“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.” (Exodus 33:1-2)
It seems that there was a space of time in the interval between Exodus 32:35 and Exodus 33:1. We are told in the last verse of Exodus 32 that, “The Lord smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.” In short, God judged their sin. Scripture does not give us the details of what God did, but we might surmise that God sent some sort of plague upon the people. How long this took to transpire we can only speculate.
In the first verse of Chapter 35, God repeats that He will send His Angel before them to drive out the inhabitants of the land. I find it interesting that so many of the commentaries I have read regarding this passage paint the words of the Lord in a positive light. That God was promising to send His Angel before them was interpreted as a reassurance of His continued Divine guidance. But whether or not this was good news to the people receiving the promise should be considered only in the context of what kind of guidance they had been given up to this point. After all, verse 4 calls the Lord’s message to Moses here a sad word.
“The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” (Exodus 13:21-22)
Before the incident of the Golden Calf, God had always led the people by His direct Presence going with them. Now, He was declaring that His Presence would be going along ahead of them. He would go forward and accomplish His purposes, clearing the path for the Israelites, but His Presence would no longer be visible or perceptible to them. What a vast difference this would be! Consider, the entire reason for the construction of the Golden Calf and the Children of Israel’s fall into idolatry was because they wanted a more visible manifestation of the Divine Presence of God among them. Now they were being told that they would have to get along with even less than before.
“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33:3)
This is a very real consequence of sin, whether for the Hebrews in the Wilderness or for the modern Christian. Sin separates the people of God from the Presence of God. God’s holiness and righteousness compels Him to either separate Himself from sin or else judge it. He will not abide with someone who will not be cleansed from unrighteousness. God’s anger over the Golden Calf had passed, He had already judged the people for it. But what about the next time they fell into grave sin? The Lord’s proposition was that He would remain separated from the people lest He destroy more of them along the way to Canaan. Fortunately, Moses again intervened on behalf of the Israelites and God relented of withdrawing His Presence from the people.
“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God,
and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)
One thing that is greatly underemphasized in our modern doctrines is the concept that sin will break fellowship with God. We find blessed assurance in the fact that sin will not forfeit our Salvation secured by faith in Jesus Christ, but we often forget that God still withdraws His Presence from sin and that our transgressions, though forgiven in Christ, will still cause us to fall out of fellowship with the Lord. Until we bring our sins to Christ, confessing them and letting Him cleanse us, we will not enjoy the closeness with God that He desires for us to have.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?”]