When you are come to the land which the LORD your God gives you, and shall possess it, and shall dwell therein, and shall say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Deuteronomy 17:14-20. THE LAW OF THE KINGDOM.
(14) When thou art come unto the land.—These are not the words of a legislator who is already in the land. Those who say that this law dates from later times must be prepared to assert that this clause is expressly framed to suit the lips of Moses, and is thus far a deliberate forgery.
And shalt possess it, and dwell therein—i.e., shalt complete the conquest and settle. It is not contemplated that the king would be desired immediately after the conquest.
I will set a king over me, like as all the nations.—There is an evident allusion to this phrase in 1Samuel 8:20, “That we also may be like all the nations.” It is noticeable that Moses in this place says nothing in disapproval of the design. In fact his words might easily have been cited by the people in support of their proposal. Moses said we should need a king; why should we not ask for on? Looked at this way, the citation of the words of Deuteronomy in Samuel is perfectly natural. The people confirm their request by presenting it in the very words of Moses. But if we suppose (with some modern writers) that the passage in Deuteronomy was constructed from that in Samuel, there are several difficulties—(1) Why is there no disapproval here of the plan, which Samuel so strongly disapproved? (2) How does the writer in Deuteronomy contrive to be so wholly unconscious either of the royal tribe, or of the royal family? Precisely the same unconsciousness of the locality of the place which Jehovah should choose in Palestine appears in every reference to it in this book. In Moses this is perfectly natural. But that any later writer should be so totally regardless of the claims of Judah, David, and Jerusalem, and say nothing either for or against them, is inconceivable. Samuel could hardly have written about the king without betraying disapproval of Israel’s desire for him. No later writer could have avoided some allusion to the choice of David’s family, and the promises to David’s son.
(15) Whom the Lord thy God shall choose . . . from among thy brethren.—This precept seems almost needless from the standpoint of later history. As years passed by, the Israelites were less and less tempted to accept the supremacy of foreign princes. But Moses can never have forgotten that for two-thirds of his own lifetime the Israelites had been subject to the kings of Egypt; and that even since the exodus they had proposed to make a captain to return thither; whom we know not, but very possibly an Egyptian. The chief thing dreaded by Moses was a return to Egypt, as appears by the next verse.
 But see note on Deuteronomy 31:11 for an incident that illustrates the feeling.
(16,17) He shall not multiply horses . . . wives . . . neither shall he greatly multiply . . . silver and gold.—It is not a little remarkable that these are the very things which Solomon did multiply; and that under him the monarchy attained its greatest glory. But the prophecy avenged itself by its literal fulfilment: “When Solomon was old . . . his wives turned away his heart” (1Kings 11:4). Yet it is easier to read the words as prophecy than as later history. What Israelite could have written this sentence after the time of Solomon without some passing allusion to the glories of his reign? Compare the recorded allusion in Nehemiah 13:26 : “Did not Solomon, king of Israel, sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.”
The question, how Solomon came to transgress these orders, may easily be met by another—How came David to attempt the removal of the ark of God in a cart? The wealth which Solomon had is represented as the special gift of Jehovah. His many marriages may be partly accounted for by the fact that only one son is mentioned, and he was born before his father became king. The question, “Who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?” is singularly applicable to this individual. And one of the Psalms, which is by its title ascribed to Solomon, pursues a similar line of thought (Ps. cxxvii).
The caution against multiplying horses marks the profound wisdom of the writer. The Israelitish infantry was Israel’s strength. The conquest of Canaan was entirely effected by infantry. There are not many battle-fields in Canaan suited for chariots and cavalry. An army of infantry can choose its own ground.
14. When thou … shalt say, I will set a king over me—In the following passage Moses prophetically announces a revolution which should occur at a later period in the national history of Israel. No sanction or recommendation was indicated; on the contrary, when the popular clamor had effected that constitutional change on the theocracy by the appointment of a king, the divine disapproval was expressed in the most unequivocal terms (1Sa 8:7). Permission at length was granted, God reserving to Himself the nomination of the family and the person who should be elevated to the regal dignity (1Sa 9:15; 10:24; 16:12; 1Ch 28:4). In short, Moses foreseeing that his ignorant and fickle countrymen, insensible to their advantages as a peculiar people, would soon wish to change their constitution and be like other nations, provides to a certain extent for such an emergency and lays down the principles on which a king in Israel must act. He was to possess certain indispensable requisites. He was to be an Israelite, of the same race and religion, to preserve the purity of the established worship, as well as be a type of Christ, a spiritual king, one of their brethren.1 Samuel 8:7.
and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein; be entirely in the possession of it, and settled in it; it seems to denote some time of continuance in it, as it was, before they thought of setting a king over them, about which are the following instructions:
and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are round about me; which was what would and did lead them to such a thought and resolution; observing that the neighbouring nations had kings over them, they were desirous of being like them as to the form of their civil government, and have a king as they had.When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)14. When thou art come, etc.] Similarly Deuteronomy 18:9, Deuteronomy 26:1; cp. Deuteronomy 6:10, Deuteronomy 7:1.
I will set a king … like as all the nations, etc.] 1 Samuel 8:5 : make us (the same verb) a king to judge us like all the nations. Cp. 1 Samuel 12:12, where the example of the Ammonites is given as the motive of Israel’s desire, although Jehovah your God is your King. Evidently D is doubtful of the advantages of the monarchy. Like so much else in the code this law is a concession to existing facts.
14–20. Of the King
When Israel elect to have a King like other nations, he must be chosen of God, an Israelite and no foreigner (Deuteronomy 17:14 f.). He must not multiply horses, wives nor silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:16 f.). He shall write a copy of the Law and always study it, that he may fear God, with a heart not uplifted above his brethren, to the prolonging of his own and his children’s days (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Peculiar to D, and in the Sg address, except in Deuteronomy 17:16 b where unto you is due to the attraction of the Pl. in the quotation. The obvious references to Solomon and the echo of the prophet’s protests against Egyptian alliances confirm the other evidence which D furnishes for a date under the later monarchy.
Some take the law as even later than the body of the Code, because, like Deuteronomy 31:9, it represents the whole Law as written and canonical. So e.g. Cornill Einl.3 25 f. and Berth, who compares Deuteronomy 17:16 with Ezekiel 17:15 and considers Zedekiah’s reign as probable a date therefore as the Exile. But it is difficult to conceive the original Code with no law of the King; and Deuteronomy 17:16 may well have been contained in the Law-Book discovered under Josiah. For the relation of this law to the two accounts of the institution of the Kingdom in 1 Sam.—the older sympathetic (1 Samuel 9:1 to 1 Samuel 10:16, 1 Samuel 10:27 b, 1 Samuel 11:1-11; 1 Samuel 11:15; 1 Samuel 11:13-14), and the younger hostile (1 Samuel 7:2-17; 1 Samuel 7:8, 1 Samuel 10:17-22 a, 1 Samuel 10:12) to the monarchy—see Driver’s Deut. 212 f. For the Babylonian ideals of a King see Prologue to the Code of Ḫammurabi and further Johns Bab. & Ass. Laws, etc., 192 f.Verses 14-20. - Israel, being under a theocracy, did not need an earthly king; but neither was this thereby precluded, provided the king chosen by the people were one whom Jehovah would approve as his vicegerent. In case, then, of their coming to desire to have a king over them like the nations around them, Moses gives instructions here as to the choice of a king, and as to the duties and obligations resting upon those who might be elevated to that office. The form in which these are conveyed clearly indicates that, at the time this was uttered, the existence of a king in Israel was contemplated as only a distant possibility. Verse 14. - When thou art come unto the land, etc. This phraseology, which is common to the laws which respect the affairs of the Hebrews after they should be settled in Canaan, implies that this law was given whilst they were yet outside the Promised Land. It is plain also, from the tenor of the whole statement in this verse, that the legislator in this case is providing for what he supposes may happen, is likely to happen, but which he by no means desires should happen. Moses foresaw that the people would wish to be as the nations around them - governed by a king - and he legislates accordingly, without approving of that wish. Exodus 18:26 and Exodus 18:19); so in the future the judges of the different towns were to bring all difficult cases, which they were unable to decide, before the Levitical priests and judges at the place of the sanctuary, that a final decision might be given there.
"If there is to thee a matter too marvellous for judgment (נפלא with מן, too wonderful, incomprehensible, or beyond carrying out, Genesis 18:14, i.e., too difficult to give a judicial decision upon), between blood and blood, plea and plea, stroke and stroke (i.e., too hard for you to decide according to what legal provisions a fatal blow, or dispute on some civil matter, or a bodily injury, is to be settled), disputes in thy gates (a loosely arranged apposition in this sense, dispute of different kinds, such as shall arise in thy towns); arise, and get thee to the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose; and go to the Levitical priest and the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire." Israel is addressed here as a nation, but the words are not to be supposed to be directed "first of all to the local courts (Deuteronomy 16:18), and lastly to the contending parties" (Knobel), nor "directly to the parties to the suit" (Schultz), but simply to the persons whose duty it was to administer justice in the nation, i.e., to the regular judges in the different towns and districts of the land. This is evident from the general fact, that the Mosaic law never recognises any appeal to higher courts by the different parties to a lawsuit, and that in this case also it is not assumed, since all that is enjoined is, that if the matter should be too difficult for the local judges to decide, they themselves were to carry it to the superior court. As Oehler has quite correctly observed in Herzog's Cyclopaedia, "this superior court was not a court of appeal; for it did not adjudicate after the local court had already given a verdict, but in cases in which the latter would not trust itself to give a verdict at all." And this is more especially evident from what is stated in Deuteronomy 17:10, with regard to the decisions of the superior court, namely, that they were to do whatever the superior judges taught, without deviating to the right hand or to the left. This is unquestionably far more applicable to the judges of the different towns, who were to carry out exactly the sentence of the higher tribunal, than to the parties to the suit, inasmuch as the latter, at all events those who were condemned for blood (i.e., for murder), could not possibly be in a position to alter the decision of the court at pleasure, since it did not rest with them, but with the authorities of their town, to carry out the sentence.
Moses did not directly institute a superior tribunal at the place of the sanctuary on this occasion, but rather assumed its existence; not however its existence at that time (as Riehm and other modern critics suppose), but its establishment and existence in the future. Just as he gives no minute directions concerning the organization of the different local courts, but leaves this to the natural development of the judicial institutions already in existence, so he also restricts himself, so far as the higher court is concerned, to general allusions, which might serve as a guide to the national rulers of a future day, to organize it according to the existing models. He had no disorganized mob before him, but a well-ordered nation, already in possession of civil institutions, with fruitful germs for further expansion and organization. In addition to its civil classification into tribes, families, fathers' houses, and family groups, which possessed at once their rulers in their own heads, the nation had received in the priesthood, with the high priest at the head, and the Levites as their assistants, a spiritual class, which mediated between the congregation and the Lord, and not only kept up the knowledge of right in the people as the guardian of the law, but by virtue of the high priest's office was able to lay the rights of the people before God, and in difficult cases could ask for His decision. Moreover, a leader had already been appointed for the nation, for the time immediately succeeding Moses' death; and in this nomination of Joshua, a pledge had been given that the Lord would never leave it without a supreme ruler of its civil affairs, but, along with the high priest, would also appoint a judge at the place of the central sanctuary, who would administer justice in the highest court in association with the priests. On the ground of these facts, sit was enough for the future to mention the Levitical priests and the judge who would be at the place of the sanctuary, as constituting the court by which the difficult questions were to be decided.
(Note: The simple fact, that the judicial court at the place of the national sanctuary is described in such general terms, furnishes a convincing proof that we have here the words of Moses, and not those of some later prophetic writer who had copied the superior court at Jerusalem of the times of the kings, as Riehm and the critics assume.)
For instance, the words themselves show distinctly enough, that by "the judge" we are not to understand the high priest, but the temporal judge or president of the superior court; and it is evident from the singular, "the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord" (Deuteronomy 17:12), that the high priest is included among the priests. The expression "the priests the Levites" (Levitical priests), which also occurs in Deuteronomy 17:18; Deuteronomy 18:1; Deuteronomy 21:5; Deuteronomy 24:8; Deuteronomy 27:9; Deuteronomy 31:9, instead of "sons of Aaron," which we find in the middle books, is quite in harmony with the time and character of the book before us. As long as Aaron was living with his sons, the priesthood consisted only of himself and his sons, that is to say, of one family. Hence all the instructions in the middle books are addressed to them, and for the most part to Aaron personally (vid., Exodus 28 and 29; Leviticus 8-10; Numbers 18:1, etc.). This as all changed when Aaron died; henceforth the priesthood consisted simply of the descendants of Aaron and his sons, who were no longer one family, but formed a distinct class in the nation, the legitimacy of which arose from its connection with the tribe of Levi, to which Aaron himself had belonged. It was evidently more appropriate, therefore, to describe them as sons of Levi than as sons of Aaron, which had been the title formerly given to the priests, with the exception of the high priest, viz., Aaron himself. - In connection with the superior court, however, the priests are introduced rather as knowing and teaching the law (Leviticus 10:11), than as actual judges. For this reason appeal was to be made not only to them, but also to the judge, whose duty it was in any case to make the judicial inquiry and pronounce the sentence. - The object of the verb "inquire" (Deuteronomy 17:9) follows after "they shall show thee," viz., "the word of right," the judicial sentence which is sought (2 Chronicles 19:6).
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