Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Deuteronomy 17: 14-20

14"You will soon arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you, and you will conquer it and settle there. Then you may begin to think, `We ought to have a king like the other nations around us.' 15If this happens, be sure that you select as king the man the LORD your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite, not a foreigner. 16The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself, and he must never send his people to Egypt to buy horses there, for the LORD has told you, `You must never return to Egypt.' 17The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will lead him away from the LORD. And he must not accumulate vast amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.
18"When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy these laws on a scroll for himself in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19He must always keep this copy of the law 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 this law. 20This 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. This will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.

Points of Interest:

· select as king the man the LORD your God chooses’—Moses has, of course, been their leader ever since they left Egypt. Now that Moses is nearing the end of his life, it’s natural that the question of who will lead them in the future would come up. Moses has led them as a prophet, but they may in the future want to go the more conventional route of having a king. Moses recognizes and allows for that preference. But he warns them that if their king is going to be able to do his job, he can’t be a king just like any other king. They should ask the LORD to guide their choice, rather than take their cues from the nations around them.

· must not build up a large stable of horses’—horses in the ancient Near East were used pretty much exclusively as weapons of war. So, having a large stable of horses was synonymous with having a large and powerful army. Kings would be prone to have lots of horses for a couple of reasons: since chariots were the elite troops of the day, having lots of horses would be a status symbol; and having a large and powerful army would protect them from their enemies. The LORD wants a king that will trust him, rather than the latest military technology, to be their source of security.

· You must never return to Egypt’—at the time, Egypt had the best horses and chariots. If a king were to want a powerful cavalry, he would look to Egypt for equipment and training. Such a choice could lead to a dangerous dependence on Egypt. God did not free them from Egypt only to see them enslave themselves to Egypt again voluntarily—especially for the sake of military equipment that, from God’s perspective is unnecessary and harmful anyway.

· must not take many wives for himself’—it was common for kings to marry for the sake of diplomacy. They would marry noblewomen from surrounding nations with whom they were allied or with whom they were trying to form an alliance. So, a king could have many wives, and part of the job of these wives would be to advance the political and religious agendas of their home countries.

· for himself’—even if a king starts out as a servant of the people, the lure of power is strong. It’s all too tempting for a king to use his authority over the people to enrich himself rather than to protect and lead his people. Most kings can’t or don’t resist that temptation. God warns them about choosing a king carefully primarily for their own sakes. If they’re not extremely cautious, they could end up sorely regretting their choice. Having a king could easily seem to be a much more attractive idea than it is in reality.

· That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God’—the king is supposed to rule in the same way any Israelite is supposed to live: by trusting the LORD and listening to his guidance. If he follows God’s instructions, rather than the example of the kings around him, he will be able to lead his people in the right direction and thrive himself while doing it.

· Sadly, when the Israelites do in fact form a monarchy, almost all of their kings starting with Solomon, the third king, do the exact opposite of what the LORD suggests—to the ruin of the nation. They enrich themselves at the expense of the people. They make Israel (and Judah, which breaks off from Israel in a fight over royal succession) indebted to and dependent on other nations, both financially and politically. They introduce the idols of their many foreign diplomat-wives into the official religion of the nation. And they foolishly depend on the power of their own military. By all of these choices, they quickly ruin the good and pleasant land God has given them.

Taking it home:

· For you: Moses predicts that the Israelites will want to be just like all the other nations, but God wants so much better for them than that. As you try to step out on this journey of faith, do you find yourself envying people who live ‘normal lives.’ What are the things you wish for, and why? Confess your envy, and bring your desires to God. Ask him to prove that he can do better than we could do for ourselves.

· For your six: Moses knows that the Israelites will be tempted to slip right back into the slavery from which God just rescued them. If any of your six have experienced any new freedom from the things that have held them down, pray that they would be able to easily see and resist paths that would lead them back into their old problems.

· For our church: Moses recommends to future kings that they read God’s words daily as an antidote to pride, greed, and error and as a constant encouragement in the direction of goodness, truth, and life. Even though we aren’t kings, Moses’ recommendation still sounds wise to me. As we approach the end of this 40-day devotional, pray that God would help us to continue to turn to his word with expectation every day.