Does the “depart” of Exodus 33:1 sound like God’s driving man out of the garden in Genesis 3? It should. If it doesn’t, then you do not know what the chief blessedness of the garden was. If it doesn’t, then you probably think Israel was getting a great deal here and don’t understand what all the tears were about.
Despite their great sin, God mercifully still gives Moses to lead the people. An angel, I would argue not the same Angel promised in chapter 23, will go before them and derive out their enemies. Further, they still get to enjoy the promised land flowing with milk and honey. It would seem that all lost in the garden and hoped for in God’s redemption and restoration will still be theirs.
So what is being denied to them? God! It is as though man having been driven from the garden is now permitted to return, only God isn’t there. Would this be disastrous news to you? If you have not seen the glories of chapters 25–31, you won’t see the disaster of Exodus 33:3-5. I’m not saying that chapters 25–31 will magically read more excitingly than the ten wonders recorded in chapters 7–12, but if upon meditating on the truths seen in chapters 25–31, you do not see that the supreme blessing and greatest glory of God’s redemption of His people is His dwelling among them, then you won’t see this as disastrous.
The greatest glory of Exodus isn’t what the people were saved from, but Who they were saved to, just as the greatest joy of marriage isn’t the leaving behind of singleness, but he embracing of intimate companionship. So, does this “depart” sound as disastrous as God’s driving man from the garden? If you think that Adam lost only life, health, and ease, then you don’t have a clue how far man fell. To have the promised land or the garden without God is worse than having the earth with no Sun. It could only be cold, dark, untethered, and lifeless. John Piper asks,
The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?
Picture a husband and wife radiant with love who build a cottage with striking intricate craftsmanship and a stunning garden. It is as though the house is a manifestation of the beauty of their love for one another. But, in a moment of immeasurable folly the spouse commits adultery. She mourns repentantly confessing and pleading with her beloved. The husband doesn’t utterly abandon her. He leaves her the house and promises provision, but he will not be with her. Will she enjoy the house? No! It will only be a continual reminder of the beloved she has sinned against and can no longer know.
Would you be happy if you got the house minus the Bridegroom? If so, you have never known Him. He is not yours, and you are not His.