As the final section of Chapters 33 to 40 begins, God responds to Moses in an unexpected way. It seems like God’s anger has cooled and he is ready to move on to the Promised Land, telling Moses to resume the journey to a land flowing with milk and honey. But then he adds, “I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people and I might destroy you on the way.” Apparently, repentance can come too late if God has warned us enough times.
Unity with God has suddenly become a warning of severe judgment. Wow! If you are Moses, what would you do now?
When the people hear God’s response, they go into mourning. Will they be stuck in the wilderness without God’s protection or destroyed?
God’s anger is directed toward the people, not Moses. As a harbinger of God’s judgment, Moses takes the tent of meeting outside the camp, where God speaks only to Moses. The people can see this taking place from a distance and wonder if they are locked out from God’s blessing.
Moses intercedes for the people a second time. Because God knows Moses by name and Moses has found favor in God’s sight, he relents and agrees. But note carefully: when God says, “My Presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest,” the “you” is singular, not plural. God is keeping the mission to occupy the Promised Land based on his love for Moses, not the people, whom he has already judged.
Later God shows Moses his glory and as he passes by, he says to Moses, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and truth, who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; but he will not leave the guilty unpunished, visiting iniquity to the third and fourth generations.”
Here we find God’s never-ending love tied directly to his ultimate judgment. Very scary stuff – which legacy do we desire? As Moses is to Israel, Jesus is to the church.
Yes, we are forgiven and we never lose our salvation. But to the extent that we have been warned over and over to obey Jesus’ new covenant to love each other as he has loved us, and to the extent that we have failed miserably, are we approaching the point of a very painful judgment, too? This is the hypothesis we are testing with the Cycle.
It may not be too late, but as noted above, a time does come when it is too late. God rallies to those who repent and seek unity with God and with each other.
He judges those who do not.