“If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 1 Corinthians 15:32 (NAS)
The Holy Spirit here in this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, moves the apostle to reference a passage from the book of Isaiah.
Although Paul typically prefaces his quoting of Scripture with “it is written” in the Corinthian letter, twice before this verse the Spirit has moved him to allude to Old Testament passages without citing them as such (1 Cor. 5:13 & 1 Cor. 15:27). Let’s do what the Spirit and the apostle were hoping the Corinthians would-consider the context of Isaiah from which Paul quoted. The original declaration by Isaiah is found in chapter twenty-two in verse thirteen. But we need a bit more context to see its meaning. “Therefore in that day the Lord GOD of hosts, called you to weeping, to wailing, to shaving the head, and to wearing sackcloth. Instead, there is gaiety and gladness, killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine: ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.’ But the LORD of hosts revealed Himself to me, ‘Surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven you until you die,’ says the Lord GOD of hosts.” (Isa. 22:12-14) Chapter twenty-two is one of the “oracle” or “burden” chapters (chaps. 13-23) and is directed towards the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It appears Isaiah began penning these chapters in the time surrounding King Ahaz’ death (C. f. Isa. 14:28, “in the year that King Ahaz died this oracle came” ) in 715 BC. If you know your history, you’ll be aware that a pretty significant event occurs in Jerusalem around 701BC. It’s the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, who attacked Jerusalem around this time but was repelled by the mighty hand of God through one angel. Most who comment on this chapter (22) believe Isaiah wrote this oracle or burden of Jerusalem shortly after that near debacle with an eye towards Jerusalem’s ultimate destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. However, if you read the accounts of this event in 2 Kings 18:13-37 and 2 Chronicles 32:1-19, some events described in the context of chapter twenty-two are similar to those that took place during the invasion of Sennacherib. Here’s a brief overview of the chapter. The inhabitants of this once boisterous and exultant city see the coming of a great army comprised of chariots, infantry and horseman from Elam and Kir (the ancient lands of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires). The city’s walls and defenses are breached and they busily get to work in an attempt to deliver themselves. Once they realize the futility of their resistance to their attackers, they essentially give up and begin partying, enjoying their last hurrah, so to speak, denying they have any future, while forgetting and forsaking the LORD and His power to deliver them from death. It is in this context which verses 12-14 which are noted above are appended. In the Assyrian siege, Hezekiah recognized the dire situation, tore his clothing, put on sackcloth demonstrating mourning, and beseeched Isaiah to pray to the LORD for their deliverance. Isaiah did and the LORD delivered them. By the LORD’s divine intervention, souls had been saved from certain death. Throughout the Old Testament, God allowed enemy forces to attack His people when they slipped into idolatry to teach them to repent and turn to Him. When they did, there was usually a miraculous delivery. Israel didn’t learn the lesson and was hauled away into captivity. Judah was given chance after chance but their attitude was essentially unrepentant up to the coming of the Babylonian forces. Paul knew that God through Christ had interceded on behalf of all mankind to deliver them from the Destroyer, Satan. Paul’s absolute conviction of a resurrection from the dead and an eternal reward in heaven is what drove him to endure harsh treatment and persecution for the sake of the gospel. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it. Like Christ did for him, Paul was willing to risk his life in the face of physical death that souls would be delivered from eternal death. The Devil has convinced most of the world there’s no hope so it’s a “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” attitude. Paul didn’t see it as a hopeless end for him and humanity; he saw an endless hope through the message of Christ raised from the dead. Paul saw the fulfillment of his purpose and that’s what we need to see. To him and to us, it’s worth whatever we get to go through because the dead will be raised. Let’s not cast aside our confidence!