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Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Law of Moses

One common objection to many religions, and certainly against Christianity, is that the laws and edicts of God seem cruel, harsh, or unjust. As stated by Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion:
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
This is a valid point and serious, complex issue. There are parts of the Old Testament which seem legitimately immoral, even by Christian standards.

The following is not meant to be an explanation for all of these inexplicably harsh acts, but can at least resolve issues relating to the Law of Moses, which is sometimes offered as an example of God's immorality on the grounds that it contains laws that are racist, sexist, or otherwise immoral.

The Law of Moses can be split into several categories, and has been dozens of times, such as:

  • the Ten Commandments
  • Moral laws - on murder, theft, honesty, adultery, etc.
  • Social laws - on property, inheritance, marriage and divorce,
  • Food laws - on what is clean and unclean, on cooking and storing food.
  • Purity laws - on menstruation, seminal emissions, skin disease and mildew, etc.
  • Feasts - the Day of Atonement, Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks etc.
  • Sacrifices and offerings - the sin offering, burnt offering, whole offering, heave offering, Passover sacrifice, meal offering, wave offering, peace offering, drink offering, thank offering, dough offering, incense offering, red heifer, scapegoat, first fruits, etc.
  • Instructions for the priesthood and the high priest including tithes.
  • Instructions regarding the Tabernacle, and which were later applied to the Temple in Jerusalem, including those concerning the Holy of Holies containing the Ark of the Covenant (in which were the tablets of the law, Aaron's rod, the manna). Instructions and for the construction of various altars.
  • Forward looking instructions for time when Israel would demand a king.
Nobody really has many complaints about the Ten Commandments or the Moral laws, with the exception of some penalties for infractions. Food and Purity laws are thought to have been thought up to help fight the spread of some diseases. Likewise, I'm not sure I've ever heard complaints against the laws regarding Feasts, Priests, or the Tabernacle. Most of the complaints seem to be against the Social Laws. These are the laws regarding dealing with slaves, the role of women and divorce, and other issues.

So what would God say if He were standing here and we told him that the Law which He gave Moses was immoral? He'd probably agree.

The pattern in the Lord's teachings is that He gives us a law, waits for us to master it, then comes and gives us a higher law. For example, in the Old Testament, He says, "Thou shalt not kill," or "thou shalt not commit adultery." 

So even God seems to think that the law given to Moses was not an ideal law. He even says this in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, He says,
"8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
But didn't He teach us those ways? You mean the law he gave us falls short of the lofty celestial standard? Yes, Jesus also acknowledges  the imperfection of the law in the New Testament. The Pharisees came to him in Judea, trying to debate with him. They asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife "for every cause." Jesus said it was unlawful, and the Pharisees asked why, then, did Moses give a provision for it in the law. Jesus explained:
"He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so."
Meaning that there are portions of the law which were given by God, but were not in line with God's eventual will for them. However, because of their hardness of heart, it was the law they were prepared to follow. To teach them to be all full of love and kindness would be like teachings calculus before addition and subtraction. They just weren't ready. So he taught them a lesser, imperfect law that they could handle, which would prepare them for a higher law.


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