God gave Moses a frightening directive: "Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I swore unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto they seed will I give it: and I will send an angel before thee . . . for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way" (Exodus 33:1-3).
The people of God had spun completely out of control because of lust and idolatry (Exodus 32:25). Gold had become their god. They wanted to dance, play and follow their lustful appetites. Only the sons of Levi stood up for the holiness of God.
Then followed the dreaded revelation that the Lord had removed Himself from them; He had departed lest He slay them. But still they were commanded to move on to claim their inheritance. God said, "I will give you what I promised." They could claim all their rights and His protection but not His presence.
Today we are seeing the sad spectacle of multitudes of God's people moving on in their religious quest for promised rights, boasting of angelic help against enemies, but having no holy, awesome, convicting presence of Christ in them.
What could be worse than hearing the Lord command them to go up to a land flowing with milk and honey and yet say that He would not go up with them (see Exodus 33:3)? God said to them, "You are an obstinate people. If I should go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you” (see Exodus 33:5).
Moses wanted something greater than a land flowing with milk and honey. He wanted to know and experience the Lord's presence. He prayed, "Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way, that I may know thee" (Exodus 33:12-13).
No wonder this precious servant of God convicted his generation! No wonder there was so much glory in his face. He wanted only to know the Lord. The only favor he wanted was the abiding presence of his Lord. So it was with Paul, whose heart cried out, "Oh, that I might know Him!" (see Philippians 3:10).