From the Word
1 I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same supernatural food 4 and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless with most of them God was not pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things are warnings for us, not to desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to dance.” 8 We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.
1 Corinthians 10:1–11, RSV
In Numbers, chapter 21st, we read that after the people had journeyed forty years in the wilderness and God had brought them through all their difficulties and given them victory over their enemies, as they drew near to the promised land, they became dissatisfied and impatient. They were setting out to go around the land of the Edomites, who refused them a passage through their country, when they began to murmur against God and Moses for leading them out of Egypt. Thereupon God sent among them fiery serpents and they were bitten, a multitude of the people perishing.
Complaining against God is here called tempting him. Men set themselves against the Word of God and blaspheme, as if God and his Word were utterly insignificant, because his disposing is not as they desire. Properly speaking it is tempting God when we not only disbelieve him, but oppose him, refusing to accept what he says as true and desiring that our own wisdom rule. Such was the conduct of the Jews, notwithstanding God’s promise to remain with them and to preserve them in trouble; and notwithstanding that he proved his care by daily providences in special blessings and strange wonders.
Paul, in speaking of how they tempted God, says, “They tempted Christ,” pointing to the fact that the eternal Son of God was from the beginning with his Church and with the people who received the promise of his coming in the form of man. They believed as we do that Christ was the Rock that followed them. That sin and blasphemy was the real meaning of their murmurings is indicated by the fact that Moses afterward, in the terrible punishment of the fiery serpents by which the people were bitten and died, erected at God’s command a brazen serpent and whoever looked upon it lived. It was a sign to them of Christ who was to be offered for the salvation of sinners. It taught the people that they had blasphemed against God, incurred his wrath and deserved punishment, and therefore in order to be saved from wrath and condemnation, they had no possible alternative but to believe again in Christ.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 342–43.