Exodus 33:1, 3-5
1… the LORD said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’…3…But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” 4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.'”
When Moses interceded for Israel, he reminded God that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. God refused to acknowledge himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. The nation’s character has not changed. They still act like Jacob and God is reluctant to continue the journey with them. He commanded them to remove their ornaments while he decided what to do with them.
God had a right to be upset when they used the gold he gave them to make an idol to worship. He touched the hearts of the Egyptians to give Israel their gold ornaments because they would need the gold to worship the Lord. He did not make Israel work for the things he required. He gave them what they needed on their way out of Egypt. Take note that the Lord did not take their ornaments away; he simply deprived them of their right to enjoy their prosperity.
While the people were stripping themselves of the prosperity God gave them things went from bad to worse. Moses announced that God’s presence would not go with them and to reinforce that point,
Exodus 33:7 KJV
7… 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 (not just Moses, every one) which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp.
When God arrived with thunder, lighting, smoke and trumpets blaring the people removed themselves to stand afar off. Now we see God removing himself to stand afar off. This church’s relationship with God was like two porcupines trying to embrace. When they drew close there was always some sticking point causing them to withdraw from one another. Fear of the unknown caused the people to withdraw. Not being known caused God to withdraw.
The tabernacle Moses moved outside the camp is different from the one he was receiving instructions to build when he had to return to the camp and deal with sin. It is not clear exactly where this tent came from, other than it was a tent in the camp that people could go to and seek the Lord. This tent probably housed the altar Moses built before he disappeared into the cloud. But don’t miss an important point. Even thought God was so angry he refused to call them his people, he never forsook them. All he did was distance himself.
The New Testament calls the nation the church in the wilderness. This church is still a church but it is a church void of the presence of God. Sometimes you can’t find God’s presence in a church but that does not mean his presence is unavailable or that he has forsaken the individuals in the church that he is standing afar from.
Anyone who wanted to seek the Lord could still go outside the camp and find him. The New Testament exhorts us to “go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” This exhortation was written to Jewish Christians wrestling with whether or not they should obey every command in the Law of Moses and adhere to every aspect of temple worship. If you separate yourself from the legalistic foolishness that so often prevails in churches you will find out that God is still very much available and willing to receive you but you may have to leave the camp or church to find the presence of God.
There is a scripture commonly referred to regarding marriage or entering into a business relationship, which is out of context. Paul was addressing ministry and receiving the grace of God when he wrote to the Corinthians,
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?…
If you think we don’t worship idols in America, you are mistaken. An idols does not have to be graven in stone that we can see with these eyes of flesh to make us guilty of idol worship. Every one of us has an image of God in our hearts that we see with the eyes of our understanding. If the image in your heart is a lie you are worshipping a lie and guilty of idol worship.
There are people in churches who are difficult, even impossible to have fellowship with because they don’t know the truth about God. They are legalistic in their thinking and very easily offended. They are unbelieving believers who don’t know what they believe because the image they have of God in their understanding is shrouded in darkness. They will believe anything that anybody who stands behind a pulpit says. If Aaron says this cow is the God that delivered you from Egypt, they will be the first one at the church eagerly anticipating the worship service. Fellowshipping with them is difficult because even though they want God they hate light that exposes they don’t even know him, especially if they are in a place of leadership.
Religion, which Jesus called “the world”, will have you doing such foolish things that you will be more comfortable in the dark than in the light. Light exposes that you played the part of a fool and your arrogance won’t let you admit it. Who did Jesus go to but the lost sheep of the house of Israel? And who had the hardest time accepting him but the religious leaders of his day! The common people who didn’t have anything to lose because they did not participate in all kinds of religious nonsense loved Jesus. John opened his gospel by telling us that in Jesus
4…was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it……10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–
Jesus came to the people God delivered and entrusted with the written word. They were the descendants of the people who ate and drank spiritual nourishment from Christ in the wilderness. Yet the Bible says they did not recognize God. The nation Abraham’s flesh descendants became belongs to God but so does every nation on earth. The only people in any nation who will be “adopted,” or placed as sons, in God’s kingdom are the ones who received Jesus because he is a true image of God.
After Moses removed the tabernacle afar off every one would stand in the tent door and watch Moses leave the camp to meet with God. When Moses entered the tent the people saw the cloud they had been following through the desert stand at the door of the tent. It was in this tent that the Lord spoke to Moses face to face as a man would speak to a friend. Whenever Moses was in the tent being treated like a friend by God the people would worship God while they stood in the door of their tent, or we could say it this way, they worshiped God without leaving the camp that God rejected. Every time they saw Moses leave the camp it reinforced to them that their sin had separated them from their God. They are the ones that chose to worship God afar off. Anyone who wanted to seek the Lord could still go to the tent that was without the camp. Everyone did not stay in his tent to worship God. Joshua set up residence outside the camp with God. The Bible says when Moses returned to the camp Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
Moses was in the tabernacle outside the camp when he approached God about his decision to let them continue the journey without him.
12 Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Hebrew word Moses used for nation is gowy (go’-ee) and it means a foreign nation; a Gentile. God had not yet claimed them as his people so Moses reminded God of his own words during their first meeting at Sinai when God said, “the whole earth is mine.” In sum, Moses said, “Technically Lord, you can’t say these people are not yours when the whole earth is yours.” Moses was doing his best to convince God to accept the sons of Jacob as his people again. But God knows what he said and affirmed that he will have the treasured possession he is looking for.
14 The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.
Why doesn’t Moses relent on this issue? Didn’t God just say he would go with them? Not really. The Lord said “you”. Moses would have God’s presence and rest. Moses said, not me us! I know you are probably thinking that I am splitting hairs. When God said “you” He surely meant all of them. No he didn’t. He meant Moses. The Lord promised Moses his presence and rest because technically the whole earth is God’s but the only people that will have God’s presence and rest are people God is pleased with. Moses is a humble man who pleases God.
Before Israel crossed the Jordan, God swore an oath that they would never enter his rest. While they were still in the wilderness God told them they would rebel and he would scatter them all over the world. There were short spans of time that Israel had leaders who obeyed God. Even the man, David, who was a man after God’s own heart and came the closest to full obedience created unrest for the nation by committing adultery and murder. Hundreds of years later God exhorted the people through the prophet Micah to leave Samaria and Jerusalem, “For this is not your resting place, because it is defiled, it is ruined, beyond all remedy.”
The intercessor in Moses would not leave God alone because he continued pleading for Jacob’s children.
16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
The Kings James says
…so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.
There is only one thing that distinguishes or separates us from everybody else on the earth. I assure you that it’s not our good behavior. Christians do not always act “good.” Moses behavior was not always good just like the Father of our faith was not always good. Abraham would lie, encourage others to lie and sacrifice his wife to save his own life. Moses had a temper. He came to Egypt to deliver the men, but not the women. He wounded his sister so deeply she never got over it and almost destroyed herself. He also deceived the people into thinking the glory of the law would never fade. None of us are good like our God. The only thing that separates us from all the other people on the face of the earth is the presence of God among us collectively or if that’s not possible and sometimes it’s not, with us individually.
2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1
16 For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 7:1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
The people who worshiped afar off could have separated themselves from the camp and God would have received them at the tent that was outside the camp. If God’s presence leaves a church why should you stay? If God doesn’t want to be there why do you want to be there? No, God has not forsaken any church that he withdraws his presence from and never will. He is faithful to the unfaithful. But why are you satisfied to worship afar off?
If you don’t know what God wants purified you will exhaust years if not your whole life seeking God’s presence and all you will accomplish is turning yourself into an arrogant easily offended Christian that it is impossible to fellowship with because we are commanded to separate ourselves from you! What contaminated the church in the wilderness? What upset God so much that he told Moses the people are corrupt and I’m leaving the camp? They worshipped a false image of God thinking they were worshipping the God who delivered them from Egypt. Whether you do it knowingly or ignorantly it is still corruption that God cannot tolerate. They were not worshipping a living God that they know for if they knew God they never would have believed Aaron when he said this cow is your God.
What should we do when God’s presence has left the camp? Is all hope lost? No! Follow Moses example. Go outside the camp and make his prayer your prayer.
Exodus 33:18 KJV
18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.
God answered his prayer by hiding Moses in the cleft of a rock and proclaiming his name.
6 …”The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. 9 “O Lord, if I have found favor in your eyes,” he said, “then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”
This was the last time Moses had to ask forgiveness for the corruption that came into the camp because God picked up where they left off before corruption entered the church by once again writing on two new stone tablets all the words that were in the first tables Moses broke. Then Moses descended the mountain and requested an offering of gold for the Lord from anyone with a willing heart.
22 All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering (the wave offering was also called a peace offering) to the LORD.
The people brought the gold they removed to build a tabernacle for God’s presence that was be pitched in the center of the camp. When they finished this tabernacle a cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord filled it. From this point on the Lord never left the camp again. 
If we have done things that grieved God’s Spirit and caused him to stand afar off, it’s not too late to make peace. Our God is the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. He may stand afar off for a time but he will never forsake us and gladly return to fill the temple with his glory if we have a willing heart.
 Exodus 20:18
 Hebrews 13:13
 John 15:18-25 Jesus concluded his discourse on how the world would hate them by saying he fulfilled what is written in their law. Legalistic people in the church are the world that will hate and persecute us.
 1 Corinthians10:1-4
 See The Covenant 05 – Intercession
 Exodus 33:7
 Exodus 33:11
 Strongs #1471, The Key Word Study Bible Lexical Aids to the Old Testament says it is a general word used to refer to nations at large, particularly Gentiles (as distinguished from Jews).
 Exodus 19:5-8
 Acts 3:11
 Ezekiel 20:23-24
 Micah 2:10
 Exodus 34:1
 Exodus 40:34-38