TODAY’S READING: Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9
As you have heard many times I am a history book addict. I have lately been reading A History of the English Speaking Peoples, by Winston S. Churchill. Seeing as England grew up as a monarchy I have been reading a lot about the royal intrigues; how does one become King. In many of these histories, there are stories of sons killing fathers to become kings. Or distant cousins claiming that they are the rightful heirs, then forming an army and taking the throne by force.
In fables and fairytales we often see that by simply being the first born of the current king or queen means you will be king. That is true today, we know that one day, Prince Charles of England will be King of England. He simply needs to wait for his mother, the Queen of England to either abdicate or die. The same is true here in the Netherlands, Prince Williem-Alexander just needs to wait for his turn.
In today’s reading God lays down some guidelines on how Israelites should choose a king if they so desire. Here are the guidelines from Deuteronomy 17:14 – 20 (NLT)
14 “You are about to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ 15 If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.
16 “The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ 17 The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.
18 “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. 20 This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.
A summary of the kingly requirements:
A man the Lord has chosen v 15
Must not be a foreigner v. 15
Must not build up large stable of horses v. 16
Must not return to Egypt v. 16
Must not take many wives v. 17
Must not accumulate wealth v. 17
Must know and read the Law of God daily v. 18, 20
Know and fear the Lord v. 19
Qualification 1, 2, 7 and 8 make perfect sense to me. God chooses godly men who belong to the country they will be King for. Make sense, right?
But why the restrictions about a large stable of horses and accumulated wealth (3 and 6)? To us it almost seems contradictory. Don’t we always imagine kings with accumulated wealth and hundreds if not thousands of horses? I think these conditions are there so that the king does not come to depend upon his own wealth and power. The King that God wants is a king that depends on God himself for his strength.
Why forbid a returning to Egypt (#4.) Egypt represents a land of slavery to the Israelites. It also represents a land where others took care of them (they were slaves). Throughout the 40 year journey from Egypt to the promised land when the going got tough, the Israelites begged to go back to Egypt where they would prefer to live as slaves then to see how God worked. Egypt was a safe step backwards.
Why not permit many wives (#5). Multiple wives were permitted both culturally and according to the law. So why is it not recommended for kings? Verse 17 tells us that many wives will distract a king. As king his responsibilities are for the people that God has entrusted to him. Many wives will only complicate and distract the king in the exercise of his duties.
Later we will read about the Kings of Israel, it will be interesting to see how those kings measure up to these principles for the choosing of a king.
Check out in Psalm 21 what King David has to say about being a king dedicated to the Lord.