Imagine you must make a trip to go to N. Korea. You have hired a bodyguard and know with that bodyguard, you will be 100% safe. Without the bodyguard there is a high probability you will not come out alive. Now, imagine at the last minute, the bodyguard cancels, but you still MUST go on the trip. How would you feel?
That is the closest comparison I can come to for what we read in Ex. 33, when God told his people He would not go with them. It is hard to fully understand the implications of this, but death was certainly one. God was their God and protector. They knew they needed Him and when they found out He wasn’t “coming”, they went in to mourning. As part of this mourning, they did exactly what we would do: they did not put on jewelry or “ornaments”. Wait! What? What in the world does that have to do with anything?
I could not figure this one out myself, so had to look it up. Soniclight.com proved helpful by explaining “They willingly gave up the use of and stopped wearing the “ornaments” that they had used in the rebellion, and that were therefore an offense to God.” Context is key here-this happens right after the whole Aaron-golden calf-major-sin-party incident. What is really happening here is God calls them out for their sin, and calls them stiff-necked because they keep disobeying and disregarding his laws. The people have come to a real point of repentance, realizing and being willing to give up the items that are contributing to their sin. In their case, it was ornaments or jewelry, some of which were used previously to create a false idol which they had worshiped.
God throughout this section in Exodus makes it extremely clear He will not allow
his people to worship anything but him. Here, we see, there can be items that actually contribute or “help” people (read: “us”) worship false idols. The Israelites realized worshiping God alone required them to give up some things that were leading them astray and being used for sinful purposes. For them, it was jewelry or “ornaments”. What is it for us? What are some things in our life that “aid” us in worshiping idols or consistently draw us away from God and/or towards something else? The Israelites knew that above all else, they needed God with them every step of the way. They came to the point where they were willing to give up anything that was in the way of this protection and relationship with God. I believe we too should continually be coming to this point: examining our lives, identifying our own sin, and recognizing those items that may be influencing us to sin more. Once they are identified, get rid of them. You and I in the end, just like the Israelites, do not want anything to stand in the way of God being with us, do we? Then get rid of your jewelry, or whatever it is for you and me that is causing us to be “stiff-necked” towards God. There will always be “deathly” consequences if we don’t.