Tonight I made it to the 30th chapter of Exodus. The Red Sea has closed behind them so there's no easy way back to Egypt. Moses is up in the mountains, receiving the Ten Commandments and intructions for constructing the tabernacle.
(You know, all that boring stuff we skim through so we can brag
"I've read through the Bible like, TWELVE TIMES now!")
The people are literally stranded in the wilderness. Oh, they have food and water, but they're not getting anywhere. The cloud that is "supposed to be leading them" is stuck on the mountain. And their leader Moses, is, literally, "walking around with his head in a cloud", as we would say.
They tell Aaron "Up, make us gods, which shall go before us" (Ex 32:1)
So he made them a couple of golden calves. They broke out the wine bottles and the manna, took their clothes off and started partying. It was Mardi Gras, if ever there was one.
Chapter 33 opens up with a massive hangover. God has moved in Holy anger. Moses restores order to the camp, but not until the Levites cut down about 3,000 revelers getting the message across ("Party's over. Go home") and he ground the people's gods into a fine vitamin mix for their water.
So in chapter 33, God's making Himself clear to the Israelites, "I'm outta' here. You guys want it your way? Have it your way." (vs3)
Suddenly the people wake up and see their true condition. They are Godless. He had physically departed.
They're standing in the middle of this desert. Nowhere near the promised land.
They're drinking their earrings.
And there's this massive, pounding headache.
The people mourned.
Now here's where it gets beautiful:
And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp. (vs7)
"...every one which sought the LORD"
Don't we all get that way? Doesn't each of us screw up and drive away the Holy Spirit, determined to do things our way? And has not every one of us felt that horrifying numbness when the closeness of His presence -- the cloud, so to speak -- departs?
We stand there with the metallic taste of our sins in our mouths and the tears slowly start to roll down our cheeks.
The Tabernacle is now without the congregation. Oh, God is everywhere. But in moments like these we must walk away from the noise of life, across the hot sands of the desert, into the coolness of His presence. I love the picture. I thank God for his forgiveness.
"And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend....And He said, "My Presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest."