December 3, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, “To your descendants I will give it.” And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.’ And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, ‘Say to the children of Israel, “You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.”’ So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb.”—Exodus 33:1–6 (NKJV)
Today’s passage is like walking through the aftermath of a spiritual disaster. It’s similar to walking around a neighborhood after a strong hurricane has passed through. Things are disheveled, out of place, maybe even upside down. Idolatry has wreaked havoc on Israel’s camp, and it’s time to start picking up the pieces. And it’s the Lord, Himself, who starts the process of lifting His people up and moving them forward by speaking a word of good news to them.
The good news is this: God’s divine plan to lead His people through the wilderness and into the land He promised to Israel’s ancestors was still on! Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the original recipients of this glorious promise from the Lord, which now transferred forward to this generation of Israelites. Despite their unfaithfulness towards Him, He would remain faithful to them. His promise would come to pass: They would eventually inherit “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
But beyond this promise, they were also given good news concerning provision. That provision came in the form of God sending His “Angel” to go before them as they made their way to the Promised Land. Most Bible scholars agree that this “Angel” is actually what is known as a “Christophany,” which is an earthly appearance of Jesus Christ prior to His incarnation. What’s happening here? The Lord is offering Himself, personally, as their provision in the wilderness. Wherever they went, they could be assured of His presence alongside them. So, Israel is now able to move forward equipped with the promise and the provision of God.
However, God also has some bad news for the children of Israel. And that bad news concerns their own sinfulness because they were still a “stiff-necked people” at heart. Why did God do this? It wasn’t to discourage but to protect them, because God knew the effect of this “bad news” would move them to mourn their condition and do something quite powerful. They strip themselves of their ornaments.
In the Hebrew, the word for ornaments carries the idea of “trappings,” and they were probably those precious items that they took with them when they plundered Egypt of its wealth. They represent a glory that isn’t good, but which is based on drawing attention and honor to one’s own self. These ornaments represented an attitude that needed to be stripped away from them. And by doing so, it was a declaration that they possessed no glory in and of themselves, but that all true glory belonged to the Lord and to Him alone!
God doesn’t want to leave His children on the mat. He wants to lift them up and move them forward. He does so through the “good news” of His promises and provision. And even in the “bad news,” He delivers us for the purpose of refining us and reminding us that all glory and honor belongs to Him!
Pause: What was God’s ultimate purpose for sharing this good news and bad news with His people?
Practice: Consider how you can personally benefit from both the good and bad things that the Lord reveals here.
Pray: Lord, I ask that my heart would be open to embrace and learn from all that You have to say to me, both good and bad. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.