14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:14-25 ESV
In yesterday’s post, we saw that a day would come when the people of Israel would reject God as their rightful King and demand that He provide them with a human king. They would make their request known to Samuel, the prophet of God.
“…you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” – 1 Samuel 8:5 NLT
Samuel would find their demands offensive, but God would command him to do exactly as they had requested.
“Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:8-10 NLT
It would be easy to assume that God was simply acceding to their demands and giving them just what they had asked for: A king to judge us like all the other nations have. But that would be a false assumption. As today’s passage indicates, God knew that the day would come when the people would ask for a king.
“When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, ‘I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me…’” – Deuteronomy 17:14 NLT
God knew in advance what the Israelites were going to do and he had already planned for it. In fact, God let them know the kind of king they should select.
“…you must select without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king.” – Deuteronomy 17:15 NLT
Notice God’s stipulation. He was more than willing for them to select a king for themselves, but it was going to have to be the man He chose. This man would have to have God’s blessing, and he would have to meet God’s standards, which included Israelite citizenship. No non-Jew was to rule over God’s people. And, while they would demand a king just like all the other nations, God was not going to allow this man to emulate the ways of these foreign potentates.
“…he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so…” – Deuteronomy 17:16 NLT
Stables filled with fine horses might characterize the kingdoms of other rulers, but God was going to expect His king to remain set apart, wholly distinct from all other human-appointed rulers. This would include a ban on accumulating wives and concubines, a typical manifestation of royal power and privilege.
“…he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not accumulate much silver and gold.” – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT
The people were going to demand that they be given a king who looked like every other king. They would be thinking in terms of power, position, and prominence. The kind of king they had in mind would have all the familiar trappings of kingship, much like Pharaoh had enjoyed.
But God was not interested in placing the care of His chosen people in the hands of just any king. There would be rules and requirements involved. This man would have to rule and reign according to God’s will. He would have to obey God’s commands. But to do so, he would have to be intimately familiar with those commands, which is why God commanded:
“When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-19 NLT
A godly king would need to know God’s law. And he would have to rule over God’s people in a way that reflected his knowledge of God’s will. There was no place for pride or arrogance. God’s chosen king would serve as His representative, treating the people of God with the same care and concern He would. And if he did, God promised that “he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:20 NLT).
But years later, when the people of Israel would bring their demand for a king to Samuel, God would warn them that He was going to give them exactly what they were asking for. He would give them a king just like all the other nations.
“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the LORD will not help you.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-18 NLT
Their preferred version of a king would end up coming back to haunt them. God warned them that He would give them exactly what they demanded. He would give them their hearts desire, even though it would not turn out well for them in the long-run. But, in spite of God’s warning, they would refuse to relent on their demands.
“Even so, we still want a king,” they said. “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.” – 1 Samuel 8:19-20 NLT
God was not opposed to Israel having a king. In fact, He would eventually give them David as their king, a man after His own heart. But before David reigned over Israel, they would suffer under the lousy leadership of Saul, a man who would end up being a king just all the other nations had. And David’s own son, Solomon, would end up disobeying God’s commands, eventually amassing a harem consisting of “700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines” (1 Kings 11:3 NLT). And most of his wives would be foreign-born and idolaters. They would eventually lead him astray, causing him to forsake God and set up idols all throughout his kingdom. And for this indiscretion, God would split his kingdom in half, forming the two nations of Israel and Judah.
It was not that God was against Israel having a king, it was that He preferred a king who shared His heart. He wanted a man who would rule and reign as God’s representative, shepherding His sheep as David would eventually do.
With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:72 ESV
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