Did anyone see the Go-between on the BBC last weekend? It is a novel written by L.P. Hartley, in which a 13 year old boy becomes the go-between or messenger for two young lovers. The lovers, who belong to different social classes cannot openly meet, communicate or marry. The ‘Go-between’ exploits the idea or theme of the innocent messenger, for Leo the young boy, becomes caught up in an affair he doesn’t understand: he is used by the two desperate parties, who exploit his ignorance and willingness to please. He gets too close to their fire and gets burnt.
The story reminds us of the dangers of being a messenger. Yet, the Bible is littered with God’s messengers or 'Go-betweens'. How do they fare in contrast to Leo, the child-messenger?
Moses is one of the archetypal 'go-betweens' in the Bible - mediating Yahweh’s message to His people, the Israelites. For Moses, the delivery of the message and the negotiation with both the giver of the messages and the receivers is one fraught with danger and difficulty. Moses, initially, does all he can to refuse to be God’s messenger, indeed he might be better remembered as Moses, the Reluctant Go-between.
For example, Moses expresses his reluctance to God by saying: ‘But suppose they (i.e. your people) do not believe me or listen to me?’ (Exodus 4.1); And a little later in he says: ‘O, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue’ (Ex 4.10); and again, more directly: ‘O, Lord, please send someone else’ ! (Ex.4.13).
To be a messenger for a powerful person, let alone a deity, is not a job to be taken lightly, Moses seems to recognise this. Not many of God’s prophets, spokespeople or messengers have been treated very well!
God longs to talk to his people as a husband to his wife (a recurring metaphor in the Old Testament), yet more often than not, God ends up speaking like a jealous and jilted lover. Prophets throughout the OT have had to deliver difficult and uncompromising messages of judgment. We know that God and us- his people- are not kept apart by class divides (as in the Go-between novel) but by humanity’s refusal and rejection of God (and his messengers). The big story of the Bible is our refusal to listen to him, despite the innumerable go-betweens who are continually called to deliver messages of love.
Finally then, perhaps out of desperation, God sends his son, no longer simply a messenger, but the manifestation of the living God himself. Yet, God himself is rejected and murdered, treated like prophets before him, abused and scorned. Jesus, like the priests and prophets who ministered before him, came to offer forgiveness of sins. Yet, it is that forgiveness in action that so scandalised the Jewish priests, because what they did on behalf of God, was now being done by God-among-them; something too remarkable for them to believe and grasp as it happened in their time.
And what of our need today of God’s forgiveness? What do we long to hear God say to us? And can we hear the message of God in the voice of another? The priestly role – which Jesus perfected- is at its most simple, to mediate God’s forgiveness, and this hasn’t changed since ancient Judaism. Whilst they sacrificed lambs, we look to Jesus’ sacrifice as the guarantor of our forgiveness; whilst they poured out the blood of their animal victims - we look to the pouring out of Jesus’ blood as the sign and symbol of our reconciliation with God.
Despite our individual desire for direct contact with God (and our frustration and disappointment with those who claim to speak for God) maybe we still all deep down appreciate, need and want to stand protected from the all-knowing gaze of the supreme Being – and are pleased to let Moses-figures climb the mountain to speak with the awesome God? In case we too get too close and are burned? If we wish to be mediators of the new covenant, then we must learn, like God’s messengers, to be disliked, to be rejected, to be accused and to be mocked. God’s people are not valued by the world, because we are not from the world, and yet we are called to live in it, and transform it by the wonderful message we are blessed to receive. To be a messenger we must be willing to climb the mountain and risk our lives in order to see what it is we must speak:-
‘Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on top of the mountain in the sight of the people of
Moses entered the cloud, and went up the mountain. Moses was on the mountain
for forty days and forty nights’. Israel