christine's bible study

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. Isa 40:8

deuteronomy 17:14-20, authority of the king

Read Deuteronomy 17:14-20 at Bible Gateway.

Previously: deuteronomy 17:8-13, national authority

(Please review the teaching tools of scripture, especially the Hebrew paragraph divisions and chiastic structures. The paragraphs marked by an “s” at their close are weak paragraphs, which indicate a change of facet but not a change of theme or topic. The paragraphs marked by a “p” at their close are strong paragraphs, which indicate the completion of a theme or topic.)

This section, Deu 17:14-20, is the third section explaining the fifth commandment, Honor your father and mother. (The fifth commandment is explained in Deu 16:18-18:22, and this is my summary of it.)

Deu 17:14-20 {s} Authority of the king

The focus remains on national authorities, and shifts from the authority of the high priest or judge, to the king. At first Israel did not have a king like the nations around them. They had a cohesive national authority which combined the political power with the spiritual power: Moses + Aaron, and Joshua + Eleazar. If you go back far enough in Torah, you find that God’s original plan was just to call Moses, and He granted Moses his brother Aaron as his mouthpiece, as a concession to him. The cohesive national authority was directly under the authority of God, and listened to Him, and carried out His commands.

But, when His people desired to have a king like the nations around them, then God separated the powers. You might be interested to know that the pagan nations around Israel were patterned after the pattern established by Nimrod. He was the first king in the earth after the Flood. He established himself as the political authority (the king) who heard the words of the gods (he claimed) and related them to the people (the prophet); and established rituals and made sacrifices to the gods on the people’s behalf (the priest). As all the pagan nations came from Babel, you can see this same pattern in the cultures of ancient civilizations. The title “pharaoh” was not just the Egyptian title for “king,” but it meant, “voice of Ra,” Ra being the Egyptian sun god. The king voiced the words of the god. The nations around Israel combined the separate authorities and concentrated power in their king. God is here separating these powers and dispersing them for His nation.

God does not here establish responsibilities for the king, concerning the nation, although they are explained elsewhere in Scripture. But He here establishes boundaries and restrictions for the king. I think it is because, as history has shown us, it is all too common for kings to cross boundaries and concentrate power in themselves, as a factor of fallen human nature.

A king must be the man whom God chooses. In a nation where the king is elected, then, it is His people’s responsibility to remain in the presence of God until they have heard who God’s choice is, and then elect him. Kings must be of the people. The American founders encoded this principle in the Constitution when they closed the office of president to immigrants. But there is more to it than that — the king shall be of the people of God, and not a stranger to Him or His covenants of promise.

The king shall not multiply to himself horses, wives, or much wealth. Horses, I believe, is a reference to military power, because in the ancient world, horses were kept for cavalry and chariots, and were not used in the course of every day life. Donkeys and camels were used to bear burdens or for regular transportation. Men multiplying military power to themselves, wives to themselves, or much wealth to themselves, had a hard time keeping their heart from being ensnared by these things, so that their hearts turned away from the Lord their God. We see the wisdom of this command, because Israel’s greatest king, who multiplied horses, wives, and wealth to himself, let his heart be turned away – Solomon. If it was such a temptation that even Solomon could not avoid it, then these boundaries are very wise indeed.

So how shall the king keep his heart pure to the Lord his God?

“Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.” Deu 17:18-20

Notice the command to copy for himself the book of the Law. The book of the Law, the five books of Moses, was the only Scripture there was in those days. The king was not to have the Levites copy the book for him. He was to copy the book for himself. I think copying is a very wise teaching tool that God uses to begin to teach man His word; for when a person rewrites something, it is embedded by different pathways in the brain, much more firmly than if it is only read. I can read the Scriptures all day. But when I begin to write them and write about them, new avenues of revelation into their meaning are almost always opened up for me by His Spirit. I believe that if copying works for the king, to cause him to learn to fear the Lord his God, being careful to observe His words, then it is the best penmanship and language exercise we can have our children do also.

When the king is done copying God’s word for himself, he is to keep it with him and read it every day, all the days of his life. He must fear the Lord and be careful to observe His statutes. He must not lift his heart above his brethren, by being proud and arrogant of his authority over them.

THEN the nation will be blessed by the exercise of the king’s authority over them!

Continued: deuteronomy 18:1-8, authority of the levites

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