Take Off Your Ornaments
Ex. 33:4 ¶ When the people heard these harsh words, they mourned, and no one put on ornaments.
Ex. 33:5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’”
Ex. 33:6 Therefore the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.
The people had sinned before God by making and worshiping the golden calf! They had taken their golden jewelry — the earrings and other items they had gotten from the Egyptians and used them to create an idol. Now, in an act of humility and repentance they were to take off all of their jewelry and ornaments. It was a time of mourning over their sin and it included intentional action on the part of the Israelites.
We don’t do all that well with humility and repentance! It seems that we live in a time when we try to carry on as usual even if we have done something wrong. Maybe we’ve learned it from the politicians who are notoriously self-righteous when it comes to taking responsibility for actions that have consequences.
The actions of the Israelites had major consequences for themselves and the generations to come. The jewelry or ornamentation itself signified a tie back to Egypt. Before they had left Egypt they had been able to convince their masters that things would go better for them if they gave the Israelites their gold. And so, in many ways they had escaped with much of the treasury of Egypt. Therefore, when Moses was up on the mountain and they chose to make a golden calf to worship, they were really looking backwards to Egypt for their salvation. They were using the gold of Egypt to create the calf. The very presence of God was before them on the mountain, but instead, they looked to the materialistic support they had from their previous masters.
Interestingly we discover that they didn’t give up all of their gold for the idol — but only some of it! They weren’t totally sold out to any god. Evidently they were still well adorned in ornamentation which came from Egypt. In this case it remained as a temptation that would tie them to their past, and not to the God of their future. The fact that God asked them to physically strip themselves of their ornaments was an outward sign of what he wanted to do in their hearts. They were to get rid of every last vestige of connection to Egypt. There were to be no daily reminders of what they may viewed as the salvation of Egypt. Instead, these were all to be gone and their eyes were to focus on Mount Sinai and the God of their salvation!
Too often we struggle with our spiritual lives because we try to remain connected to the things of the past. Just a few little reminders around certainly can’t hurt, can they? But what happens if the old friends drag us back down into a life of sin? What happens if that one bottle of beer drags us back into a life of alcoholism? What happens if that one evening on the internet drags us back into a life of pornography? What happens if the love of money drags us away from spending time with God?
When we repent, we must also take intentional action which will lead us in the direction of Sinai! The Israelites had to take off their ornaments. Who knows what our ornaments may be but they must be removed and laid aside for God to do his work in our lives. There can be nothing that draws us back to the things of the past, but instead we must be intentional about letting go and moving forward with God. We must take off our ornaments and look toward Sinai.
Lord, please help me to leave the ornaments of the past behind. Amen.