After the sin of the golden calf, the Levites alone were given the priesthood. Why? Well, imagine the consequences of this. Now whenever Israel gathered to worship they would remember their sin--the ones leading them in worship are the same individuals who killed the idolaters, i.e., their own family members. Furthermore, since Aaron led Israel in this idolatry, constructing the golden calf, he would now head up the offering of bulls and goats in the sanctuary.
Understanding this is key to grasping the logic of the Levitical law code. Leviticus explains: "[The LORD said to Moses…] Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house; he shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself" [Lev 16:11]. Aaron has to make atonement not only for the people, but specifically for himself.
The change in the priesthood implied a change in the law. Hebrews 7:12 explains, "For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well." The secondary laws added because of Israel's sinfulness were known as the deuterosis in early Christian writings. An example of this would be the Didascalia Apostolorum, which describes the "second legislation" of the sacrificial code given at Sinai [DA, chapter 26].
The Old Testament itself bears witness to the idea that Israel had been given a "lower" law. The book of Ezekiel outlines God's dealings with Israel. The Lord explains to Ezekiel, "Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life..." (Ezek 20:23).
Hahn and Bergsma explain that the reference here is the book of Deuteronomy [Scott Hahn and John Bergsma, "What laws were 'not good'? A canonical approach to the theological problem of Ezek 20:25-26," JBL 123/2 (2004): 201-218] . Specifically, the laws that "were not good" refer to the fact that whereas prior to Deuteronomy, the Israelites had been told that all sacrifices were to be offered at the central sanctuary (cf. Lev 17:1-8), Deuteronomy only mandated a yearly pilgrimage to the sanctuary (cf. Deut 15:20) for the sacrifice of firstlings (Deut 12:6, 17; 14:22-23; 15:19, 20). In other words, whereas Leviticus explained that all sacrifices were to be brought to the Lord, Deuteronomy explains that only the firstlings are to be offered at the sanctuary.
In addition, whereas the Deuteronomic code allows Israelites to offer substitute animals, including, apparently, in the place of their firstlings (Deut 14:22-26), Leviticus explicitly forbids this practice (Lev 27:9-10, 28).
Hahn and Bergsma conclude:
Thus the distinctly Deuteronomic practice of making annual pilgrimage to the central sanctuary represented a defiling concession (i.e., a cultic sin of omission): the sacrifice of (only) the firstlings--with its corrollary, the profane slaughter of all non-firstlings--was completely deficient by stricter Priestly standards, especially concerning the handling of blood. Furthermore, the consecration of firstlings that was commanded by the Deuteronomic code and the substitution that was allowed were totally inadequate from the Priestly perspective. [Scott Hahn and John Bergsma, "What laws were 'not good'?", 217.]Why does Dueteronomy make such concessions. I think one reason is the fact that Deuteronomy is given to Israel prior to entering the promised land. In the wilderness it was much easier for the Israelites to bring their sacrifices to the Tent at the center of the camp. In the promised land, however, they would spread out across a much greater area. The tribal territories encompassed a much larger geographical area than the "camp" of Israel in the desert. Bringing sacrifices to the central sanctuary (cf. Deut 12:10-13) entailed a much greater hardship. In this God accommodated himself to the Israelites. So much more could be said here about all of this, but due to the limited scope of this essay, that will have to suffice for now.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church picks up the concept of divine pedagogy, alluding to Dei Verbum. CCC 53 states,
"The divine plan of Revelation is realized simultaneously "by deeds and words which are intrinsically bound up with each other"[DV 2] and shed light on each another. It involves a specific divine pedagogy: God communicates himself to man gradually. He prepares him to welcome by stages the supernatural Revelation that is to culminate in the person and mission of the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ."To prepare humanity for what He would ultimately do in Christ, God in the Old Testament therefore had to make certain allowances. Again, we can cite Dei Verbum 15, which explains that the Old Testament contains some things "which are incomplete and temporary" that "nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy."
The pedagogy, however, does not simply imply a "stooping" but also a raising. The fathers explained that the sacrificial laws of the deuterosis functioned as a kind of medicine. Theodoret, for example, described the Lord as the all-wise physician (ho pansophos iatros), who allowed for the Levitical sacrifices because of Israel's weakness as a drug (to pharmakon) for the disease of Egypt [cf. Graecorum Affectionum Curatio, 7]. Of course, if the deuterosis is a medicine, it could also be said that used improperly it could also render one sick and become a poison [cf. Stephen D. Benin, The Footprints of God: Divine Accommodation in Jewish and Christian Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 87-88].
St. Augustine uses the imagery of medicine, combining the image of God as physician with that of God's Fatherhood.
Whoever denies that both Testaments come from the same God for the reason that our people are not bound by the same sacraments as those by which the Jews were bond and still are bound, cannot deny that it would be perfectly just and possible for one father of a family to lay one set of commands upon those for whom he judged a harsher servitude to be useful, and a different set on those whom he deigned to adopt into the position of sons. If the trouble is that the moral precepts of the old law are lower and in the Gospel higher, and that therefore both cannot come from the same God, whoever thinks in this way may find difficulty in explaining how a single physician prescribes one medicine to weaker patients through his assistants, and another by himself to stronger patience, all to restore health [De Vera Religione, XVII, 34].Relating the use of medicine to the divine economy, Augustine writes,
The art of medicine remains the same and quite unchanged, but it changes its prescriptions for the sick, since the state of their health changes. So the divine providence remains entirely without chang, but comes to the aid of mutable creatures in various ways, and commands or forbids different things at different times according to the different stages of their disease...In keeping with this imagery the fathers saw God's concessions in the Old Testament as necessary for the "curing" of Israel.
The ultimate expression of divine condescension for the fathers is the Incarnation. Jesus stoops down, becoming man, in order to make us partakers in the divine nature. John Chrysostom writes,
"Do you see that he did many things so as to give an example? A teacher who is full of wisdom stammers along with his stammering young students. But the teacher's stammering does not come from a lack of learning; it is a sign of the concern he feels toward the children. In the same way, Christ did not do these things because of the lowliness of his essence, he did them as a condescension" [On the incompreh., X, 2, 786. Cited in Benin, 70].Athanasius thus writes, "In like manner then, if the blessed Peter speak of the Divine Word also, as sent to the children of Israel by Jesus Christ, it is not necessary to understand that the Word is one and Christ another, but that they were one and the same by reason of the uniting which took place in His divine and loving condescension and becoming man. [Discourse IV Against the Arians, 31]."
As a post-script to this essay, we might wonder what God's example of accommodation and condescension mean for us as parents, teachers and catechists. If Scripture reveals a divine pedagogy, how might we apply that model to the way we raise up children in the faith today? Comments are of course welcome.