Imagine the scene: An incalculable crowd of men, women, children, and even animals at the foot of a mountain that was encircled by smoke and fire. The ground trembled, thunder rumbled, lightning flashed, and supernatural trumpet blasts echoed over them. God Himself spoke directly to them from the thick cloud, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Then He spoke the words of the Ten Commandments.
The people responded with fear and stepped back even farther. They pleaded with Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.”
When Moses recounts this scene later, he gives an important detail about the relationship between God and Israel at this moment. In Deuteronomy 5:22-31 and 18:17, God declares their request that Moses serves as mediator to be good because it indicated that they understood the greatness of his holiness and power. They caught a glimpse of the majesty of God on the mountain, and in turn perceived their own weakness and sin. When the people of Israel saw God rightly, they saw themselves rightly. So in response to Israel’s request, God promises to raise up a man just like them, after Moses, who would speak the words of God to them. This prophet would stand, as Moses did, between God and the people.
But Moses didn’t just deliver God’s word to the people as a prophet. He stood as a representative for the people before God. When Israel sinned by worshiping an idol, God declared to Moses that he would destroy them and make a nation of him alone. What an offer! But instead of taking God’s offer, Moses served as mediator for the people as their representative. Moses left the people there at the foot of the mountain and went up to speak with God. When presented with the choice of abandoning the people and joining God, he declared to God he would rather die with Israel than abandon them to the wages of their sin. Moses cast his lot in with rebellious Israel by begging God to forgive them and stay with them. God, in turn, responded to his intercession by promising to remain with Israel, despite her rebellious heart. Not only were the people tested by God’s voice, but Moses was also tested as a mediator. In God’s presence, Moses saw God and himself rightly at this moment. He was merely a human mediator, and his lot belonged with man. Moses knew he could not truly bring God down to them, nor could he truly bring them up to God.
For most of the wanderings of Israel, Moses knew his lot belonged to man, not to God. But Moses did cast his lot in with God once. When the people yet again complained of thirst, God instructed Moses to speak to a rock so that it would yield water. Moses, in his anger, struck the rock and used a pronoun that he had not used before: “We.” He said to the people, “Shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:1-13). Moses equated himself with God, and in doing so, he did not honor God as holy, or utterly separate, from man. God made clear to the nation Moses’ folly by declaring that Moses would not see the promised land.
Concerning mediators, Job lamented in Job 9:33 that there was no one who could place his hand on both him and God. Job begged for a mediator. Who could place his hand on God and man? As we see in this story, not even Moses, with whom God spoke face to face, could.
We needed a better mediator.
Both Job and Moses knew that no man could cast his lot in with God. However, God did promise someone, just like us, who would stand between the people and Himself. This mediator was revealed as Jesus Christ.
He is a better mediator because he is God in the flesh, made like us in every way. Because he is fully God and fully man, Jesus did what no mere man could do. Like Moses, Jesus in his humanity cast his lot in with us. He chose to die rather than remove himself from our suffering. He kept his hand on us through the bitter end. But unlike Moses, Jesus in his divinity does not simply leave us at the foot of the mountain but brings us with himself up to God. Unlike Moses, He did not merely bring God’s word to the people on stone tablets, he was himself the Word made flesh. And unlike Moses, Jesus will triumphantly bring all who belong to Him into the promise of Heaven at the end of the ages.
As it says in 1 Timothy 2:5, there is only one mediator, the man Christ Jesus. Moses was not that mediator. He was only a shadow. God allowed Moses to serve as an imperfect mediator so that we might long for a perfect mediator. He gave us a shadow so that when the true substance appeared, we would recognize him. In Christ the most astounding thing happened; God placed his hand on humanity, and humanity placed its hand on God.