Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Deuteronomy 21:18–21

Deuteronomy 21:18–21: A Rebellious Son

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses gives rules concerning a rebellious son. Again, since this is a short passage, I’ll just quote it verbatim:

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. (Deuteronomy 21:18–21)

Thoughts

Wow. This is somewhat… draconian, to my mind. One thing that I’ve heard from Biblical scholars is that the laws handed down in the Old Testament are much more humane than laws of other nations of that time; if you steal, rather than having your hands cut off, your “punishment” is simply to pay back what you stole (adding a fifth). But that doesn’t mean that the Old Testament laws shy away from harsher measures, for harsher crimes.

But to someone living in our times, the death penalty for a rebellious son seems extreme. We understand—or we should—that the Bible commands children to obey their parents, but I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who sees this punishment as harsh.

So one—or both—of two things is happening:
  1. I don’t understand how serious being rebellious to parents really is
  2. This is another cultural thing happening, where God would not make the punishment the same, if He were handing down laws today
I’m fairly sure the first of those things is true. I don’t know about the second.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Deuteronomy 21:15–17

Deuteronomy 21:15–17: The Right of the Firstborn

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses hands down some rules regarding the rights of any Israelite firstborn [male] child. Since this is a short passage, I’ll just quote it:

If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him. (Deuteronomy 21:15–17)

Thoughts

This is actually as much about rules for having two wives as it is about the firstborn son; regardless of your view on whether it’s Biblical or not to have multiple wives1, there are certain difficulties with trying to be married to two people at the same time. But in the time in history which we’re discussing, it was possible for a man to marry more than one woman, so certain rules were handed down to say that if you do marry two women, you still have to give both women—and their sons—the rights that a wife should have. Especially in a society in which the women have no power, which was even more the case then than it is now, women’s rights have to be protected.


1The main problem with the debate about whether polygamy is inherently sinful is that the Bible doesn’t explicitly say whether polygamy is acceptable to the LORD or not. Those who say that polygamy is not a sin—even if it is culturally unacceptable in our day and time, which would make it a sin anyway—which makes this debate entirely theoretical—will say that there are no condemnations of it in the Bible. In fact, in some places God promises people (like King David) wives as part of His blessings. They would also say that in the New Testament, the only time that polygamy is forbidden is when in reference to certain particular members of the church; e.g. “deacons” are to have “but one wife” (1 Timothy 3:12), but the New Testament doesn’t say that a “layperson” should only have one wife.

On the other side of the debate, those who say that polygamy is inherently wrong will say that even though the Old Testament doesn’t forbid it, that’s because of the culture in which the Israelites lived. They say that God is gradually revealing His will to us over time, and that although He didn’t forbid it then, He is instructing us now that it is not holy to be polygamous. They would also point to passages like 1 Timothy 3:12, and say that although this passage is specifically referring to deacons, the Bible is still indicating that polygamy is bad. Just because deacons (and elders and “overseers”) are being held to a higher accountability, it doesn’t mean that everyone else can go ahead and marry as many people as they want.

Personally, I won’t bother to indicate my view here. (Hopefully this was a balanced enough discussion that it didn’t come through…) Partially because, as mentioned, it’s an entirely theoretical debate, so it doesn’t really have any importance to me; even if it turns out that polygamy is not inherently sinful, to do so in 21st Century North America would damage my testimony as a Christian, and therefore it would be sinful anyway. And partially because I’m already married, happily, and have no desire whatsoever to try and add more wives to the equation.

Deuteronomy 21:10–14

Deuteronomy 21:10–14: Rules for marrying a captured woman

Synopsis

I talked a bit, in Deuteronomy 20, about the fact that it’s just taken for granted that the Israelites are going to be going to war; it’s a fact of life that wars happen, and they’ll be fighting some. It was also mentioned that the Israelites, when fighting nations that are far away, are allowed to take captives. So if an Israelite man is attracted to a captured foreign woman, is he allowed to marry her? This passage answers that question, and lays some ground rules.

First of all, yes, Israelite men are allowed to marry women that they have captured. In such a case, the woman is to be given a full month to mourn for her parents—who, one would assume, would have been killed in the war—and then the Israelite man will be allowed to marry her. (Verse 12 says that the woman is also to have her head shaved and her nails trimmed; I’m not sure if this is part of the mourning process, or if this is some form of “purification,” before she becomes an Israelite woman.)

If, after marrying her, the Israelite man is not “pleased with her” (verse 14), he is to let her go free. Verse 14 says that by doing so the man is “dishonouring” the woman, so he is not to sell her, or treat her as a slave.

Thoughts

This is the type of passage that I have a hard time with, because I would have preferred for the LORD to tell the Israelites “don’t take captives,” or, better yet, “don’t have wars.” But He didn’t.

However, if I put myself in the mindset that wars are going to happen, and the Israelites are going to take captives, then I find these very humane rules. “Humane” in the sense that God is putting the needs of the captured women on equal terms with those of the Israelite men. I’m sure the tendency would have been for the Israelites to say that these women are not Israelites, and therefore inferior, but God is trying to ensure that they are treated well, under the circumstances.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Deuteronomy 21:1–9

Deuteronomy 21:1–9: Atonement for an Unsolved Murder

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses outlines the ritual that the priests are to carry out when an unsolved murder occurs. This is another interesting passage, in the sense that this is not how we create laws in modern times.

If someone is found murdered in a field—the passage doesn’t mention how this would change if the person was murdered in a city—the elders and judges are to measure the distance from the body to all of the neighbouring towns, to find the town that is closest. The elders from that town are then to find a heifer that has not yet begun to work, and they are to bring it to a valley that has a stream, and that has never been plowed or planted. They are to break the heifer’s neck, and the elders are to wash their hands over it, and declare that they don’t know who did this:

Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, O LORD, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent man.” (verses 6–8a)

In this way the Israelites would atone for the bloodshed. As Moses sums up:

So you will purge from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the LORD. (verse 9)

Thoughts

There is a lot of emphasis on this chapter on things being “new,” in some respect. The heifer which is sacrificed has to be young enough that she has never worked; the valley has to be one in which the Israelites have not plowed or planted. I’d say this is similar to other sacrifices that the Israelites had to make, where there were rules for what would be acceptable and what would not.

But aside from that, I’m sure this whole ceremony seems strange to most people, these days. It seems odd that the elders of the closest town—which may not even be the town where the killer lives—have to sacrifice a heifer, and declare that they don’t know who did it. But the fact is, the LORD is teaching the Israelites (and us) that sin is serious, and must be atoned for. I see this as being related—not directly, but somewhat—to the fact that there are many sins in my life that Christ has atoned for that I’m not even aware of. Some passing thought or action that I didn’t even give a second thought to, and yet he paid the price on the cross.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Deuteronomy 20

Deuteronomy 20: Rules for going to war

Synopsis

In this chapter, Moses gives the Israelites some rules to follow, whenever they go to war. He lays out five main rules.

The first rule, laid out in verses 1–4, is that the Israelites are not to be afraid when they go into battle—since it’s the LORD who is fighting for them, they have no reason to be afraid. (How’s that for a rule that people would love to obey?) In fact, the priest is to remind them of this fact:

When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” (verses 2–4)

The passage says “the priest,” instead of “a priest,” so I think this means the High Priest.

So the first rule was not to be afraid. But if you think that’s strange, the second rule, outlined in verses 5–9, could be considered even more strange: Moses outlines men who should be exempted from the army:

  • Anyone who has built a new house, but not yet dedicated it
  • Anyone who has planted a vineyard, and not yet “begun to enjoy it” (verse 6)
  • Anyone who is pledged to be married, and hasn’t yet married the woman
All of these rules are given for the same reason (which I’m grossly paraphrasing): it would be a shame for the person in question to die in battle, and someone else would end up dedicating the house, or enjoying the fruits of the vineyard, or marrying the woman he was pledged to. But then Moses gives one more reason why someone should be exempted from the military:

Then the officers shall add, “Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too.” (verse 8)

I’m not much of a one for following military affairs, but I don’t know of any modern-day armies that have such a rule.

The third rule, outlined in verses 10–15, concerns treaties with conquered peoples. When the Israelites are about to attack a city which is far away, they are to make an offer of peace, first. If the people of the city accept the offer of peace, they are to become servants of the Israelites. (Or, as it’s phrased in verse 11, “all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.”) But if the people refuse the offer of peace, the Israelites are to lay siege to it, and when they have conquered it, they are to kill all of the men, and take the women, children, livestock, and anything else in the city as plunder.

That’s for cities that are far away; the fourth rule, outlined in verses 16–18, is that the third rule doesn’t apply, when the Israelites are battling people in the nations the LORD is giving them. For the nations that are being given to the Israelites, they are to completely destroy all of the people and animals—“anything that breathes” (verse 16). Moses gives a reason for this: “Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God” (verse 18).

And the fifth rule, in verses 19–20, is that the Israelites are to avoid cutting down fruit trees, when besieging a city, because they can eat the fruit. They are allowed to cut down other types of trees, though, to use in building siege works.

Thoughts

If there is anything in the Old Testament that causes confusion, disagreements, and misunderstandings, it’s the subject of war. (Of course, there are many things in the Old Testament that cause confusion, disagreements, and misunderstandings. But war is a big one.) Interestingly, just before I wrote this blog post, I’d been at a Bible study where we briefly talked about war; one of the things we mentioned is that the Bible seems to take it for granted that wars will happen. This chapter is, in my mind, one of the chapters that will add to that confusion, for the modern-day reader.

First, you have the first two rules in the chapter, which seem odd, to us, but in a good way: the Israelites are not to be afraid, and people who have recently been given a new facet of their life to enjoy are to be exempted from military service.

But then you get to the third rule, in which the Israelites, when doing battle with people who are far away, are to either enslave them, or kill all of the men, and take the women and children—as if they’re property. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem to make any sense, to my eyes.

The fourth rule is one that very often comes up when Christians discuss the Old Testament: How could God order the slaughter of entire nations of people, including women, children, and livestock? In a sense, I can get it, if I distance myself from it, because God had specifically decided to wipe these people off the face of the Earth, because of their sins; the Israelites were His tool in doing this. And there is also the aspect that the Israelites are to be holy, and God consistently tells them to wipe out these people, so that their sins won’t lead the Israelites astray. In that respect, this makes sense. But in other respects, it still seems so barbaric to me, just like treating the women and children as property, in the third rule.

But then, to make the confusion complete, the chapter ends with a rule concerning fruit trees.

As a Christian, when reading the Bible—Old or New Testament—I have to keep in the forefront of my mind that God is a loving, holy, just God. Sometimes this is easy; when I read the first nine verses of this chapter, I can see a God who cares for His people. But sometimes I have to exercise faith, and when something doesn’t seem like it fits with my picture of God, like in the middle part of this chapter, it is my faith in who He is that causes me to try and understand what I’m reading, rather than just ignoring it, or trying to have a God in my head who is less than who He really is. The Bible doesn’t sugar-coat these aspects of the Israelites’ history, and the fact that it was written down must mean that it will reveal something to me about who He is, or who I am in relation to Him. It may seem barbaric that the Israelites were to wipe out these nations, but do I fully understand God’s view of sin? (There is also the aspect that I find it easier, in some ways, to condemn my own sin than to condemn others’.)

I also have to remember, when reading things like this, that we are to try and be like the LORD, and that nothing should be more important to us than Him. In Matthew 5 Jesus says this:

You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:27–30)

And in Luke 14 he says:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

(Luke 14:25–35)


I had just started to quote the first part of this—if you love your parents or your spouse or your children more than you love God, you can’t be Christ’s disciple—and then realized that the rest applies, too. The point is that you are to love God more than anything else—or, as I’m saying here, that trying to be like Him should be more important than anything else—which is related to the act of worship, and of glorifying Him—so you need to count the cost. If you can’t do that, then it would be foolish to try and become a Christian. Similarly, the Israelites were to wipe out the other nations, lest the sin of those nations would tempt the Israelites into sin, too.

To which I would add—and I don’t think I’m going beyond what Christ is saying—that nobody can meet these requirements, which is where Grace comes into play. I don’t live up to these requirements, but Jesus did, and since his righteousness has been imparted to me, it’s as if I meet these requirements. I find this even more mind-boggling than the subject of war in the Old Testament. Or maybe not mind-boggling; maybe just guilt-inducing, since I don’t deserve the grace that has been bestowed upon me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Deuteronomy 19:15–21

Deuteronomy 19:15–21: Witnesses

Synopsis

In Numbers 35, a rule was handed down that nobody was ever to be put to death based on the testimony of only one witness; there had to be at least two witnesses to any crime deserving death, for the accused to be executed. In Deuteronomy 16:21–17:7 this was repeated again, specifically regarding people who were accused of idolatry. In this passage, Moses expands a bit on the concept of requiring at least two witnesses before anyone is executed for a crime.

First off, in verse 15, he again states that one witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of a crime. (In this verse he simply says, “accused of a crime,” implying that this applies to any crimes, not just crimes which are punishable by death.)

But then he talks about “malicious” witnesses (verse 16), who try to accuse an innocent man. In cases where there is only one witness—meaning that it is his word against the accused’s—they are to present themselves before the LORD and the priests (and the judges who are in office at the time). A thorough investigation is to be made, and if it turns out that the witness is lying, then his punishment is to be whatever he was trying to have happen to the accused. Or, as it states in verse 19a, “…do to him as he intended to do to his brother.” For example if he maliciously accuses someone of blasphemy—the punishment for which is death—and it turns out that he’s lying, then he should be put to death.

Moses sums up with the reasons for this rule:

You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (verses 19b–21)

Thoughts

In the rules, it states that if it’s one man’s word against another, they are to thoroughly investigate the case, and, if it turns out that the witness is lying, the witness is to be punished. But what if it’s determined that the witness is not lying? Should the accused still be punished, even though it’s on the word of only one witness?

I don’t think so, since it’s quite clear that people are not to be convicted on the testimony of only one witness. I think the rules here are just to deal with malicious witnesses.

Maybe I should consult a lawyer, as to how things like this in the law would be handled…

Monday, October 15, 2007

Deuteronomy 19:1–14

Deuteronomy 19:1–14: Cities of Refuge

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses talks about Cities of Refuge again. (I say “again” because he discussed Cities of Refuge back in Deuteronomy 4:41–49. But then he was just specifying particular cities, whereas here he’s giving some general rules about their use.) I’m not presenting it in the order that Moses said it to the Israelites.

When the LORD has granted the Israelites the land He is giving them, and driven out the other nations, they are to set aside three cities of refuge. They are to be centrally located, and have good roads built to them, such that the land is divided into three parts. (I think that Moses means “three parts” only in the sense that all Israelites will have one of the three cities to go to. Not that the roads are supposed to break the land up into three pieces.) If, however, God expands the Israelites’ territory, and gives them all of the land that He promised to their forefathers, then they are to create three more Cities of Refuge. Why would God say “if,” when this is based on His promise? Actually, the promise has a condition; the Israelites have to obey Him.

If the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he promised on oath to your forefathers, and gives you the whole land he promised them, because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the LORD your God and to walk always in his ways—then you are to set aside three more cities. (verses 8–9).

Moses recaps how the Cities of Refuge are to be used (they were first described in Numbers 35):

This is the rule concerning the man who kills another and flees there to save his life—one who kills his neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities. (verses 4–7)

However, the Israelites are to be careful, too. If a man commits murder, instead of accidentally killing someone, and flees to a City of Refuge, the elders of the city are to bring the man back to face “the avenger of blood” (verse 12) to die.

The final verse of this section is all by itself; it’s not part of the description of the Cities of Refuge, and neither is it part of the next section. But rather than doing a whole post for the one verse, I’ll simply quote it:

Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess. (verse 14)

Thoughts

I find it interesting that Moses’ description of the Cities of Refuge is so descriptive; “for example if the axe head flies off and hits the man,” and “he would have to overtake you if you were a long way away.” I don’t have any moral lessons to take from this, I just find it interesting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Deuteronomy 18:14–22

Deuteronomy 18:14–22: Prophets

Synopsis

This passage is kind of a continuation of the last passage, in which Moses talked about “detestable practices,” that the Israelites were to avoid. In this passage, he tells them about prophets, and one means of telling a false prophet from a true prophet from the LORD.

Since the LORD will not permit the Israelites to practice sorcery or divination, their only means for divining His will—when necessary—will be through a prophet, whom the LORD will raise up from among them. The reason for this goes back to the time when the LORD spoke to the Israelites from the mountain, and they were afraid to hear His voice. So the LORD decided to send prophets, instead:

The LORD said to me [Moses]: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” (verses 17–20)

Moses then anticipates the next question the Israelites might be wondering about: “You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’” (verse 21) The answer is simple: If a prophet proclaims something, and it doesn’t come true, then that “prophet” is not from the LORD, and the Israelites should not listen to him or be afraid of him.

Thoughts

This passage focuses on the prophet’s role as a foreteller of future events, although, throughout the Old Testament, most prophets weren’t primarily focused on this; a prophet was normally referring to current events in the lives of the Israelites. (Often pointing out ways in which they were failing the LORD with their actions.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Deuteronomy 18:9–13

Deuteronomy 18:9–13: Detestable Practices

Synopsis

In this passage, Moses lists some “detestable practices” that the Israelites are not to partake in. It is because of actions like the ones listed here that God is driving out the nations currently living in the Promised Land, so the Israelites should definitely not “learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there” (verse 9).

The “detestable practices” that Moses lists are:

  • sacrificing children in the fire (or, according to the footnote for verse 10, making children “pass through the fire.”)
  • practicing divination or sorcery
  • interpreting omens
  • engaging in witchcraft
  • casting spells
  • being a medium or spiritist who consults the dead

No punishment is mentioned, in this passage, for anyone who practices such things, except that the person will be detestable to the LORD.

Thoughts

The first item in the list doesn’t seem to fit with the other items; I know that people used to sacrifice their children to certain gods—I believe Molech was one such god, but there might have been others—but all of the other items seem to be related to trying to predict (or control) the future. Perhaps it’s included in the list because sacrificing children to these gods was a form of trying to curry favour with these gods, and thus control some aspect of the future.

Which brings us to: Why would God care about some of these practices? Sure, we can easily see why sacrificing children would be detestable, and maybe witchcraft, but why would interpreting omens, or consulting the dead, be detestable? I believe that it comes down to faith. The Israelites were to have faith that God would provide for them, that He would take care of their future, and by partaking in these activities, they would be “hedging their bets,” so to speak. “The LORD said that He would take care of me, but, just in case, why don’t I consult the dead, and find out what’s really going to happen,” or, “The LORD said that He would take care of me, but, just in case, why don’t I sacrifice a child to Molech, and see if he will protect me, too.”

Personally, I put horroscopes in this same category, for modern-day Christians. (Not that I believe that they work, but that’s not the point.) If I have faith that God will take care of me today, then why do I need to try and figure out ahead of time what that day (or week, or month) holds in store for me? I don’t. Whatever is going to happen—good or bad—He will provide for me.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Deuteronomy 18:1–8

Deuteronomy 18:1–8: Rules for Levites

Synopsis

This passage contains some rules for the Levites.

  • The Levites are to have no alloted land or inheritance in Israel. They are to live off of the offerings made to the LORDHe is their inheritance.
  • The Levites are to receive the firstfruits of the Israelites’ grain, new wine, and wool from their sheep, along with part of every bull or sheep which is sacrificed (the shoulder, jowls, and “inner parts” (verse 3)).
  • Any Levite is to be allowed to minister before the LORD, at the Tabernacle/Temple. Even if the Levite is living somewhere else, and decides to move to the Tabernacle/Temple, he is to be allowed to serve. In fact, even though he receives money for selling his land, to move there, he is still to share equally in the benefits the Levites share.

Most of these rules have been covered before, but I’m not sure about the last one. It might be new.

Thoughts

The first two rules in this passage should seem pretty straightforward, by now. Especially since we’ve seen them before.

I find the last rule interesting, though. It makes sense, but I find it interesting that the LORD (through Moses) feels the need to spell it out for them.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Deuteronomy 17:14–20

Deuteronomy 17:14–20: Rules for an Israelite king

Synopsis

As Moses is addressing the Israelite nation, the country is structured in such a way that it doesn’t have any kind of king, or president, or supreme ruler—God is the ruler of the nation. It is a theocracy, where the country is headed by God, instead of by a person. However, God knows that the Israelites are eventually going to want a king, so that they can be like the other nations. (See verse 14.) So, in this passage, Moses hands down rules for how a king is to behave, when the Israelites get one.

Here are the rules:

  • The king is to be an Israelite, not a foreigner
  • The king is not to acquire a great number of horses
    • It specifically says that the king is not to make the people return to Egypt, to get more horses, because the LORD has told the Israelites “You are not to go back that way again” (verse 16)—so I don’t think this is about horses, or possessions, it’s about foreign policy with Egypt.
  • The king is not to have many wives, so that his heart will not turn astray
  • The king is not to accumulate lots of silver or gold

These are the basic rules for a king. Moses also hands down an interesting ceremony, that each king is to go through, whenever he takes the throne:

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (verses 18–20)

Actually, I guess it’s a daily ritual as well as a ceremony.

Thoughts

This is an interesting passage, because the LORD is handing down rules for something that should never happen—the Israelites should never ask for a king, so these rules should never be needed. But He knows that they will, and, in this case, instead of punishing their disobedience and refusing them their request, He is going to give them a king. Even when we sin, the LORD can use the situation for His own purposes. (See 1 Samuel 8 for the story of the Israelites requesting a king.)

Probably the two most famous kings of Israel’s Old Testament history were David—a man whose heart was devoted to the LORD—and Solomon—the wisest man who ever lived. So it’s interesting to note that both men broke the rule about having many wives, and both men accumulated lots of silver and gold. (A case could be made, though, that David only accumulated so much silver and gold because he was collecting it for use in building the Temple.) Despite his wives, David’s heart seems to have been committed to God—other than the famous examples of his sins—while Solomon’s heart was definitely led astray by his wives. And Solomon definitely broke the rule about trading horses from Egypt; see 1 Kings 10:14–29 (especially verse 28).

It’s not hard to look through the Old Testament for examples of kings who weren’t godly, but even King David fell short on some of these commands. I also find myself wondering if any king—including David—ever followed the rule about sitting down every single day, to read God’s law.