Moses has led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and brought them to the mountain where he encountered the god who sent him. But it is now forty days and nights since Moses went up the mountain, alone; and the people are getting twitchy. So they melt down the gold jewellery they had taken as plunder from Egypt, and make a golden calf.
Why a calf? In Egypt, the sacred bull gave flesh to Apis, the intermediary between the most powerful gods and humans. When the sacred bull died, a calf was chosen as its successor. Moses, the intermediary between YHWH and his people, was missing, presumed dead. The obvious course of action was to establish a successor. Not a representation of their god, as such, but of the mediator (and one that implies that their god is part of the family of the gods of Egypt, who, in fact, YHWH had overthrown in liberating them).
YHWH is not impressed. YHWH reserves the right to appoint the mediator, who is, as it happens, alive and well—and, precisely, mediating on behalf of the people before YHWH.
The role of mediator is a significant one. YHWH is free to do as YHWH sees fit, but is open to a change of heart (a matter of repentance) on the basis of a well-made case, an appeal to fresh evidence (a matter of re-framed belief). Moreover, it is a reciprocal relationship: at times, God is angry with people, and the mediator pleads on their behalf; at other times, the mediator is angry with people, and it is God who counsels mercy (and there is, I think, something of this behind John 5:45).
Some millennia later, Jesus is questioned over what makes him YHWH’s appointed mediator, the one to represent YHWH before the people and the people before YHWH. It is a question of authority. Like Moses before him, he points to the signs he has performed in YHWH’s name. Like Moses’ generation, the people of Jesus’ day prefer to create their own image of the mediator. We do the same in our own day, two millennia on again.
According to the New Testament, the Church is the body of Christ, the flesh-and-blood of the flesh-and-blood mediator between humanity and God. The works we are given to do are meant to testify to this.
But perhaps we are missing, presumed dead by the people we are sent to?
And perhaps it is time to take intercession more seriously?