Exodus 33:5 (HCSB)
5 For the Lord said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites: You are a stiff-necked people. If I went with you for a single moment, I would destroy you. Now take off your jewelry, and I will decide what to do with you.”
As the previous chapter came to a close, we saw Moses intercede on behalf of the Israelites, and God relenting from His punishment of death for all of them. And here, as Exodus 33 opens, it seems all is good again, as God commands the Israelites to resume the journey to the land He has promised them. God even announces, in Exodus 33:2, that He will send an angel ahead of them, presumably to assist.
But then things turn, and we are given the real picture. God announces that He will not be going with the Israelites in Exodus 33:3. The relationship is indeed still fractured. In fact, God twice states that the reason He will not go with the Israelites is because they are a “stiff-necked people”, and He would “destroy” them. This is a terrible turn of events. Up until now the build-up, especially through the delivering of the tabernacle blueprints, has been to God and His people coming together, the Lord dwelling among the Israelites. But now, due to the sin of the Israelites, that seems to be broken, at least for now.
If there is a bright spot here, it is this: Moses remains righteous and in relationship with God. Not only was his intercession successful, but we now read in Exodus 33:7-11 that Moses continues to speak directly with God, “face to face”. But, even though Moses remains in close relationship with God, the rest of Israel is now distant from Him. The tent of meeting that Moses constructs is “outside the camp, far away from the camp”. The Israelites now had to worship god at a distance. They had to leave the camp to go to God. There is separation. Notice the only other person mentioned that was able to stay in the tent, to remain where God was, was Joshua, Moses’ assistant who had been at the bottom of the mountain, away from the calf, not part of the separating sin of the people.
We should certainly take note of the repercussions that our sin can have: a wedge between us and God. But we should also celebrate the long-suffering of God, His mercy to endure our spite, and His continued involvement in our journey.
Lord, thank You for not wiping us out, for not wiping me out, for all the times I’ve turned my back on You. It’s certainly what I deserve, yet You are gracious. When I push You away, You remain at a distance, outside my camp, but continuing to love me and work for my best interests. Help me to remain close to You, and when I do drift, when I do slip and fall, I pray I will reach up for Your hand and help. Amen.