“. . . a great sin . . . But now . . . forgive” (32:31-32)
When Israel made the golden calf, their sin could not have been more serious. It involved misusing the fruits of redemption (v. 2; cf., 12:35), ascribing their salvation to a cause other than the Lord (v. 4), giving his unique name to another god (v. 5), pledging devotion to an idol (v. 6a), making an earthly thing the source of their peace and joy (v. 6b), abandoning revealed truth (v. 8), and putting themselves in danger of divine wrath (v. 11). And, doubtless, more!
Yet, not even such a sin disrupted the Lord’s plans. He will still bring Israel into his promised land (v. 34). He will still indwell his people. Only now will the tabernacle be built, detail by detail, exactly as commanded (chs. 35-40). And, more mysteriously, the Lord, who is in no way responsible for their sin, actually blends it into his plans.
Now for the first time the people truly become aware of themselves as sinners (33:3-6). Only when they know this can they appreciate the wonder of the divine indwelling and grasp the meaning of a tent of sacrifice and atonement. God allowed them to fall into sin so that he might bring them into the place of blessing, the place where they would understand, appreciate, and experience what the shed blood was all about.
“Jesus, the sinner’s Friend, I hide myself in Thee.”