The King in Israel
Deuteronomy 17:14-20
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…

We have here -

I. THE DESIRE OF A KING ANTICIPATED. (Ver. 14.) Moses anticipates that, when settled in the land, the people would desire a king, that they might be like other nations. This was:

1. A desire springing from a wrong motive.

(1) As involving a low estimate of their privilege in being ruled directly by Jehovah. It was the glory and distinction of their nation that they had God so nigh them, and were under his immediate care and sovereignty. But they could not rise to the sublimity of this thought. They deemed it a grander thing to have a mortal as their king, to be like other nations, and be led, judged, and ruled by a visible monarch. Their demand was a substantial rejection of God, that he should not reign over them (1 Samuel 8:7).

(2) As involving the idea of a king modeled on the pattern of the kings around them. The king they wished for was one who would embody for them their own ideas of splendor and prowess, and these were of a purely carnal type. Saul, their first king, had many of the qualities which answered to their notion of a king, while David, ruling in humble subordination to the will and authority of Heaven, answered to the Divine idea. Piety and submission at every point to the will of God are not elements that bulk largely in the common conception of a monarch.

(3) As involving self-willedness. The people did not humbly present their case to God, and entreat him for a king. They took the law into their own hands, and demanded one, or rather they declared their intention of setting one over them, irrespective of whether God wished it or not.

2. A desire in some respects natural. The spiritual government of an invisible Ruler was an idea difficult to grasp. The mind craved for some concrete and visible embodiment of that authority under which they lived. It probably lay in God's purpose ultimately to give them a king, but it was necessary that they should be made first distinctly to feel their need of it. The need in human nature to which this points is adequately supplied in the Messianic King, Christ Jesus. The central idea of the Kingship of Christ is the personal indwelling of the Divine in the human. In Christ, moreover, is realized the three things which ancient nations sought for in their kings.

(1) An ideal of personal excellence. "Heroic kingship depended partly on divinely given prerogative, and partly on the possession of supereminent strength, courage, and wisdom" (Maine).

(2) A leader inspiring them with personal devotion.

(3) A bond of unity in the State, the monarch representing, as he does still, the whole system of law and authority which is centralized and embodied in his person. "The king is the dot on the i" (Hegel). The kingship in Israel typified that of Christ.

II. THE ELECTION OF A KING PROVIDED FOR. (Ver. 15.) The position of king in Israel was essentially different from that of the monarch of any other nation. While discharging the same general functions as other kings (ruling, judging, leading in battle), his authority was checked and limited in ways that theirs was not. He was no irresponsible despot, whose will was law and who governed as he listed. He filled the throne, not as absolute and independent sovereign, but only as the deputy of Jehovah, and ruled simply in the name and in subordination to the will of God - in this respect affording another marked type of God's true king, whom he has set on his holy hill of Zion (Psalm it.). This fact gave rise to a second peculiarity, that he had no authority to make laws, but only to administer the Law already given. The manner of his election corresponded to these peculiarities of his position.

1. He was chosen under Divine guidance (cf. 1 Samuel 10:20, 21).

2. The Divine choice was ratified by the free election of the people (1 Samuel 10:24). From which we learn

(1) that the throne is strong only when it rests on the free choice, and on the loyal affection of the body of the people

(2) That kingly like all other authority, is derived from God. This is a truth of general application, though it was in a peculiar sense true of Israel. The Scripture gives no sanction to the "right Divine of kings to govern wrong." But popular sentiment has always recognized that a certain "divinity doth hedge a king." Ancient nations (Egypt, etc.) held him to be the representative of God on earth. The state and style with which a monarch is surrounded, and the homage paid to him, are expressions of the same idea. He embodies the functions of government, and has honor, majesty, and high-sounding titles bestowed on him on that ground. But this is simply to say that in certain respects he represents Deity. To constitute perfect "Divine right," it would be necessary:

(a) That a monarch should occupy the throne with perfect Divine sanction. Most rulers, on ascending the throne, try to make out, however weakly, some shadow of right to it.

(b) That he should govern in perfect accordance with the Divine will. The only perfect case of ruling by Divine fight is the reign of Christ.

III. THE CHARACTER OF THE KING DELINEATED. (Vers. 15-20.) He was to be an Israelite - one of themselves. Then:

1. He was not to multiply horses to himself, that is:

(1) He was not to be ambitious of military distinction.

(2) He was not to place his main reliance for the defense of the nation on extravagant military preparations.

(3) He was not, for the sake of supposed material advantage, to lead the people into ensnaring alliances.

2. He was not to multiply wives to himself. That is:

(1) He was to avoid enervating luxury.

(2) His court was to be chaste and pure. Cf. Tennyson, 'To the Queen:' "Her court was pure; her life serene," etc.; and 'Dedication' to the Idyls -

"Who reverenced his conscience as his king;
Whose glory was, redressing human wrong;
Who spake no slander, no, nor listened to it;
Who loved one only, and who clave to her," etc.

3. He was not to multiply to himself silver and gold; that is, he was not to affect the dazzle of imperial splendor, but to be simple and unostentatious in his manner of life. But:

4. He was to be a diligent student of the Word of God.

(1) He was to write out with his own hand a copy of the Law.

(2) He was to read in it diligently all the days of his life; the result of which would be:

(a) That he would be kept in the way of obedience;

(b) that his heart would be preserved humble towards God and his brethren; and

(c) he and his seed would enjoy prosperity on the throne. What a noble sketch of the model king, yet how contrary to current ideas of royal greatness! We have happily been taught in our own country to appreciate the advantages of a pure court, and to feel its wholesome influence on the general tone of morals, and we are able to understand, also, the beneficial effect of uprightness and piety in a sovereign in adding to the love, esteem, and reverence with which the sovereign is regarded; but how far are we from dissociating the greatness of a reign from its external splendor, its military conquests, the wealth and luxury of its aristocracy, the figure it displays in the eyes of other nations, and the terror with which it can inspire them! Nor do we look in sovereigns generally for all the virtues which we find in our own, but are apt to condone want of piety, and even acts of great iniquity, if they but prove themselves to be bold, energetic, and enterprising rulers. The character of the sovereign is in some respects of less moment than it once was, but its influence for good or evil is still very great, and the evil fruits reaped from the court life, say of a Charles II. or a George IV., are not exhausted in one or a few generations. Piety upon the throne will lead to piety in the court and throughout the nation, and will give an impulse to everything else that is good. Whereas an evil and corrupting example sows seeds of mischief, which may involve the nation in the greatest losses and disasters (see Massillon's sermon, 'Des Exemples des Grands'). - J.O.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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;

WEB: When you are come to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, and shall possess it, and shall dwell therein, and shall say, "I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me;"

Limitations Round About a King
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