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Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? - Page 5

4. The increased complexity and stringency of Mosaic regulations in response to Israel's disobedience.

The historian Tacitus (AD 55-120) wrote of Rome: "The more corrupt the Republic, the more numerous the laws."[63] Consider how a rebellious child will often need external rules, severe deadlines, and close supervision to hold him over until (hopefully) an internal moral change takes place. Rules, though a stop-gap measure, are hardly the ideal.

Something similar happens in the Pentateuch. While the new atheists would consider the Mosaic Law to be ruthless and strict, there is an aspect to it that accommodates a morally-undeveloped ANE cultural mindset. Another dimension of this harshness seems to be a response to the rebellious, covenant-breaking propensity of the Israelites.

John Sailhamer has argued that God at Sinai desired to have not some priestly elite as mediators, but all the people of Israel to approach him as priest-kings (Exod. 19:6) God wished that the entire nation would come to meet him at the mountain. but the people resisted this, pleading rather for Moses to go up in their stead. Even so, God's initial Sinai legislation was an uncomplicated code for the people (Exod. 21-23)-and another simple code for a priestly order that would now be formed (Exod. 25-31:18). Yet in light of Aaron's failure as high priest in the golden calf incident (Exod. 32) and of the people's worship of the goat idols (Lev. 17:1-9), God responded by clamping down and tightening the restrictions on the priests (Exod. 35-Lev. 16) and the Israelite community (Lev. 17:10-26:46), respectively. He gave both groupings more severe and complex laws to follow.[64] These strictures-a "yoke," Peter called them, "which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear" (Acts 15:10)-were not God's ideal. Israel asked for it.

Narrative Exodus 19:1-25: Initiating a covenant with simple stipulations, God intends to meet with Israel on the mountain as a "kingdom of priests" (v. 6). The people agree to it (v. 8) but then refuse to draw near to God (vv. 16-17). They tell Moses to represent them. (Thus, a tabernacle and priesthood will be needed.) The people's fear is observed from a divine perspective.
Ten Commands Exodus 20:1-17: The giving of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and Covenant Code (Exod. 20:22-23:33) in response to the people's fear.
Narrative Exodus 20:18-21: The people's fear described as from their own perspective. So the groundwork is being laid for a tabernacle (Exod. 25-31)-those who are "far off" must be brought near to God.
Covenant Code Exodus 20:22-23:33: Idolatry prohibited and simple offerings of praise and sacrifice as the basis of Israel's relationship with God, as in the patriarchal period.
Narrative Exodus 24: The covenant reestablished at Sinai.
Priestly Code Exodus 25-31: The tabernacle (with priesthood) providing for the people to meet with God.
Narrative Exodus 32-34: The failure of Aaron/the priesthood in the golden calf event (chap. 32). God shows grace and compassion (chap. 33), and the covenant is renewed (chap. 34).
Priestly Code
(Directed to the priests)
Exodus 35-Leviticus 16: More laws needed for the priests.
Narrative Leviticus 17:1-9: The failure of the people, who worship the goat idols.
Holiness Code
(Directed to the people)
Leviticus 17:10-26:46: More laws needed for the people. The covenant is renewed again; God says he will remember his people despite future disobedience (Lev. 26).

This scenario appears to be exactly what Jeremiah 7:2 suggests: "For in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you will be my people; and you will walk in the way I will command you so that it would be well with you." Galatians 3:19 emphasizes much the same thing: "Why the Law then? It was added [to the initial, simple covenant] because of [the people's] transgression." The Law-a temporary rather than permanent fixture-would give way to a new covenant under Christ (Gal. 3:22).

So, although Israel and all humankind still needed the redemption that would eventually come through Christ, God still desired a simpler form of worship with the entire nation of Israel as a kingdom of priests (Exod. 19:6). Israel, however, would forfeit this for something much more severe and complex.


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