The saga of the golden calf ends on a tragic note as the LORD sent a plague upon the people because of their sin. However, Exodus 33 opens with a beautiful reminder that even though the Israelites had failed, God is faithful to keep His promises and that His word remains true. Therefore, even though the Israelites experienced moral failure at the base of Mount Sinai, it was time to move on and march forward into the Promised Land under the blessing of God.
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 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.’”
The Israelites’ sin lost the presence of God. The LORD would no longer go up with them. However, they did not lose the promises of God. God reaffirms His promise to them and commands them to get up and go take possession of all that He had promised them.
As I read this passage, I am further amazed at the Israelites’ forgetfulness. Here, the LORD explicitly states that He will drive out the current inhabitants of Canaan in order to give the descendants of Abraham the land He had promised. “Drive out” is a pretty strong and active phrase. The LORD wasn’t just going to subdue the peoples of the land, He wasn’t going to make them weak; He was going to actively purge the land, destroying its inhabitants so that His children, the people of His covenant, could take possession of it. From this text, it almost sounds like the Israelites wouldn’t even have to lift a finger to subdue their enemies. God would do all the work.
But did the Israelites remember and believe this promise? When they came to the edge of the Promised Land, did they march in with confidence? No. They took one look at the people living in the land God had promised them and they ran. They ran back to the wilderness and spent the next forty years walking circles in the dessert because of fear and lack of faith.
Sin has long-lasting consequences, some of which we may never realize until the end of our lives. For the Israelites, I wonder how much of the golden calf experience hindered their faith. Because the seed of doubt was planted at the foot of Mount Sinai, I wonder how much that doubt continued to grow until it paralyzed them and they could not act on the promises God had given them.
Remember, this generation of Israelites had seen God work in miraculous ways. They had seen God do signs and wonders that we can only read about. They had watched God make promises and then keep them in spectacular ways. They not only walked through the Red Sea on dry land, but they heard God speak. They actually heard the booming, audible voice of Almighty God. Yet, when it came time to possess the promises God had made hundreds of years earlier, they did not trust the LORD their God.
Sin is powerful. The consequences for it are not only deadly in some cases, but long-lasting. Even though God’s love and forgiveness reaches out and washes us when we repent, the doubt that is planted can continue to grow if we are not careful. Because sin not only separates us from God, but it deceives us and makes us believe that God’s Word may not be true, His promises may not be realized, and His will towards us may not be good.
We see this pattern from the very beginning. Adam and Eve sinned because doubt was placed in their hearts. They started to believe that maybe God was wrong and that the fruit of the tree might be good for them. So they ate and were banished from the garden and the presence of God, and their sin has afflicted us ever since.
Similarly, the children of Israel began to doubt at the foot of Mount Sinai and created an idol for themselves to worship. And even though many paid for their sins with their lives and God did forgive His people, the doubt planted at that time impacted the rest of that generation. They did not enter the Promised Land, and, because of their doubt, they would never live in God’s promise. Instead, the Israelites of the Exodus would aimlessly wander the wilderness for forty years until the entire generation died. Then their children would be raised up and return to faith in the God of Abraham and march into the land of promise.
So what can we glean from all this? What truths and applications can we make? Don’t let doubt become planted in your heart! Doubt will keep you from the promises of God; it will keep you from living the best life God has planned for you. As evidenced by the Israelites’ wanderings, living in doubt will leave us living without purpose. God’s purpose for our lives is in His promises. He wants us to go up and take possession of what He’s given us. However, if we doubt His Word and never act on what He has promised, we’ll wander in our own wilderness without purpose and direction. So be careful not to let doubt grip your heart and paralyze you from taking hold of your own promised land.
And be warned, no one is immune from sin and doubt. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the garden of Eden, yet they still sinned. The Israelites saw some of the greatest acts of God in history, they heard His voice, and ate His manna, but they also sinned and built an idol to worship. Therefore, no one is free from the deception of doubt.
So take heed and be on guard for this subtle enemy. The stakes are high and the consequences dire, so make sure your heart and mind are fixed on your Savior and His faithfulness so that you will not be tempted to believe the lies of the enemy and begin to doubt God’s promises. For God has great and wonderful things in store for you and rich promises He wants you to take hold of. So believe His Word and walk by faith into your own promised land.
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