Shoftim: The King
As Moses continues giving instructions to the people of Israel before they are to enter the promised land, he gives them instructions about a future day when they will desire to set up a king for themselves. The king played an important role as the head of the nation of Israel, and Moses, according to God’s command, provides specific instructions on how the king is to conduct himself.
Moses begins by saying, “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses” (Deuteronomy 17:14-15). Although this concession is made on account of the people’s desire for a king, this was not the way which God would have preferred the people to behave, for He was their true King. Samuel the prophet, when the people request a king, says to them, “When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ although the LORD your God was your king… Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the LORD by asking for yourselves a king” (1 Samuel 12:12, 17).
What was so wrong about having a king? The problem was not necessarily the fact that they wanted a king, but the reason behind this desire. The Israelites wanted to be like the other nations which they were encountering in the area. The king provided a visible source of strength and power both in battle and in government. When the people had no king, they had no fear of unfair taxation or seizure of their lands, but they had to trust that even though they couldn’t see God, He was there on the throne. God was their protector and their provider. Instead of trusting Him to lead them and guide them, they desired a physical, tangible leader who they could put their trust in.
In order to give the king a proper perspective on leadership, Moses relays God’s command in regard to how the king is supposed to lead: “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.’ He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself” (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). Although the person who led the nation of Israel was to be a king, he was not to behave himself as the other kings do. He was not to put his trust in what his own hands could create for himself. By amassing horses, he would feel confident in his own military strength and would forget that God was the one who fought for them. He was not to have many wives, and as we see with Solomon, his many wives led him to worship their idols (1 Kings 11:4-5). He was not to heap wealth upon himself because it becomes an object of trust in place of God (Psalm 49:5-10). While all of this is also true for those who are not kings, it was especially true for the king, for these things would be especially tempting to the one on the throne.
In order to give the king guidance, he is to write out the entirety of the Torah onto a scroll, which he is to then keep with him the rest of his life: “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. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).
The instructions which are given for a king do not apply to us literally today, since it is likely that none of us are in the position to be the king of Israel. However, we as the citizenry have the same responsibility as the people in those days and in the land of Israel. We are not to put our trust in any government or power which we find ourselves under. While it is true that God works through these men and we are to pray for them, their fate and ours rest in God’s hands. We are to pray for our leaders not because we are caught up in all of the politics, but in order that we may be able to do our Father’s will without hindrance: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
The government under which Paul wrote this to Timothy was most definitely not one which honored God, yet the followers of Yeshua (Jesus) continued to worship Him both in the times of safety and in the face of death and persecution. We ought to fix ourselves with the same mindset, making sure our allegiance and trust is not in any man or system of government, but in the Kingdom of God and Yeshua our Messiah.