Yesterday we started to look at what it means when Paul says that the Israelites were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. This matter of baptism in verse 2 has confused a lot of people. There are those who say, “You see! They were all baptized in the sea. That’s talking about immersion.” But, they overlook the fact that it was the Egyptians who were immersed, not the Israelites. It is at this point that those who do not believe in baptism by immersion have said, “No, it says they were all baptized in the cloud and in the sea. How are you baptized with a cloud? Obviously, you are baptized when it sprinkles on you. So, it’s not talking about immersion.” Even if we do not understand exactly what baptism means here, it should be evident that this sort of foolish quibbling is not what it means.
I think the understanding of it is in the nature of this word “baptism.” It is true that in the Greek language, the word bapto means “to immerse.” From this came the word baptizo, which is where we get the word baptize in the English language. But, as is often the case in the Greek language, when you have a simple word and then you have a word that is related to it but slightly more complex, usually the more complex word involves a slight change of emphasis, or an overtone that is not present in the simpler word. The word baptizo has to do with what happens when you immerse something, but what happens is not strictly through immersion. To illustrate, what happens when you immerse a piece of white cloth in dye? You change the nature of it; you change its color. The cloth becomes identified with the color of the dye by the immersion. This is what I think is involved with this word baptizo. It involves a question of identity and the change that comes about because of that identity. Now, it may be – and Baptists would certainly argue this – that the proper and symbolic way of baptism is immersion. I think this view does teach certain, important things. But others would argue, “Well, no, there are other ways of baptizing.” They would defend sprinkling on the basis of the Old Testament forms. But in a certain sense, these are secondary matters, because what happens in our baptism is not that we are sprinkled or immersed, but rather that we are identified with Jesus Christ by our testimony or, in the case of infants, by the testimony of their parents who commit them into the hands of the Lord.
This is what Paul is talking about here. He says, “When they passed through the sea and were defended and overshadowed by the cloud, they were identified with Moses in the Exodus. From that time on they were part of a new people. In the same way, when he talks about spiritual food and spiritual drink, he is alluding to the sacraments within the Christian church. He is saying, “The point is, in the wilderness they all had the same experience and that included, in a symbolic way, participation in the communion by the spiritual food that God provided. And yet, although every one of them had that experience, some, nevertheless, fell and fell irretrievably.” This would be a case of Paul’s saying, as it says elsewhere in the New Testament, “He who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.” You are not one of the Lord’s people simply because you have been baptized. You are not one of God’s people simply because you participate in the Communion service. You are the Lord’s if you are born again, the evidence of which is seen in the way you handle the temptations that come into your life.
He illustrates this in the next paragraph, giving four examples from the early books of the Old Testament. He says in verse 7, “Do not be idolaters,” as some of the Israelites had been. He says in verse 8, “Do not commit sexual immorality,” as some of them had done. In verse 9 he says, “Do not test the Lord,” as some also had done. And in verse 10 he says, “Do not grumble,” as some of them had done. In each case, he is thinking of a particular failing of the people during those years of their wandering. We will look more closely at these particular failures tomorrow.