God’s covenant people have always needed a mediator. And God—with limitless grace—has always sent mediators to the people.
A mediator joins two parties together, stands in the gaps, bridges their conflict. A mediator is “a go-between,” a re-negotiator, an arbitrator. An effective mediator is a miracle worker.
Scripture narrates a familiar pattern: God makes covenants with his people; his people break them; God uses mediators to make peace.
The Greek word for mediator is μεσίτης (mesitēs). Careful readers of Scripture know that “the idea of mediation and therefore of persons acting in the capacity of mediator permeates the Bible” (New Bible Dictionary, 3rd edition). However, the word mediator=μεσίτης (mesitēs) occurs only six times in the Greek New Testament.
Three of those uses are in Hebrews (8:6, 9:15, and 12:24). Two are in Galatians 3:19-20. And one is in 1 Timothy 2:5, a theologically rich verse:
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human….
The concept and practice of mediation (think: sacrifice, atonement) does indeed fill the pages of the Old Testament. Most of the New Testament uses of mediator, in fact, reference the old covenant. So I found it especially fascinating when I learned that mediator=μεσίτης (mesitēs) occurs only once in the Greek Septuagint.
It comes up in a striking passage in Job 9:33.
Job has already lost everything. But we remember as he utters these words in chapter 9 that the Bible describes him as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” It said he would “rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings,” just in case his children had sinned. He covered all his bases. He kept at least the semblance of a covenant with God.
And yet Job senses a breach. All manner of tragedy has befallen him, and everyone around him tells him to curse God. He won’t, but still he feels at odds with God. Job says to the Lord:
… you are not a mortal like me, with whom I would contend,
that we should agree to come to trial.
Would that there were a μεσίτης/mesitēs/mediator for us and an investigator
and one to hear the case between us two.
(This is from the NETS translation, which translates μεσίτης as arbiter.)
Job longs for a mediator, an arbiter between him and God. An “umpire,” the NRSV says, translating the Hebrew.
Again, Job calls for a mediator, even though we have no narrative evidence that he broke a covenant with God! He acknowledges that he can’t “contend” with God as in court, but still yearns for a “mediator” to bridge the gap between him and God.
And now, for the pastoral payoff:
If Job, who led a blameless life, thought he needed a mediator to get to God, how much more do we, God’s not-blameless people, need a mediator to be in the presence of a perfectly holy God?