“Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting.” (Exodus 33:7)
Any time that we read about the people of Israel, whether they did well or poorly, we should remember that we are people just as they were and we are all descendants of Adam. Their behaviour and ours all stem from the same corrupt and fallen nature that we inherited from Adam.
In hindsight we may be inclined to be overly critical of Israel’s stubborn stiff-necked attitude and behaviour toward the Lord. But if we are careful and honest in heart-searching we will discover that we are just like them.
The Lord had been pleased to presence Himself in the midst of Israel’s camp until now but their open rebellion described in chapter 32, in breaking the blood covenant, made that impossible. Israel had vowed, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient” (24:7) and yet so soon after making that vow they had broken it.
Israel’s rebellion created a situation that the Lord could not ignore. He had a plan for Israel. They are to be a holy nation so there must be a cleansing before He can dwell in their midst again. At this time the preparations for the sanctuary that would later be called the tabernacle were under way but the Lord was presently meeting with Moses in his own tent. Symbolic of Israel’s rejection of the Lord Moses moved his tent well outside the camp. The people had removed the Lord from their heart and this would be a constant physical reminder of what they had done. They had rejected the Lord and could not now approach His presence. The Lord was no longer in their midst. He was in a more distant place.
Moses was insistent that the Lord find a way to presence Himself in the midst of the people. He went so far as to say, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (33:15). How many of us come before the Lord with that attitude with regard to our personal lives and that of our church? Would we rather die that live without the Lord or our church die unless the Lord is in the midst? This is the heart behind the well memorised verse in Revelation 3:20; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me.” It isn’t enough to lament that the Lord is no longer present with us. We must be as desperate as Moses was, such that we refuse to go on without His presence.
Knowing this situation would arise, the Lord had already prepared the way by which He could presence Himself in the midst of a rebellious but now also repentant people. The tabernacle, yet to be put together, would show the way, albeit with a final veil. It pictured the lord Jesus Christ. That final veil was only torn away by the Lord when He shed His own blood at Calvary. Now we not only have access to the Lord but He is present with His people.
The awareness of His presence will be lost if we are “stiff-necked” and do not obey His lead and commands. If the Lord seems far away “outside the camp” it may be because we have not heeded His word in some regard. He will return the awareness of His presence upon our repentance for that disobedience, based on forgiveness available through His blood shed at Calvary.