the character of God. Wouldn’t that suit His purposes – to make God seem like what Satan himself really is?