Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For 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.'” 6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb. Exodus 33:1-6
The Lord wouldn’t go directly with the Israelites but instead sent an angel to go before them. He rebuked them strongly for what they had done, and wanted them out of His sight. We do know, however, that God’s presence never left them because He is omnipresent.
An analogy might be if your child were to obstinately run off at a fair or carnival. You know exactly where he is at all times but you’re just far enough away to make the child think hard about what he had done. What will the child do? Read further.
Verse 5 would be better translated “Humble yourself before me and let me see your penitent heart.” In our illustration above, the child might just sit down right where he is and cry loudly for his parents. His crying is a humbling experience (on top of being afraid, lonely, and terrified).
(Obviously the analogy breaks down in today’s society where you really wouldn’t want to leave your child out of your sight in a large gathering like that).
What would it take for the Israelites to humble themselves before the Lord?
What does it take for us to be humble before the Lord?
Sometimes we get so full of ourselves that it’s difficult to humble ourselves. We think, like Mac Davis used to sing, “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way…”
The Israelites were about to learn humility the hard way.