The question in this section is whether God will abandon His people. They certainly deserve it, and it would appear that’s precisely what God is going to do. He will fulfill His promise to give them the land of Canaan, but they will have to take it on their own. He will not go with them (33:4).
Moses pleads with God to change His mind, and God does, but Moses is unconvinced. Even as God is giving Moses the law again, Moses asks God for assurance of His presence – and God gives it.
Why is Moses so unsure?
Remember that the tabernacle has yet to be built. God does not dwell among His people and with the golden calf story, God apparently moves his presence very noticeably outside Israel’s camp, to a tent Moses will call “the tent of meeting.” God meets with Moses there, not Israel. The messages God gives to Moses are meant for Israel, but they are not spoken to them nor in their presence. Much like a couple at odds who speak to one another through a mutual friend, so it is with Israel and God.
This separation is not an over-reaction. It is a plain illustration of how unfaithfulness legitimately affects God, and the separation it can cause. God is serious about whole-hearted devotion. He wants us to be the same way.