The Role of the Mediator: Who Can Stand for Us?

An air of intensity hung over the little synagogue. It was stifling as the men of the congregation stood together, solemn in prayer, deep in concentration. Heads covered with tallisim, some of the men took on the appearance of prophets pleading for the people, beating their breasts, afflicting their souls for the sake of the nation.

For many Jewish people this is a shared memory of worship on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. It certainly was my experience.

Yet Yom Kippur is not just a time for personal reflection, nor is it intended to be merely an occasion for a catharsis of the soul designed to make us feel better. Rather, it is a time when individuals are implored to humble themselves before the Lord (Leviticus 23:27). The community of Israel is to collectively seek atonement. This is why the High Priest of Israel implored the Almighty on behalf of the assembly. His role was that of mediator.

Levitical worship required the High Priest to enter into the awe-filled Holy of Holies alone. Each year one from the Levitical family was set apart for this sacred service. His role was carefully prescribed in the Scriptures: And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins; and so shall he do for the tent of meeting that dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleannesses" (Lev. 16:16 JPS).

Even in modern times the basic ideas of communal confession and mediations on the Day of Atonement have prevailed. This is evident in the special Machzor Prayer Book. Most notable is the " Oshamnu" prayer of confession:

We are guilt-laden: We have been faithless, we have robbed, and we have spoken basely; We have committed iniquity, and caused unrighteousness; we have been presumptuous, done violence, framed falsehood…" (Hertz Daily Prayer Book, p. 907)

Concerning this confessional prayer, the great Jewish mystic of the 16th century, Isaac Luria, commented:

Why was the Confession arranged in the plural number so that we say, " We are guilt-laden, instead of I am guilt laden? Because all Israel is one body, and every individual Israelite a member of that body. Hence follows mutual responsibility among all the members." (Hertz Daily Prayer Book, p. 906)

Communal worship and confession require a corporate representative, one who could serve as a mediator between the people and God. In the Scriptures the one chosen to be this representative was selected by the Lord himself, yet the representative was from the midst of the people.

Abraham our father mediated for the people of Sodom. Moses served as the mediating representative throughout the wilderness experience. And when a Levitical priesthood was established, the High Priest would stand as the representative for the nation. On Yom Kippur he would enter the Holy of Holies on behalf of the nation, offering up the special sacrifice. This concept of priestly intervention continues as a part of Jewish High Holiday worship today. During these Days of Awe the rabbi offers up prayers on behalf of the congregation. Though he acknowledges his shortcomings and inability to adequately represent the people of the congregation, still there is the need to mediate as a community representative.

But the question remains: Why do we need someone to stand before man and God? Some might say, "Perhaps that was important to people 2,000 years ago, but it doesn't have any bearing on our lives today." Yet the passing of time doesn't make the important and timeless truths of the Scriptures any less valid. If there was a need for a mediator between men and God in antiquity, there is a need for one today.

A mediator is one who stands between two estranged parties and seeks to reconcile them. On Yom Kippur it is easiest for us to understand that we have offended God and we must secure his mercy for atonement. The offense that exists is commonly known as sin. The Tenach states emphatically:

The Lord looks down from heaven on mankind to find a man of understanding, a man mindful of God. All have turned bad, altogether foul; there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3 JPS)

A chasm exists between men and God. That distance between Creator and creation needs to be bridged by one who is mutually representative. In Biblical times there were men approved by God to serve him as intercessors—the patriarchs, the priests and the prophets. They were not perfect, and their own sins needed to be atoned for as well. On Yom Kippur there was always the fear that the High Priest's sacrifice would not be accepted and he would be smitten. For that reason he wore a rope around his waist to pull him out of the Holy of Holies, should he die. If the priest had not properly purified himself, it would have had catastrophic consequences for all the people.

Our ancestors had the benefit of a sacrificial system and an Aaronic priesthood. Today, however, our situation doesn't lend itself to these visible means of atonement, and there are no ready mediators. This should pose a deep dilemma for all who seek God. Knowing that the Holy One of Israel would never abandon or forsake his people implies that there is always some means of atonement available to us. Who can stand for us today? We have an answer to that question. Do you?

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Comments

Mordechai

Sodom were unaware of the impending doom they were about to experience, so Abraham defended their case. They weren't trying to talk to G-D. Moses, as teacher, had to relate the word of G-D to the Jews. The Jews weren't trying to talk to G-D. The article states, "the High Priest would stand as the representative for the nation". But not as a mediator. He represented the nation, but it was incumbent on the nation to repent. "Who can stand for us today?" Everyone. If there was a need for mediator, why would Jesus tell people to pray alone in their own room (Matthew 6:6)? Wouldn't it make more sense for him to tell them to give their prayers to him so he could act as mediator?

Sarah Malka

The writer has not been educated in Jewish religious life. Where "collectively atone" is quoted, it does not mean that a mediator is required; a "collective sigh" means just that - a group of people sighing together. The High Priest was not chosen from the Levites. He was chosen from the Priests (Cohen, a subtribe of Levi). The Levites had their duties in the Temple, and the Priests had theirs. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest had an important job, PART of which was to pray on behalf of the nation. This DOES NOT preclude a Jew being able to pray directly to God. The Torah is full of instances of people talking to God. On Yom Kippur, we say the Amidah(the MOST important prayer in ANY service)in SILENCE: No mediator, no go-between, no nothing. The Rabbis have ALWAYS encouraged one saying the Amidah to add his own personal requests. This holy prayer is not said only on the High Holidays; it is said everyday, three times a day, even when praying alone.

Malvina

Matthew 6:6 is an example how not to get pride by showing off when you pray. Jesus said that nothing goes to the Father without going by Him first, that's why we finish prayer in Jesus' name. A sinner connot stand for a sinner. No matter how hard you pray you'll not become holy/righteous before God. There's a big difference in talking to God and having prayers answered. Most of the OT shows God didn't answer our prayers. We've constantly rebelled against Him, even today. God didn't choose Abraham for his religious rituals (he had none), he was chosen for his FAITH in God. That's exactly what Messiah taught: true Faith alone will get you to Heaven. Man being a sinner by nature cannot do ANYTHING to measure up to God's expectations. In the OT, our nation was a child. When you have a child you institute strict rules. When a child becomes an adult you don't give him the same rules. The rules change, but the message is the same.

Mordechai

Then he should have said to pray quietly so no one hears them. If the prayers don't go to G-D without going through Jesus first, how did people pray before Jesus? Would it not have been in vain? How could the Kohein in the Temple initially approach G-D if he was a sinner up to that point? And the Torah is full of G-D answering our prayers! (e.g. Ex. 8:8-9; 8:25-27; 32:11-13; the quail in Num. 11:30; I Sam. 1:10-20; 8:5 was answered in 8:22) And G-D chose Abraham because he had stood up to the tests that G-D gave him, which involved actually DOING things. And if it IS only through faith, why is the Torah full of commandments? And how would you explain Matt. 19:17-19 when he actually lists things to do to receive life?

Malvina

Mordechai, Read Matt. 19:19-22. Jesus shows us that even if we keep all the commandments (which is impossible) we still have other things that prevent us from following God. The commandments are there also to show that NO ONE can observe them completely (except Messiah) and that we are in need of a Saviour. No matter how much good we do and how good we are, our view of good doesn't measure up to God's view of what good is. I hope this analogy helps: You clean your house before a special guest comes over. You tell everyone in your house to help you keep the house spottless clean or else... :) Once the special guest visited and left, you tell your family that they can relax now, because you know that it is impossible to keep the house spottless clean ALL the time.

Mordechai

Mat. 19:19-22: He said to keep the commandments (19:17), but felt that having money was a problem, even though Job (42:12) says than prosperity is a blessing. Who says following G-D’s laws is impossible? Why did Jesus, if you are correct, tell his followers to follow the commandments? You’r e saying G-D gave us laws HE knew we couldn’t do only to show that we are helpless and need some superhuman to do them for us? Did G-D hate the people to whom HE gave the Torah? Besides, look at Deut. 30:11-14; G-D says they are doable, and no one is to say or think otherwise. As to your analogy, if there was a divine command to keep the house spotless, you can bet there would be ways to do so.

Malvina

Mordechai, List all 10 Commandments and think about each one very carefully and see if you obey them COMPLETELLY. Don't tell me that you never felt jealous or envied someone who had something you wanted to have too. Don't tell me that you never told a lie. Don't tell me that you never stole anything, even as a child. Don't tell me that you always agreed with your parents. God gave us the Commandments to show His Righteousness and Holiness. My previous analogy was meant to show you that "house" represents Israel, "keeping clean house" means obeying Commandments, "special guest" means Messiah. Read it again. If you can't understand my parable, I can see why you don't understand Jesus' parables.

Mordechai

Let's look at the Ten and see if I...oh, wait! I have stumbled across Deut. 30:11-14. What does this mean? Well, it says that G-D, who gave the commands, says that all the laws are doable. So if I can't get it right at first, try, try again. Maybe you misunderstood my answer to you parable. I assumed there was another meaning to it, and you'll see that my answer fits very well with your hidden meaning. And Jesus seems to have thought the commandments were doable as well. Do you disagree with him?

Nancy Fair

Yes! Jesus Christ is the answer. He is our mediator, at the right hand of God, making intercession for those who are calling on Him. He is the fulfillment of the Old testament.
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