1 The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” 4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘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, that I may know what to do with you.’” 6 Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.
A video has only just gone viral even though it was filmed and posted online last summer. One article’s description of the video is entitled, “Passengers forced to endure ‘demonic’ child’s screams for eight hours after he throws mega tantrum on flight” and is subtitled, “The child reportedly ran around screaming almost the entire time on the flight from Germany to Newark, New Jersey.” It reads:
A disgruntled passenger filmed a “nightmare” eight-hour flight where a “demonic” child screamed almost the entire time.
The child can be seen climbing on top of the seats and screeching before the flight has even taken off yet.
But while many might have hoped the young boy may have settled down and watched a film – he doesn’t.
Instead he runs around the aircraft for almost the entire eight-hours while travelling from Germany to Newark, New Jersey.
It is not clear from the video which airline the boy and his family were flying with.
The video was uploaded onto YouTube last summer by Shane Townley who captioned it “demonic child screams and runs through an 8 hour flight”.
He wrote: “Watch as this kid runs and screams throughout the entire flight while the mother does little to nothing to stop him.
“3 years old on a 8 hour flight from Germany to Newark NJ. He never quits!”
In the video the child can be seen climbing on top of the seats while his mother asks him to sit.
The boy then starts his “demonic screams” as the video suggests, which takes over the plane.
Filming the noise from several rows back the screaming can clearly be heard.
Before the flight has even taken off yet the child’s mother desperately asks the flight attendant to “get the WiFi going so we can get the iPad going”.
She can be heard trying to calm her child down but he continues his screams, ignoring his mother’s pleas.
As the hours pass passengers can even be seen covering their ears as the unruly child runs up and down the aisles while screaming at the top of his lungs.
And it is a scene that continues throughout the majority of the flight.
After leaving the plane to go into the airport another passenger can be heard saying: “What a nightmare, oh my God – eight hours of screaming” as they wheel their suitcase down the ramp.
Commenting on the clip one person said: “Sadly this is happening more and more on flights, unruly kids and babies and exhausted parents.”
“Even noise cancellation headphones would not have drowned out this terror.”
“Total lack of discipline…perhaps crew should have removed said child and parents for violating safety regulations.”
Another person wrote: “If this started before the plane took off, the plane should have taxied back to the terminal and kicked the kid and his parents off. This kind of behaviour is just unacceptable.”
And another suggested: “Call an exorcist.”
The video itself is, I must say, jarring. Watching it, I simply cannot imagine being on the plane. The child appears to scream and rage and tantrum for almost eight full hours. The gentleman videoing it hops from one segment to the next entitled, “Hour 1,” “Hour 2,” “Hour 3,” etc. In watching the couple of minutes that I watched I kept thinking, “Why didn’t somebody do something?!” Most of the comments online reflect variations of that sentiment.
The outrage appears to be over the general idea of a long journey in which a unruly child is simply allowed to do whatever he wants with no adult attempts to stop or discipline him. Very quickly the comments move from, “What is wrong with that child?!” to “What is wrong with that parent?!”
In watching that video, it is hard not to think of Israel’s exodus journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, with this exception: Israel’s Father was not disconnected, was not lazy, was not helpless before the misbehavior of His children. Israel’s Father knew exactly what He was doing and, when needed, He meted out discipline so that His child, Israel, could complete its journey and grow into who He wanted them to be.
A case in point of such discipline can be seen in God’s response to Israel’s worship of the golden calf. Exodus 33 continues with this response.
Israel’s sin did not negate God’s promise, but it did affect their relationship.
It is important to note that Israel’s sin did not negate God’s promise that His children would inherit the Promised Land. However, Israel’s sin did affect their relationship with God. Let us begin with the promise kept
1 The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Even though Israel sinned and even though God promised judgment, note that He did not rescind His promise. They were to get up and go toward the land of promise, that is, toward the promise of God that would not be rescinded. He would indeed give to them and to their offspring the land.
God’s discipline of His children does not negate God’s promise to His children. We remember again 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” God is not fickle with His word. He does not given only to take away. His promise is secure! This does not minimize the terror of His just wrath and does not negate the promise of discipline for His children (Hebrews 12:6). Even so, it does remind us of the certainty of God’s promises.
Yet there was a change in their relationship, and it is revealed in verse 3.
3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
What does this mean? In what sense will God “not go up among you?” First, let us notice God’s reason for not going up with them. It is so that He not “consume you on the way,” that is, not destroy them in His wrath. He knows they are “a stiff-necked people” and that they might incite Him to destroy them.
At this point we should simply note that the Old Testament seems to speak often in ways that are anthropomorphic (attributing human bodily characteristics to God) and anthropopathic (attributing human emotions to God). While commentators and interpreters debate how best to understand these types of passages, we should, I believe, hold in balance two ideas: (1) what is actually being said here and (2) the whole-Bible picture of God that we get from Genesis to Revelation. In other words, we must never seek to explain away a picture of God that is hard for us to understand, but we must also submit all pictures of God to the overall picture of the whole of scripture.
In what sense will God not go up with Israel? How can the omnipresent God not be present with them? Terence Fretheim helpfully argues that it “is important to distinguish among types of divine presence.” He defines these types as:
- “God’s general presence in the world”
- “God’s accompanying presence with the people”
- “God’s tabernacling presence”
- “God’s intensified presence in theophany”
Fretheim suggests that, in this text, “the issue has to do only with God’s tabernacling presence” and that what “the people have done (and not done) has adversely affected the relationship with God.” There is wisdom here, for the unfolding of Israel’s story shows that God is still with them. This dire promise from God does mean that He will not be with them in the way to which they had apparently become accustomed, likely referring, as Fretheim suggests, to His being present in the tabernacle.
The picture that emerges from our text is therefore one of (1) the seriousness of sin and (2) the faithfulness of God. The consequences of our sin can set back our growth in God. In that sense, it can affect our relationship with God. This is not because God is being irritable or petulant. Rather, it is because sin is corrosive and, even when forgiven, there are seasons in which the devastating effects can impede our progress in the Lord.
Nonetheless, it must be said that, even with the specifics of God’s judgment, His faithfulness and mercy continues to shine through. In Nehemiah 9, the Levites gather the children of Israel together and remind them of the tragedy of the golden calf episode. Note, however, their interpretation of these events as an arena in which God’s mercy ultimately showed through.
16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. 22 “And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner.
The abiding promise cannot make us grow comfortable with the devastation of our sins, but neither can the devastation of our sins make us forget the abiding promise.
Israel’s grief over their broken relationship with God was greater than their joy at eventually entering the land of promise. So should it be with us.
And now we see a positive development in Israel’s life. They grieve deeply over the results of their sin.
4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘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, that I may know what to do with you.’” 6 Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.
Observe: Israel’s grief over their broken relationship with God was greater than their joy at eventually entering the land of promise. So should it be with us. What they decidedly do not do is decide that the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise makes their sin and its consequences irrelevant. No, in a sign of real contrition and growth, they seem more concerned that God will not be among them when they go up to the land of promise.
God commands His children, as a sign of repentance, to remove their “ornaments.” This has a general sociological explanation but also likely a specific explanation as well. Douglas Stuart writes of this:
In the ancient Near East, mourning tended to involve appearance, not just attitude, so that what one wore was a part of the appearance aspect of mourning. Nothing fancy could adorn a mourner because fancy dress was associated with cheerfulness and might contradict the desired pattern, which was thoroughgoing mourning behavior designed to appeal to a god (or the true God) for relief of suffering (including in this case relief from the unknown miseries that might be subsumed under “and I will decide what to do with you”).
Stuart’s idea provides a good, general, cultural framework for understanding the removal of the ornaments, but Roy Honeycutt wonders if the act may have a “more significant” meaning and whether or not the “ornaments were religious medallions of one type or another.” He points to Jacob at Bethel and Israel’s recommitment to the Lord in Genesis 35. In verse 4 of that chapter, Israel gave Jacob “all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.” Honeycutt concludes that the “entire golden calf episode may have represented a reversion to gods known during another era, and the removal of ornaments may have paralleled the action under Jacob.”
Regardless of exactly why they are to remove the ornaments, observe that they do in fact remove them and that they “mourn.” Our disposition should be the very same. We should grieve over our sins. We should grieve over the way that our sins disrupt our relationship with God. Furthermore, we should remove from our lives whatever we need to remove in order to have an unencumbered relationship with God. The question, then, is whether or not our own repentance is like this?
Some Christians seem to believe that since God’s final promise of salvation will never be broken the significance of their sins is lessened. Put another way, some Christians seem to think that since the Promised Land is secured the sins we commit on the way to it do not matter. But think of the foolishness of such an idea! Why would you not want to walk now with the One you will spend eternity with? And what will it be like to stand before the One with whom you will spend eternity and know that you did not seek to walk faithfully with Him? What is more, can one claim to “know” Jesus Christ in any meaningful sense if one has no qualms about violating His teachings and example? Can one really think that the Promised Land of salvation is truly his or hers if he or she can think of Jesus Christ in such crassly consumeristic ways?
Learn from the children of Israel! Grieve over your sin! Remove your ornaments! And thank the God who loves you that His love is secure.
 Terence Fretheim, Exodus. Interpretation. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p.182.
 Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus. Vol.2. The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), p.691-692.
 Roy L. Honeycutt, Jr. “Exodus.” General Articles, Genesis-Exodus. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol.1. Revised (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.439.