It is fair to say that many of the Old Testament laws are simply not relevant to readers removed thousands of years from such cultures. Also, this was a unique time in history when God worked with one nation to reveal God to surrounding nations then and nations today through reading Scriptures. But, it may not be fair to accuse God of immoralities because of many of the laws recorded in the Bible. I understand not getting bogged down in reading such laws but there may be plausible explanations for certain laws that at first reading seem inhumane or immoral.
God doesn’t overthrow but works within societies to hopefully make lasting change in the hearts of their citizens. Loving control is an oxymoron. Is God supposed to abandon or continually wipe out cultures that fall into less than ideal relationships? God’s interference or dictatorship can prevent a superior world from developing as a result of the moral improvement of free creatures. Freedom is necessary for authentic, lasting change. Many scholars agree that the Mosaic laws were at least an upgrade from the laws of surrounding cultures and religions.
The Israelites had to actually be told to not sacrifice babies and don’t have sex with animals (Lev. 18: 21, 23). These were times when gods were made out of metal (Lev. 19:4) and children sacrificed to supposed gods. God advised the only Law really needed by loving others as we want to be loved (Lev. 19:18), but parameters are always necessary in an imperfect world. It is more complicated working with a nation than a parent working with a child or two. God always hopes for change within so laws aren’t even necessary.
There was more protection of slaves in the OT compared to other near Eastern laws. Exodus 21:20-27 states the death penalty if a master harms a servant that they die. But, if they recover in a day or two, why is there no punishment (v.21)? It is possible the injury was not severe and may assume the loss of money via the servant’s labor was some punishment. The passage goes on to say but if a master knocks out a tooth, the slave is allowed to go free (v.27). Why didn’t God simply outlaw masters touching their servants? The Israelites perhaps were as close-minded to not disciplining servants physically as some are to not spanking children. A law stating a parent must never touch their child may accomplish nothing to protect children. The discipline of servants was tolerated but regulated for disallowing does nothing.
Why didn’t God simply abolish servanthood? The Bible accepts that servanthood is a reality in a world of poverty and gave regulations for treatment by masters. To completely abolish servanthood during these times would leave many without care and food. Laws were set up when people treated servants as objects. God must tolerate certain behaviors if freedom is allowed. God knows people hide, not change their actions, without a change of heart. Servants were considered equal and not to be denied justice when they had a grievance (Job 31:13-15).
God hates divorce as much as we do for the sake of children, but God instructions for divorce is an example of God entering a world of freedom and seeking to protect victims. God not outlawing divorce didn’t mean God approved of all divorces (Deut. 24:1-4), but simply outlawing divorce and not addressing the reality of divorce doesn’t protect victims. God knows power corrupts but God allowed Israel to choose Kings. We only accept the truth sometimes after suffering consequences of our choices.
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 lists stoning for rebellious teenagers. But, it seems there was always a substitution that could be offered for any crime except murder (Num. 35:31). The intent may have been to stress the importance of family and obedience in a world described above. Elisha cursed young people calling him bald by causing mauling by bears (2 Kgs. 2:23-24). Was there more to the story know but not recorded for future readers? Was this a gang of rebellious youth intending to do more harm and rebelling against any morality associated with Elisha’s God?
It can be bizarre to us when we read in the OT about all the strict laws related to the tabernacle and priestly duties. These were unique times. God sought to differentiate Israel’s God from other nations’ gods, even to the point of exaggeration. People were never told they couldn’t leave to join another nation and the ways of their gods. God must be distinguished in the beginning for the rest of history. God was dealing with people influenced by others whose gods of creation were represented by metal images or animals. God was revealed and by NT times, people understood how the God of Israel was different from all other nations and gods.
I had always wondered why the uncleanness and seclusion doubled for a female child (Lev. 12:5). Is this just more of God’s supposed plan to suggest men have more of a favored position than women in God’s mind? A plausible explanation is that maybe girls were typically smaller at birth with a higher mortality rate and the extended period allowed a baby girl to become more stable. Maybe fathers favored sons over daughters and a longer time at home encouraged more attention from the husbands. But, there was no difference in the temple ritual between the birth of a boy or girl (v.6).
It is difficult to relate to many of the OT laws. I don’t wish to suggest that none of the laws are mystifying as to why God participated in the making of such laws. Not all OT laws are easily explainable. Perhaps if we could get in the skins of those who lived back then it would be more understandable. But, maybe God is not as inhumane or immoral as God is often made out to be when some of the laws are quoted in isolation. We don’t have to ignore the OT or assume writers were lying when acknowledging God’s participation, but we might read the OT with a better understanding that God works with people rather than abandoning or that God doesn’t simply overrule people because of God’s uncontrolling love.