Summary: Is it possible to exist without God’s Presence? What is it like to live with His presence?
OPEN: A couple of years ago I read a true story about a young man who had just entered into boot camp.
On the 1st morning, the unit was dragged out of bed by the drill sergeant and made to assemble outside. As is often the case in boot camp, the drill sergeant’s first objective is to instill fear in the recruits, so (true to form) this sergeant stood in front of the line of soldiers and snarled at them:
"My names’ Sergeant Jackson. Is there anyone here thinks he can whip me?"
And believe it or not… someone raised his hand!!!
The Sergeant walked right over to the 6 foot 3 inch, 280 pound private, looked him dead in the eye and with all the malice he could muster repeated “So you think you can whip me, soldier?”
"Yes, sir. I do," the private replied.
The sergeant grabbed him by the arm and led him out in front of the group. "Men," he said, "this is my new assistant… Now, is there anyone here who thinks he can whip both of us?"
APPLY: One of the major lessons we learn from Scripture is that God is the biggest and most powerful being in the universe, and with Him standing by our side, there is no one who can ever “whip us.”
That’s what Israel had learned over the 3 months they had spent in God’s presence.
For 3 months, they had followed God as He led them out of slavery and through the Red Sea. They’d followed His pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night as He’d led them to here to Mt. Sinai. And there at the Mt. they’d seen His power and majesty as He’d come down with fire, lightning and earth shaking beneath their feet.
And at the Mountain - God asked His people to make a decision.
He’d already shown His power and majesty with all the miracle He’d already done.
And at the same time He had shown His love and protection for them as a people…
… but now, it was decision time.
* Did they want Him for their God?
* Were they willing to take a risk on Him as their God?
And they SAID yes…
But then, when Moses went to the top of mountain for a few days recieving the 10 commandments and everything changed. Moses hadn’t been gone much more than a month or so when the people decided to rethink their decision. They were suffering from “buyer’s remorse.”
Frankly, they were tired of following a God they couldn’t see.
They were tired of following a God without knowing exactly where He was taking them.
They wanted a God that would do things the way they want things done
They wanted a God that they could be comfortable with
They wanted a God that they could fashion to their way of thinking…
So they made a god after their own liking. They took some of their jewelry and they fashioned a golden calf. And guess what they called it? They called it Jehovah.
And they bowed down and they worshipped it.
As you can imagine, neither God nor Moses was real excited about this development. Moses comes down from the mountain hears the people engaging in pagan worship and maybe a few other activities associated with that type of thing.
God’s ticked, Moses is ticked.
Moses takes the tablets of God’s law that he had just received… throws them to the ground… and dashes them to pieces. Then he goes down, grinds up the calf, puts it in the water supply and tells the people to drink. He rebukes Aaron (who made the calf at the people’s request) and he deals harshly with the people who refuse to repent…
But God’s not satisfied.
Even this does not appease His anger and frustration with these rebellious people.
And that brings us to our passage this morning.
God tells the Israelites He’ll give them what He’s promised.
He’ll send an angel ahead of them to lead them into the promised land.
But He’s not going to go with them.
He’d made a promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob… and He was going to make good on it… but He wasn’t going to go with them because if He did He’d likely kill them on the way because of their stiff-necked and disobedient hearts.
But then God gives the Israelites a glimmer of hope
“… the LORD had said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.’" Exodus 33:5
God hasn’t decided yet what to do with them. There’s still hope He might change His mind. So when He commands them to take off their ornaments, do you think that the people would do what God asked? You better believe it. They couldn’t get their rings, necklaces, and bracelets off fast enough.