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Exodus 33:1–6

“I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people” (Ex. 33:2–3).

Disciplining the Israelites for worshiping the golden calf, the Lord, at Moses’ direction, made the people drink water filled with the pulverized idol and destroyed those who impenitently held on to their idolatry (Ex. 32:1–34). He also sent a plague on the people (Ex. 32:35). The brief mention of this illness indicates that it did not last very long; rather, it was a foretaste of greater curses for persistent covenant breaking (see Lev. 26:14–46; Deut. 28:15–68).

Coupled with God’s relenting from His announced intention to destroy Israel and start over with Moses (see Ex. 32:7–14), the aforementioned specific and localized judgments on the Israelites indicate that the Lord remained committed to His people. Today’s passage further confirms this. Not long after the golden calf incident and the associated discipline, God told the Israelites to go up from Sinai into the promised land. He reiterated His promise to send His angel before them and defeat the inhabitants of Canaan so that they could take possession of the land (Ex. 33:1–2; see Ex. 23:20–33). Thus, we see that God had no intention of utterly abandoning Israel. Still, the Israelites at this time did not hear news that was wholly good. After all, in Exodus 33:3 the Lord said that He would no longer “go up among” them. In other words, He told Israel that He would no longer be with them, close at hand and dwelling among them, as He had been from the departure from Egypt through the people’s failure at Sinai (see Ex. 13:17–22; 19:1–20; 24:1–11; 29:45–46). He would remain their God—from a distance.

We dare not underestimate how horrible this news sounded in the ears of the Israelites. The greatest promise that our Creator gave to the patriarchs of Israel was that He would be with them (Gen. 26:3; 28:15), and the great hope of God’s people in every generation has been that the Lord will never leave or forsake us (see Deut. 31:8; Heb. 13:5). Indeed, today’s passage reveals the Israelites’ dismay at the news that God would be absent from them by calling the announcement a “disastrous word” and noting their mourning and refusal to put on their “ornaments”—that is, jewelry and festive clothing (Ex. 33:4). Not putting on ornaments but donning only plain garb was the outward evidence that one was in a state of mourning, the equivalent of choosing to wear only sackcloth and ashes (see Gen. 37:34). For the rest of the wilderness journey, Exodus 33:5–6 indicates, the Israelites would wear the clothing of mourning to remember how close they came to having the Lord remove His presence from among them.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Do we treasure the presence of God among us? So many people seek the Lord merely for the good things He can give us, but Scripture is clear that the greatest thing is the Lord Himself. We must treasure Him for who He is in the fullness of His glorious character and for His presence among His people. Let us never forget the supreme blessing that God has chosen to be with those who call on His name in true faith.

for further study
  • Isaiah 43:1–7
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11

    Cleansing the Camp of Israel

    Shepherding with Administration

    Keep Reading A Reasonable Faith

    From the November 2022 Issue
    Nov 2022 Issue