When you’ve messed up badly, there is nothing more therapeutic, once the dust has settled, than getting up and getting on with life. Energy focused on moving forward, rather than wallowing in the quagmire of regret, can motivate and help recovery.
So in the aftermath of the people of Israel making and worshipping the golden calf, God urged Moses on in the task of leading the people into the promised land. Terrible as their sin had been, God had not finished with them. So mercifully, he still intended for them to fulfil their purpose.
As I read Exodus 33:1-6, I see two accounts of God’s orders in verse 3 and verse 5. It strikes me that verse 3 might be what God actually said, where verse 5 is what the people heard.
God did not accompany them in person as a punishment, but to keep them safe. I wonder if their ornaments reminded them of their guilt, which still lay heavily on them. Because the people did not really know God or understand his ways, they interpreted it as a harsh retribution that they deserved. So they missed his kindness and mercy.
They also missed something else. God was not sending them alone. He was sending an angel before them, who would perform the task of driving out their enemies for them. All that would be required of them was to move forward and take up residence in a land flowing with milk and honey! This was no avenging deity, but a Heavenly Father, caring for his wayward children, disciplining and teaching them right ways, protecting and providing for them the whole way.
The angel that would go before them could have been the same one that had already been promised in Exodus 23:20-23. One who had God’s Name in him. Was this Jesus? God’s presence in the person of his son? The One whose purpose was to bridge the gap between man and God, pay the price for sin, and make a way for man to enter in to the Promised Land?
No sin is greater than God’s love. Whatever we have done, or not done, he still wants us to fulfil all he is calling us to. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. The better we know him, the better we comprehend that he is with us and for us, whatever situation we face.