Deuteronomy 17:14-20

Click here to open the passage in a new window. Be sure to read the Bible text and not only my comment on it.

This section seems to come somewhat out of nowhere, but it feels related to the selection of God’s chosen place in 12:5-14, which also followed a passage about idolatry and its consequences. We learn here about the appointment of a king for the people of Israel, after taking possession of the promised land. This passage is very important for the development of the theme of kingship throughout the Bible. Some scholars suggest that it was written into the mouth of Moses during the exile, long after the rise and fall of the monarchy, in part to explain to the people of Israel why things happened the way that they did. We will just read it as it comes here, without worrying about its provenance.

The point made here is that having a king is the people’s idea, and it was to be like the surrounding nations (cf 1 Sam 8:4-9). Although monarchy was perhaps not God’s design, he is willing to acquiesce to the people’s demands, as long as they follow his choice and his rules. God will choose the king from among the Israelites, and he must not seek many horses (i.e. military might), many wives, or much money. God does not want the people of Israel to go back to Egypt, from which he had saved them. He does not want the king’s heart led astray, or lifted up above his brothers. The king must have a copy of the torah – God’s instruction and commandments – and read it every day, so that his obedience to God’s law demonstrates his fear of Yahweh. This will lead to a long reign and dynasty. The main point is humility and leadership under God’s authority.

It doesn’t take long in the history of Israel to see that the kings failed to live under God’s rule. Saul was a crazy megalomaniac, David sinned in adultery and murder, Solomon did exactly what is warned against here: acquiring horses from Egypt (1 Kgs 4:26; 10:28), wives who led his heart astray (1 Kgs 11:1-8), and excessive wealth. We only go downhill from there, although with occasional flutters of hope (eg 2 Kgs 22). It is not until the advent of Jesus that Israel finally gets a king who has no interest in horses, wives, or wealth, who studies God’s word, and is humble before him. Ironically, when Israel’s true king arose, they by and large rejected him. And yet he is the one who reigns for ‘length of days’ (cf Dan 7:13-14).

Do we see Jesus as king, owner of our lives and holdings? This is the main application of this passage for me. Secondarily, what kind of leadership do we exercise? Is it one that seeks might and wealth? Or are we constrained by humility to read the Lord’s word and be obedient to it?

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for exalting of my own heart and its desires. Thank you so much for King Jesus, who shows me how to lead in humility. Help me be obedient to him and to your word.

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