Why did the Israelites build the tent/ark/altar before they reached the land promised to them by God. What was the reasoning? Would it have made sense to wait till they got there? That is a lot of stuff to lug around.
Recall that the presence of God was with the Hebrews as they traveled. The ark in the tent of meeting was where the presence of God came down to them. So, it wasn’t anything about ‘convenience’ – it was about the recognition of the presence of God among them.
Like us all, the Israelites were weak in faith and needed all the help they could get. Those physical reminders (the ark, the meeting tent, etc.), were intended to reassure the Israelite that the invisible, omnipresent God was indeed with them during their sojourn in the wilderness. This is similar to the way the physical elements of the sacraments (water, anointing with oil, bread and wine, laying on of hands, etc.) reassure us that something spiritual is actually going on.
Yes I remember the “golden calf” incident! I did notice a lot of similarities to the Catholic Church in these readings.