November 21, 2012
Scripture and Commentary, Thursday after the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity
Morning - Ps. 74, Lev. 25:23-31, Phil. 2:19
Evening - Ps. 77, Dt. 17:14, Mt. 25:57
Commentary, Deuteronomy 17:14-20
Many are surprised to find Moses talking about a king before Israel even entered Canaan, but even earlier God seems to imply that Israel will have a king one day (Gen 49:10). The constraints against a king in 1 Samuel 8 are due to Israel's preferring a king instead of God, not against the idea of having a good king.
Regardless of the reasons and circumstances for choosing a king, God sets forth certain rules by which he is to govern himself as he rules Israel. The rules seem to cover three specific situations. First, neither he nor Israel will attempt to secure his throne, or the safety of Israel through foreign alliances. For this reason the king cannot be a foreigner (17:15), return to Egypt (17:16), or marry daughters of foreign kings to cement treaties (17:17). Such entanglements risk allowing pagan ideas to influence Israel, and show a lack of faith in God's ability to defend His people.
Second, he is not to use his influence or power to exalt himself above his brethren. Forbidding the king to multiply wives to himself prevents him from assuming more power and status than he is owed, and prevents him from treating his Hebrew sisters as property or amusements the way pagan kings treated women. The prohibition against multiplying horses and riches is partly given to prevent the king from amassing great wealth through his position. Horses were often seen as status symbols among the wealthy, but also were powerful weapons of war. Prohibiting them may be a way of preventing the king from keeping a standing army, which could be used to enforce taxes and duties upon the citizenry, enriching himself and his supporters while impoverishing the general populace. The wisdom of such prohibitions is obvious.
Third, he is to be a student of the Law and will of God (17:18-20). He is to personally write these words from Deuteronomy onto a parchment kept at his side at all times, and he is to read them every day of his life. He is to fear God and keep His Law in his personal life, and he is to lead and rule Israel by the Law of God. Strict obedience to God will enable him to rule wisely and well, and to resist the temptation to exalt himself above his brethren.