Why does God want us to follow Jesus, but at one point allowed the Hebrews to be violent at times, and sometimes even told them to be?
There are some reasons I can accept, like war was more common. Okay, sure. Yet, I struggle to find a reason for God involving slavery in the plans for the Israelites, even making room for physical punishment and the keeping of children from those slaves.
Why not cut out the hard bits like this and teach a more peaceful message like Jesus eventually would (which was counterculture then)?
I am no theologian However consider that the Bible was written as independent books in many different places, sometimes centuries after the events that are written about. The books we have in the Bible come from a series of church synods in the 4th century. The message of the New Testament is seen as a replacement for the covenants of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is used to support the message of the New Testament. So yes, as you seem to be asking, Jesus’ message in the end is the point of the Bible as I understand my faith. The Old Testament serves as support and context for the New Testament.
That ‘counterculture’ thing is huge, I think. Let me ask it this way: when your children are young, would you ask them to do their homework and their chores and listen to everything you say purely out of unmitigated love for you? Or, would you realize that, in that point in their development, they wouldn’t be able to attain to that motivation? (And so, it would make more sense just to say “do this” and “don’t do that”.) Moreover, would there be things that you would defer telling them to do, since you knew that they just wouldn’t be able to handle doing them? (For example, maybe your teen might be tempted to hang with the wrong crowd and get into really bad habits; you know that they wouldn’t be able to follow your direction if you said, “OK… you can go to the football game, but don’t hang out with X, Y, and Z, ok?” … so, instead, since you know that they wouldn’t be able to handle it, you provide an alternative (“no, sorry, you’re not allowed to go to the game tonight”).)
That is, knowing that they couldn’t handle it, you provided other ways to help them ‘avoid the near occasion of sin.’
We look at the descriptions in the OT and ask, with our 21st-century perspective, “is that what God would do today? Is that what we would do today?” but that’s as silly as looking back at the way we were treated as children and asking, “Wow… weren’t our parents barbaric? Why, no one would put me in a timeout today or tell me to go to bed without dessert! How cruel!”
I truly wish there was more emphasis on the reality between living under the Mosaic Law and all its proscriptions and living in the age of grace ushered in by the Incarnation because if there were more teaching about this Catholics wouldn’t have to ask your question/make your assumptions, SpeakKindly.
Before Jesus’ Incarnation mankind had natural law and the Mosaic Law given to us on Mount Sinai. The violence you cite came about when Israel was freed from bondage in Egypt and traveled to return to their heritage given to them by God through Abraham. The peoples that had taken over those lands were pagans who obeyed neither natural law nor the Mosaic Law. They killed their own children in rituals to their gods and other abominations. God ordered the Israelites to free the lands of these “squatters” with their unholy cultures, and that meant waging war. Those taken as slaves were not lifelong slaves but were freed after so many years. There were many laws regarding the taking of prisoners and their treatment that were much more humane than other cultures at the time. St. Paul points out that no one could keep the law–not the natural law nor the Mosaic Law because mankind was fallen and without recourse to God’s grace.
Jesus’ Incarnation began the age of grace, to which the saints and prophets of the OT had been looking forward. Now, through the death and resurrection of Christ, we could be baptized into grace and receive the Holy Spirit in his fullness. Now we are to think of every person as a brother because all may be saved in Christ through his redemption. Before Christ God’s grace was limited because of mankind’s lack of obedience to God’s laws. We who have the graces of Christ’s salvific work have a hard time putting ourselves in the place of those who didn’t in the OT. God didn’t change, rather he made a new and everlasting covenant in Christ which fulfilled all other covenants and fulfilled the demands of the Law which mankind could not keep.