This passage has three sections each focused around the presence of God.
In response to the sinfulness of the people God had threatened to destroy them (32:10) but Moses asks God to relent (32:12) and to forgive the people (32:32). God’s justice was evident in this passage, in the purging of the unfaithful by the Levites (32:27-29) and the plague at the end of chapter 32 which both highlight that sin is not without consequences.
In the first section (33:1-6) we see that there are further consequences of the people’s sin. God tells Moses that he will send an Angel before them as they go, however, he will no longer go with them (33:3-5). God removes his presence from amongst his people. This was distressing for the people. Not only does it change the nature of their relationship with God, but I imagine it had implications for how secure they felt as a nation. If God was not with them, they were vulnerable.
In the second section (33:7-11) we see Moses meeting with God outside of the camp. There seems to be a desire of the people to draw near to God. As Moses goes to meet with the Lord the people stood at a distance and worshipped. Moses and Joshua are the only ones that draw near to God.
In the third section (33:12-22) Moses petitions the Lord to send his presence with them. Moses knows that what makes God’s people distinct, is God’s presence with them (33:26). God responds to Moses’ request saying he will go with them, because he is pleased with him and knows him by name (33:17).
Today as we think about God’s presence with us, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit dwells within us as believers in Christ (Rom 8:11, 2 Tim 1:14). We are to be a people led by the Spirit (Gal 5:18) and a people who demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). Like Israel, what makes us distinct from those around us is the presence of God with us in the form of his Spirit. Perhaps as we go about our day we should reflect on the following questions. Do we seek God’s presence with similar vigour that Moses did? And, do we live out the distinct life of a people filled with God’s presence, both individually and corporately?