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A Critical Departure

Exodus 33:1a & 3-4
The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt … 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.” When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.

Are you as surprised as I am by the people’s response here in verse 4? This is really good news! Aren’t these the same pilgrims who have clamored to go back to Egypt where they had food and comforts aplenty? Haven’t they preferred to keep God at a distance, too frightened to go with Moses into the deep darkness of holiness, content—no, adamant—to gaze into the cloud of Providence from afar? These are the sort of materialistic, earthly-minded, hard-hearted people I’d expect to jump at the chance of attaining the Promised Land without God being there to constantly chaperone them.

Yet something remarkable has transpired in their hearts, and it has the potential to rewrite their story from this day onward. Maybe it was the ashen water that sobered them, or the sight of Levi’s sons killing three thousand idolaters that got them serious about their walk of faith, but the point is clear to them now that fertile lands and comfortable homes and all the milk and honey in the world is tasteless if God isn’t in the midst of it. It took Solomon a lifetime of sinful habits to realize that all is vanity without God. It took these pilgrims a golden calf and a disastrous word from Heaven to get the picture.

Friend, what are your highest ambitions today? What’s the milk and honey you’re striving after? A college education for your kids? A beach house in Massachusetts? A cabin in the mountains? Retirement? A boat? A spouse? Another child? A better job with better benefits? I wonder: what would you say if God came to you right now, held out His hand and offered you exactly what you wished for—all of it—but there was just one little condition at the bottom of the contract: “I will not go up among you”?

Would that be a delightful word to you, or the most disastrous you could imagine?