This passage starts with a sobering and timeless warning – a lesson that Paul wants us to remember: A person may experience the power of God, His protection, or be in His presence for decades — but may not be counted worthy of His calling.
The Israelites saw the visible and daily presence, protection and direction of God. God’s presence was a cloud by day and a cloud of fire by night — which was also their command to stay or to move (Numbers 9: 15-17). God supernaturally delivered them from the Egyptian army by parting the Red Sea and leading them through it (Exodus 14). When there was no food or water, God provided the heavenly food of manna every day (Exodus 16), and water from the rock (Exodus 17). Yet, despite this, the Lord was not pleased with most of them. The entire generation, except Caleb and Joshua, died in the wilderness; they did not enter the promised land (Numbers 14:30).
Why did this happen? Paul goes on to say, the Israelites desired evil. They were idolaters. While Moses was speaking to the Lord on Mount Sinai, the people made a golden calf and worshipped it (Exodus 32:6). They committed fornication with the Moabites, and were led astray to worship their gods — the Lord punished them with a plague which killed 24,000 (Numbers 25:1-9). They tested God by speaking against Him and His appointed leader, Moses, and were filled with impatience and doubt despite experiencing His guidance and provision. As a result, fiery serpents bit the people (Numbers 21:4-6). They grumbled against God and wanted to go back to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-4), despising the Lord.
It is false to think that we are not like the Israelites. They are an example to us, because the temptations that we face are common to Man. As the Israelites faced temptations then, we too face similar temptations now.
Are we not tempted to worship and serve money, the pursuit of wealth and the pleasures of life, instead of the things of God and His Kingdom?
Are we not tempted to compromise our holiness and sexual purity, whether we are single, dating, or married? (Yet, we know that without holiness and purity, we will not see the Lord. — Heb 12:14, Matt 5:8)
Are we not tempted to go our own way and pursue what seems good in our eyes, instead of seeking His way and following in obedience?
Are we not tempted, especially when God seems “silent” or we receive no clear direction, to become impatient and doubt His goodness?
Yet, we are not without hope. We will not be tempted beyond our ability — so God assures us that any temptation we face is divinely permitted, and the affliction is in proportion to the strength He promises to give. He will provide a way of escape — so that He will deliver us out of temptation and we will not be destroyed by it. And we may be able to endure it — so that He may not immediately lift us out of temptation, but will give us sufficient grace to endure and triumph over it. Hence this passage ends, not with fear but in hope. Because God is faithful, He is sufficient for us.