The fickle children of Israel quickly traded in the true and living God who delivered them from slavery for a golden calf formed from their own hands. Before we are too critical, let us remember the multitude of times that we substitute gods of our own making for the God who truly delivers. We all seem to prefer gods we can control over the God before whom we must bow.
Moses and God had the type of relationship where “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). May we all have this type of relationship with Him! God confided in His friend, expressing His deserved anger: “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Ex. 32:9-10).
Rather than enjoying God’s new, Moses-centered plan, Moses spoke to his Friend, reminding Him of the covenant promises that He made to the nation He called to be His own, and asked Him what the Egyptians would think of a God who delivered His people from slavery to let them perish in the desert. “And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”
The relationship between God and His rebellious people was still fractured. The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 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. 33:1-3).
God was promising the people the benefits of their deliverance from slavery with one stipulation – God, the Deliverer, would not be with them. He was offering the Hebrew people His presents, but not His presence. God would be true to His promises and give the Jewish people what He promised them, but because of their rebellious hearts, a righteous, holy God could not dwell with them.
I think many people today would love this deal. Get the blessings of God without having to be accountable to God? Enjoy the stuff without having to listen to His commands? Many would jump at the chance.
But Moses understood that this life having the stuff of God without the presence of God is really no life at all, because God does not just give us life, He IS our life. Here is Moses’ response: “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I, and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16).
Moses knew that what makes the people of God the people of God is not the blessing God gives to His people, it is having God, Himself. Do we understand this?