The Mosaic law was a product of its time – that is, it was meant for a certain people, in a certain geographical area, in a certain timeframe. Assuredly, in their totality, they weren’t meant to address us in our society today. But, looking at them and comparing them to what follows is a poor way to compare their virtue or effectiveness. That would be like looking at our parents’ rules for us when we were teens (be home by 11! no drinking! no smoking! break these rules and you’re grounded for a month!) and saying, “wow… how horrible! how harsh! look how much better it is, now that we’re adults!” – after all, the rules our parents had for us spoke to our maturity level and our situation then, and the rules we follow now do a good job speaking to our maturity level and situation now.
So, I would assert that the proper way to ‘judge’ the Mosaic law isn’t by comparing it to 21st century standards of behavior – but by the standard of behavior that existed in their society and their context before the Mosaic law came out!
[list]*]Men could divorce their wives at will, without cause (and remember – in those days, a divorced woman essentially became destitute).
*]There was no standard of law – if you had power, no law would touch you, and if you had no power, no law could save you. (In the Mosaic law, “an eye for an eye” held whether you were a beggar on the street or a king in the palace.)
*]Women who were accused of not being a virgin on their wedding night had no recourse (so, what the Mosaic law did was codify that they did have protection against unjust accusations, where no such protection existed previously).
*]Men who committed adultery (with an unmarried woman – and thereby preventing her from being a virgin on her wedding night – and thereby damaging her prospects for a favorable marriage) could get away with it. (Under the Mosaic law, not only women but also men could be stoned for committing adultery; and, a male adulterer who deflowered a woman – was held responsible, and made to make good on the ‘wedding promise’ that this intercourse represented. (And, if it was rape – such that the woman did not consent and cried out (or was in a location where she wouldn’t have been heard crying out), then the man stood to lose his life for the rape).)[/list]
The Mosaic law represented an advance in moral behavior, in its geographical and temporal context. Far from being ‘barbaric’, it moved the people of God out of greater barbarism and on the path of moral behavior. Was it the end-all and be-all of God’s design for us? Of course not… and that’s why Jesus’ “New Covenant” was given to us. But, that doesn’t mean that the Mosaic law was bad…