In Disney’s Lion King (1994), the king’s son, Simba, sings a catchy tune called “I just can’t wait to be king.”
I just can’t wait to be king
I’m gonna be a mighty king
So enemies beware!
Well, I’ve never seen a king of beasts
With quite so little hair
I’m gonna be the mane event
Like no king was before
I’m brushing up on looking down
I’m working on my ROAR
Thus far, a rather uninspiring thing
Oh, I just can’t wait to be king!
First of all Simba thinks he is going to be king of the pride one day, because his dad is king today. That is typically how it works, kingship passes from father to first born son. Unfortunately for Simba he has a very jealous Uncle named Scar who also wants to be king. A real Machiavellian struggle ensues to see who will be king.
In the world it is often not the best qualified or best candidate who becomes king. It is done by blood. When the king does not have a son, it could then pass to his next in line brother. It was all about keeping the blood line going. The good news for Simba is, yes, after waiting he does eventually become king (I hope I didn’t spoil that for anyone. ).
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.