Deuteronomy 17:14-20 gives guidelines for the ideal king. God was not encouraging Israel to appoint an earthly king to rule their nation. In fact, God was against the idea of kingship because He was their true and everlasting King (Psalm 24:7-9; Psalm 146:10; Jeremiah 10:1-25). Having a king would make it easy to forget that God was their real Leader. The nation would only run successfully with God’s power and guidance and their wholehearted devotion to God (Zechariah 4:6). But God knew that the people would eventually want an earthly king be like their neighboring nations and for selfish reasons (1 Samuel 8:10–22, particularly 1 Samuel 8:4-5, 10-11). In fact, the Holy Scriptures anticipated a king to rule the people (see Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:7, 17). As the everlasting King, God established guidelines for an earthly kingship for the people’s protection.
The books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles show that, tragically, God’s guidelines were never honored completely. In fact, God’s guidelines for a king were followed less and less by Israel. Beginning with David and Solomon, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 were ignored by Israel. Had the people obeyed God's guidelines for a king, they would have thrived beyond their expectations (see Deuteronomy 28:1). So, none of Israel’s kings completely fulfilled God’s requirements (Matthew 1:1-17).
1 and 2 Kings of the Old Testament recognizes numerous kingships. However, only seven kings were recognized as “good” kings – David, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah. These good kings were spiritual reformers and obeyed God’s ways. God blessed these good kings for their devotion, obedience, and personal integrity (e.g. see 2 Chronicles 14:2; 2 Chronicles 15:8-12; 2 Chronicles 17:1-10). However, the remaining earthly kings failed to do right in God’s eyes – meaning they were evil kings. Sadly, these earthly kings eventually led Israel further and further away from the true and living God (Jeremiah 10:10) and to their downfall as a nation.
Nonetheless, no king completely followed the ways of God and Deuteronomy 17:14-20. For instance, David and Solomon presided over the golden days of Israel. David is remembered as a man after God’s own heart (see 1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 16:7; Acts 13:22) and Solomon as the wisest man who ever lived before Jesus Christ (1 Kings 3:12; 1 Kings 4:29–32; 1 Kings 10:3, 6–7, 24; Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31). Yet as impressive as David and Solomon were, they violated the express requirements of Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Both David and Solomon multiplied wives (2 Samuel 3:2–5; 2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Kings 11:1–3), and Solomon multiplied horses, silver, and gold (1 Kings 10:14–15, 22–23, 28–29). Solomon married an Egyptian princess and many other wives (1 Kings 3:1; see also 1 Kings 11:1-6). Also, Solomon acquired many Egyptians horses for his army, and built “chariot cities" in Israel where he stabled his horses and chariots (1 Kings 10:26, 28-29). Likewise, by buying horses from Egypt, Solomon was symbolically returning Israel to bondage. God had delivered the people from the Egyptians in the days of Moses, and He warned them never to “return” there by making alliances. As for his material wealth, Solomon’s wealth was tremendous and extravagant (1 Kings 10: 14-25, 27). Solomon amassed large sums of gold, built up a large army, and married many wives (cf. 1 Kings 4:26; 1 Kings 10:14-22; 1 Kings 11:1-13). In essence, Solomon ended following an expensive and immoral lifestyle as he turned his heart from God.
What are the requirements of Deuteronomy 17:14-20? First of all, the ideal king was not to be elected by the people but chosen by God (Deuteronomy 17:15). The Holy Bible consistently teaches that God reserves for Himself the right to select kings, prophets, and judges (e.g., see Deuteronomy 17:14-20; Deuteronomy 18:18; Judges 3:15). Moses, Joshua and a succession of judges were chosen by God to govern Israel on His behalf. Yet as Gideon later said, “The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23; see also Jeremiah 10:10) because God must be loved and trusted first as our true King (Matthew 6:33; see also Numbers 14:9–12; 1 Samuel 8:4–9; 1 Samuel 12:12). The Lord God is our protector, strength, and provider. So, the choice for earthly king was not by popular election but a call from God to be His servant to the people (Deuteronomy 17:20). Also, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 requires the king to be a fellow countryman and not a foreigner (Deuteronomy 17:15).
Next, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 requires the king to place his full trust in God and not be depended on horses and armies (Deuteronomy 17:16), foreign alliances (Deuteronomy 17:17), or material wealth (Deuteronomy 17:17). Horses were synonymous with military power (Deuteronomy 17:16). Other kings in the ancient world built mighty armies, trusted in their military strength, and worshipped other gods (idolatry). Yet, multiplying excessive military forces would invariably lead to excessive taxation and pride. Israel was called to rely on God for their military power and strength. Moreover for political reasons, often kings would marry foreign women (Deuteronomy 17:17) but God had already forbidden this practice as this would turn the king’s heart to foreign gods and not the true and living God (see Deuteronomy 7:3–5). In essence, accumulating horses, chariots, foreign alliances, and material wealth would cause the king and the people to rely on their human strength and resources and not God. Wealth and riches sometimes makes people puffed upon with pride and forget God. But God wanted the king’s heart was to be wholly dependent and devoted to Him (Deuteronomy 17:16–20; see also 2 Chronicles 16:6-13). God owns everything. In fact, all – common citizens, priests, judges, and kings – had an obligation to worship God with their whole heart and serve Him only (see Exodus 20:1-7; Deuteronomy 5:1-11).
The most important qualification for the ideal king was his personal knowledge of God’s Word (Deuteronomy 17:18-20; see also 2 Timothy 3:10-17, especially vv. 15-17). God required the king to write out his own copy of God’s Word, read God’s Word daily – day and night, and diligently obey God’s Word with his whole heart (see also Joshua 1:7-8; Proverbs 4). In other words, the king must be a disciple of God’s Word, and God’s Word was to be the king’s sole source of wisdom (Deuteronomy 17:20; see also Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Intimately knowing God’s Word teaches the king to worship, reverence and love God as the True and All-Powerful King. God’s Word is the true authority and makes one wise – discerning (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Even more, reading, memorizing, and obeying God’s complete Word day and night leads to internalization in one’s HEAD and HEART which ultimately leads to obedience to God (Deuteronomy 11:18). The command in Deuteronomy that the king not turn from God’s Word to the right or to the left is also repeated in the book of Joshua first by God (Joshua 1:7) and next by Joshua himself at his farewell address to Israel (Joshua 23:6). From the spiritual standpoint, God’s Word is a vital weapon of God’s warfare against evil. “. . . and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17, NLT).
The king was never above God’s Word. By learning and studying the Law, the king would display his devotion to God, govern with personal integrity, and rule wisely. Even more, the king's submission and obedience to God and His Word would keep him humble, selfless, and the people’s servant. The king was never to abuse God’s authority, think that he was better than his fellow citizens, and not be prideful (self-importance). The king was to give God the full honor and first place to his prosperity, time, and talents. In essence, the king was to model trustful obedience to God and His Word (e.g., see Numbers chapters 13 and14). The king needed to remind the people that the secret of the nation’s success was wholehearted love, devotion, obedience, faith, and trust in God (see e.g., Deuteronomy 10:12; Joshua 21:45; Joshua 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56; Mark 12:30).
The good news is that God sent the perfect King that fully met the requirements of Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Jesus Christ is the perfect King and fulfills the job description of the earthly king given by God (see also 2 Samuel 7:11-15; Psalm 2; Psalm 110; Isaiah 9:6-7). Deuteronomy 17:14-20 was given by God through Moses for Israel but carries Messianic features. First of all, the king must be selected by God (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34). He was to be fellow Israelite and not a foreigner (Ruth 4:18-22; 1 Chronicles 3:10-17; Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-28). Moreover, the king must prudent or frugal and not prone to displays of extravagant luxury and military force (Matthew 21:1-17) as his focus is on the true worship of God and not commercial enterprise. As the Gospels reveal, Jesus Christ was never greedy. Jesus did not multiply wealth, women, and horses (a symbol of military might). Instead, Jesus displayed complete trust in God with humility, truth, and faithfulness (see also Psalm 15) as He focused on the true worship of God (see also John 17).
As God’s ideal king, the four Gospels reveal Jesus Christ’s wholehearted commitment, allegiance, and faithfulness to God, the True King of heaven and earth. He fully obeyed God’s Word day and night for life. In Jesus Christ contest with evil, He fought evil with God’s Word and was able to defeat evil’s attacks and temptations (see Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). Jesus answered evil’s temptations from Deuteronomy 6 and 8, the Scripture passages describing Israel’s wilderness testing. Jesus cites Deuteronomy 8:3; Deuteronomy 6:16; and Deuteronomy 6:13-14 in answer to the temptations for immediate food, protection against intentional foolishness, and self-gratification for power. Importantly, Jesus’ answers during His wilderness testing reveal His heart righteous. Jesus refused power, the world’s wealth, instant success, and instant applause. Instead, Jesus chose to wholeheartedly obey, love, and worship God (see also Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Matthew 22:37). In essence, Jesus Christ’s displayed and lived a life worthy of our love, allegiance, and devotion as King.
Moreover, Jesus Christ lived a life of complete reliance and unity with God (John 17) and wholehearted obedience to God’s will (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). Moreover, Jesus Christ’s daily life from the Gospels revealed His humility, prudence or frugalness, and not displays of wealth and military force. He was more of a student on foot than a ruler being driven around by chariot. Jesus Christ is truly the “the people’s king” and accessible to everyone (Psalm 110; Hebrews 4:14-16). Most important, Jesus Christ always introduced the people to the real King of the world, God.
In the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is portrayed as King and the Messiah. First, the Magi (or Wise Men) came looking for the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-2), and Pilate asked Jesus if He was the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11, 37). This revealed that Jesus was the King for all people and not just the Jews. The last words of Matthew’s Gospel spell out Jesus’ kingly authority and mission for the world (Matthew 28:16-20). Moreover, Matthew’s Gospel presents Jesus Christ through his Gospel as King (see e.g. Matthew 1:1; 2:2; 20:25-28; 27:11) and fuller of God’s Word (Matthew 3:15). In fact, Matthew’s Gospel is called the “royal” Gospel because it refers so many times to Jesus’ Kingship. Jesus never denies He is a King and has a Kingdom. However, Jesus does deny His kingdom runs by the same rules as kingdoms with which John, James, and their mother are familiar (Matthew 20:20-28). In Jesus’ Kingdom, service and love for others precedes greatness and self-gratification.
As King, Jesus rules over the Church and over the entire universe (Ephesians 1:20–22; Matthew 28:18; 1 Corinthians 15:25). Jesus was born to be King (Matthew 2:1-2; see also Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:7, 17; Psalm 110). The transfiguration of Jesus witnessed by Peter, James, and John revealed a brief glimpse of Jesus’ true glory as King (see Exodus 34:29–35; Psalms 104:2; Matthew 16:27–28; 2 Corinthians 3:12–18; Revelation 1:16). Nonetheless, Jesus refused any attempt by the people to try to make Him an earthly king with military and political power (John 6:15). Jesus the Messiah was indeed a King (Isaiah 42:1–4; Matthew 12:17–21), as He announced in His Kingdom and in His preaching (e.g., Matthew 4:17, 23; Matthew 12:28). Jesus was a quiet, gentle rule who brought justice to the nations. However, at His second coming, Jesus will return as a powerful Ruler, Judge, and King (see Zechariah 9:9–10; Matthew 21:5; John 12:15). When Jesus returns in all His glory, He will finally be acknowledged by all as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:15-16) and every knee shall bow to Him (Philippians 2:10)!
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