When we read the Old Testament, we’re often looking for heroes, role models, and examples to follow. No doubt there are heroic characters and stories of faithfulness worthy of emulation, but most of what we see is failure and need. The Bible isn’t a book primarily about human success and glorification; it is a book about God’s perfection and glory expressed toward, and shared with, humans who can’t get their act together.
In Exodus 32 we encounter the story of the golden calf. While Moses was in God’s very presence on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the people of Israel were growing impatient; they demanded that Aaron, God’s appointed high priest, build them an idol to worship, a golden calf cast from their own donated jewelry. The irony and tragedy of this is palpable.
God’s response to the people of Israel was wrath; He was finished with their rebellion and rejection of Him. He had called them from nowhere, turned them into a nation, rescued them from slavery, and this was how they responded? Israel was doomed because of their sin until Moses intervened. He “sought the favor of the LORD his God” and pleaded on behalf of the people (vv.11–14). He asked for mercy and appealed to God’s promises and covenant. And the text tells us that God relented of His wrath, and the people were free to continue toward the Promised Land.
If you read that account carefully you will see how we ought to read the Old Testament, not as a collection of hero stories but as a narrative pointing forward to Jesus. In the sin of Israel, blatant rebellion in the face of God’s kindness and in the presence of His glory, we should see ourselves. We sin, just as they did. And in the intercession of Moses on behalf of the people we see someone seeking to make things right with God, to be a go-between, a mediator. And like Jesus, Moses was rejected by the people, pushed to the side, as Stephen preached in Acts 7.
But like every other person who foreshadows Jesus in the Old Testament, Moses’s mediation failed. He was a God-given leader, but he was not a perfect mediator between God and man. He was the man God chose, but not the God-Man who would ultimately save. Only Jesus Christ is worthy to be the mediator humanity needs to assuage the wrath of God.
In Christ, we have a new covenant unlike the covenant of the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:32). God Himself will write this covenant on the hearts of His people, and He will “forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin” (vv.33–34). Through the mediation of Moses, the people survived the wilderness and entered Canaan. Through the mediation of Jesus, all who trust in Him have complete forgiveness and eternal life, despite their own rebellion and rejection of God.
Written by Barnabas Piper