TRANSITION TO A MONARCHY WILL LEAD TO ABUSE OF POWER UNLESS THE KING SUBMITS TO THE SUPREME AUTHORITY OF GOD’S WORD
Duane Christensen: The law of the king (17:14–20), together with the law of the prophets (18:9–22), stands at the structural center of the book of Deuteronomy—as a frame around the law of the Levitical priests (18:1–8). This fact suggests that a primary concern of the book of Deuteronomy, and perhaps the Pentateuch as a whole, is the matter of leadership of the people of God (A. Wildavsky, The Nursing Father: Moses as a Political Leader [Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1984]).
Peter Craigie: The role of the book in the life of the king is of importance for understanding the full dimensions of Israel’s faith. In the early part of Moses’ address, he recalled for his audience the events of past history; on the basis of the experience of God in history (one form of revelation), the Israelites drew strength for the future. But the revelation of the word of God, written down for successive generations, was also a source of strength. Both the acts of God and the words of God were recorded; but while the former gave evidence of the living reality of their God, it was the latter that provided in detail the guidance and wisdom for daily living, in the first place for the king.
Meredith Kline: The main insistence of this passage, which lays the legal-covenantal foundation for the later monarchy, is that even when dynastic kingship will have replaced charismatic judgeship, the kings, too, must subject their life and reign, particularly their judicial activity, to God’s covenant (vv. 18-20). The judicial supremacy belonged to the Lord, whose law was under the guardianship of the priests (v. 18; cf. 11).
Halbe Geertsma: Israel’s reason for requesting a king has nothing to do with their zeal to maintain the law of the LORD. They want a military leader. Afterward they openly admit that. You can read that in v.20. They think they need a powerful king who can lead them in battle against their enemies. A number of judges indeed filled that role, but only on a temporary basis. After he died, a judge was not immediately replaced by another judge. Thus, the LORD’s reason for appointing a king in Israel is to cause ongoing reformation. The Israelites wanted a king in order to display their might on a permanent basis. Even though the LORD is their glory and strength, they want to impress the surrounding nations by having a king of their own. Consequently, this request for a king indicates a rejection of the LORD.
I. (:14-15) ANTICIPATING THE TRANSITION IN GOVERNMENT
AWAY FROM THE THEOCRACY TO A MONARCHY
[Application: Anticipating the transition in church government away from the biblical plurality of elders to a Senior-Pastor led church with helping elders]
A. (:14) Circumstances Feeding a Desire for a King
1. Security in the Promised Land by God’s Grace and Power
“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you,
and you possess it and live in it,”
Duane Christensen: Kingship originated in the desire of the people, not as a divine ordinance.
2. Syncretistic Compromise Based on a Preference for Visible Human Leadership over the Invisible Leadership of God
“and you say, ‘I will set a king over me
like all the nations who are around me,’”
What could be better than a theocratic form of governance where the invisible God who has already proven His power to establish you in the land can now be trusted to protect and provide and govern you going forward? It is similar to the temptation of being saved by the Spirit and then trying to seek sanctification by the flesh.
Yet the human temptation is to desire a visible, charismatic leader that you can look to as the visionary and focus of power and might. What a mistake to desire to be like the pagan Gentile nations in this arena of power and government. This is a man-initiated perversion of what God has revealed as His ideal form of government for Israel. It provides the type of checks and balances that the focus of power in one man loses.
Duane Christensen: The reason subsequently given for the establishment of kingship in Israel was “that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam 8:19–20).
B. (:15) Choice of a King Must be Dictated by God
1. Limit Your Independent Self-Initiation
“you shall surely set a king over you
whom the LORD your God chooses,”
2. Limit Your Syncretistic Compromise
“one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves;
you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.”
II. (:16-17) WARNING AGAINST THE ALMOST INEVITABLE DANGERS OF A MONARCHY = THE ABUSE OF POWER IN DIFFERENT REALMS
[Application: Warning against the almost inevitable dangers of a Senior-Pastor led church with helping elders]
A. (:16) Prohibition against Multiplying Horses – Military Sphere —
Kings Tend to Lust after More Power
“Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’”
Daniel Block: The regulation regarding horses is intended to stifle militaristic impulses (cf. Deut. 20:1; Josh. 17:16–18; Judg. 1:19).
Gerald Gerbrandt: The restriction also brings to mind the account of the rise of kingship in 1 Samuel 8–12. Again Israel is afraid of an enemy, this time the Philistines. The people come to Samuel with the request that he appoint a king for them “so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam 8:20, emph. added). To multiply horses is the same sin as to request a king to fight our battle: both are a rejection of the God who has demonstrated through the exodus that deliverance does not occur through armies and horses but through obedience to that God. The prophet Isaiah indicts the “house of Jacob” because “their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots” (2:7; cf. Mic 5:10).
B. (:17a) Prohibition against Multiplying Wives – Political Sphere —
Kings Tend to Lust after More Pleasure and Political Alliances and Status
“Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away;”
Daniel Block: The prohibition against multiplying women extends far beyond providing the king with unlimited opportunity for sexual gratification. Since marriages were often arranged to strengthen alliances, the institution of the harem enabled kings to be allied simultaneously with many outside rulers (cf. 1 Kings 11:1), while also providing decoration for the court to impress visitors. But this text seems unconcerned about these considerations. Instead, Moses the pastor views the harem as a threat to spiritual fidelity to Yahweh: The women will turn the king’s heart away. The warning concerns defection into idolatry (cf. 7:3–4), though in light of what follows it may involve defection from the Torah in general and the Supreme Command in particular. The reference to “his heart” suggests such defection is not primarily an external act but a fundamental aspect of one’s being (cf. 6:5). Like wine and strong drink, pursuing pleasure and status can inhibit the proper exercise of one’s responsibilities.
Gerald Gerbrandt: Likely the prohibition against multiplying wives also has internal considerations in mind. After all, the text itself does not specify “foreign” wives but prohibits many wives of any kind. Internal alliances with powerful families, “signed” and sealed through marriages, had the potential to undermine the king’s place as one of the community. This was true both because it would give key families undue influence, thereby making it difficult for the king to promote justice for all, and because it would reflect a wealth and status well above that of the common people (Nelson 2002: 224).
Earl Kalland: A large harem of many wives also represented a likeness to the oriental courts of other kingdoms, and having many wives envisaged the usual procedure of acquiring those wives from families of other kings and so sealing treaties by marriage. Such wives would bring the impact of foreign cultures into the palace, particularly the worship of other gods, and so lead the heart of the king astray (v. 17).
C. (:17b) Prohibition against Multiplying Silver and Gold – Economic Sphere —
Kings Tend to Lust after More Possessions (Wealth)
“nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.”
Daniel Block: In the ancient Near Eastern political world, this wealth was generally amassed at the expense of the people by taxing the citizens and demanding tribute from subject states. . .
Godly leaders exist for the well-being of those they lead and refuse to exploit their positions for personal advantage. The three restrictions placed on royal behavior address three common temptations of leaders: an increasingly insatiable lust for power, status, and wealth. In the Bible responsible headship is never about power or privilege; it is always about securing the well-being of those under one’s charge.
Duane Christensen: In short, the king is commanded not to place his trust in any of the normal sources of power to which a king might turn (military, political, or economic). The story of King Solomon is subsequently told in a manner that highlights the violation of all three of these provisions of the law of the king in Deuteronomy.
III. (:18-20) ELEVATING THE WORD OF GOD TO THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF AUTHORITY TO PROTECT THE INTEGRITY OF THE KING AND HIS KINGDOM
[Application: Elevating the Word of God to the highest level of authority to protect the integrity of the Senior-Pastor and his flock]
A. (:18) Priority of the Word of God and the Worship of God
“Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom,
he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll
in the presence of the Levitical priests.”
Daniel Block: In the ancient Near Eastern political world, this wealth was generally amassed at the expense of the people by taxing the citizens and demanding tribute from subject states.
MacArthur: The ideal set forth was that of the king who was obedient to the will of God, which he learned from reading the law. The result of his reading of the Pentateuch would be fear of the Lord and humility. The king was pictured as a scribe and scholar of Scripture. Josiah reinstituted this approach at a bleak time in Israel’s history (cf. 2Ki 22).
B. (:19a) Devotion to the Word of God
1. Keep it Close
“And it shall be with him,”
2. Keep it Real
“and he shall read it all the days of his life,”
C. (:19b-20b) Value of the Word of God
1. (:19b) Promotes the Fear of the Lord
“that he may learn to fear the LORD his God,
by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes,”
2. (:20a) Promotes Humility
“that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen”
Halbe Geertsma: The king and his subjects must be united in that obedience to the LORD. In v.15 the word ‘brothers’ is used intentionally. The king must be willing to be an ordinary child of the LORD, and thus a brother with respect to his subjects.
3. (:20b) Promotes Obedience
“and that he may not turn aside from the commandment,
to the right or the left;”
D. (:20c) Blessing of the Word of God
“in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom
in the midst of Israel.”
Gerald Gerbrandt: Solidarity with the people and obedience to God’s instructions as represented by the book of Deuteronomy are the key to continued blessing in the land, for the people as a whole as well as for the king. The concluding phrase of the passage takes the characteristic Deuteronomic promise of long life in the land and applies it more particularly to the situation of the king. Kingship and dynastic succession go hand in hand.