For some forty days they had encamped among the mountains of Horeb. Their leader Moses had ascended the mountain into the darkness. The faithless among them began to fear the worst. As great as he was, Moses was never meant to be the one in whom the people should trust. True leaders never invest in themselves. They realize the people must put their trust in God. And fear is always the enemy of faith unless it abides in God. Then these faithless ones led the people into idolatry. While Moses is on the mountain receiving the commandments, two tables of stone written with the very finger of God, the people are at the base of the mountain breaking those same commandments!
1. No other gods – remembering the gods of Egypt they cry, make us gods, 32:1
2. No graven images – the golden calf, worshiping the creation, not the Creator, 32:4
3. Name used in vain – attributing the work of God to the calf, 32:4, 8
4. Remember the Sabbath – they rose up to play, 32:5, 25
5. Honor thy father – their father Abraham would be displeased, 32:13
And need we go on... “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10
Is it any wonder that as Moses beheld their idolatry that he broke the tables before them? It is thus that we come to the 33rd chapter.
God reminds the people that in spite of their sin He will fulfill His promise to Abraham and deliver the people to the land of promise. While men may be unfaithful God remains faithful. v. 1, 2. But God adds a stipulation. I will not go with you! v. 3. What a shocking and sobering thought! And this revelation to them is overwhelming. God has been present with them. He has been available for their every need. The very thought of His absence brings mourning. v. 4. They must feel this loss. And to further demonstrate God's displeasure Moses takes the tabernacle of meeting (A temporary one to be replaced in the next chapters.) and pitches it “without the camp.” It is not only outside the camp it is “afar off” v. 7. Sin separates us from God. “Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 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 59:1, 2. And the sooner we learn this lesson and return to “the fear of the LORD” the better off we will be. God has demonstrated His Mercy in not destroying the people and now He will demonstrate His Grace. In the ensuing passage Moses will intercede for the people. Moses knows the necessity of God's presence. He pleads with God. “ And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.” v. 15. Sin separates from God, Grace separates to God! v. 16. Oh, that we would learn this principle! If we did we would separate ourselves from that which defiles and turn to God in repentance and faith. We would demonstrate to the world the presence of God with us. “And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.” v. 17.
In these verses Moses stands as a great type of Christ. In like manner our Savior, Jesus, intercedes for us. We could not enter our promised land without Him. There is an interesting parallel found in Hebrews 13:10-14. The same phrase “without the camp” is found in verse 13, “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” Donald Grey Barnhouse pointed out, “The book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrews in order to teach the Hebrews that they had to stop being Hebrews.” This is not to say that they were to forsake their heritage. It meant that they were to cease their worship through the temple sacrifices that were the shadow of the real thing – the sacrifice of Christ. Moses went “without the camp” to commune with God and if we would commune with Him today we must go with Christ “without the camp:” in the mercy of His forgiveness and in the grace of His presence. O Magnify the LORD with me.