1 Corinthians 10:9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.
Paul is using the record of Israel in the wilderness, following the exodus from Egypt, to give a practical lesson in faith.
The incident he is referring to is in Numbers 21
Numbers 21:4 And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. 5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
38 years before, Israel had been condemned to wandering in the wilderness because they had continually ‘tempted’ God.
Numbers 14:22 Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;
To ‘tempt’ God is to try his patience and provoke him to anger with unbelief.
In Numbers 21 at the end of the wandering, having been fed with manna and provided with water for 40 years, they were finally on their way to enter the promised land. The detour around the land possessed by Edom proved discouraging, once again their faith was put to the test and found wanting.
As a consequence of their faithlessness they were bitten by serpents and many died. Moses was instructed to make a serpent of brass and set it up upon a pole. All they had to do when bitten was to look upon the serpent and they would live.
Numbers 21:9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
This was a lesson in faith.
For Christians the lesson is backed up by knowing that the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness to save the people by faith was a figure of the crucifixion of Christ.
John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The serpent is a figure of human nature which is prone to sin. We sin (in a figure are bitten by the serpent) and die.
Christ, who bore our nature with its proclivity to sin, did no sin. He had the strength of character represented by the serpent being made of brass.
If we look upon him and recognise that which is killing us (our sinful nature) then we can be saved through him.
The journey through the wilderness in which Israel’s faith was tried is presented as a parable for the trials of our lives.
Paul then is saying don’t let us try the patience and provoke Christ to anger as the Israelites had tried the patience and provoked God to anger in the wilderness.
The lesson is that we must trust in the provision of God and not ‘tempt’ Christ with unbelief in the way that Israel ‘tempted’ God.
Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
I hope you have found this helpful.