“Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. The law was put into effect through angels by means of a mediator. Now a mediator is not for just one person, but God is one” (Galatians 3:19-20 HCSB).
Galatians 3:20 illustrates the difference between salvation by grace through faith (as revealed through God’s covenant with Abraham) and the works of the Law by examining the way these covenants were enacted. The first covenant found its origin in God’s direct interaction with Abraham as detailed in Genesis chapter fifteen. The second involved a form of mediation between one party (God) and another (the nation of Israel).
To appreciate these differences, it helps to understand the role of a mediator. We can start by defining a mediator as someone who arbitrates the conflicts that exist between two groups or individuals and works to reconcile them. With this in mind, let’s consider the mediators who were involved in establishing the Old Testament Law.
The nation of Israel was the first party to this agreement. Israel was represented by Moses who served on behalf of the nation as a whole. Moses explained his role in this process when he said, “I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain…” (Deuteronomy 5:5).
The other party (and the initiator of this covenant) was God. He was represented by His angelic messengers in delivering the Old Testament Law to Moses. While the Biblical book of Exodus does not mention the presence of these angelic beings in its record of this event, (1) we know from other portions of Scripture that they had some sort of involvement in this process.
For example, Acts 7:38 tells us, “Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us” (NLT). Acts 7:53 later goes on to say, “You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels” (NLT).
So the presence of these mediators implies a degree of separation between the parties. On the other hand, there were no mediators involved in God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendant who is Christ. Thus, to borrow the words of Hebrews 7:22, “This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant” (ESV). (2)
(1) See Exodus chapters 19-34
(2) See Hebrews 7:19-8:13