Qualifications and Functions of an Israelite King: A Model for Nations such as Ours!
The Israelites were at a plain east of Jordan where they can clearly see Canaan – The Promised Land. Right in this location, Moses rehearsed the Law after a substantial lecture on history. He did it before passing the baton of leadership to his successor, Joshua. Deuteronomy anticipates Israel’s settlement in Canaan. Most of the people who went out of Egypt with Moses have perished in the wilderness, so most of them were second generation Israelites, thus the need for the historical review and the rehearsal of the covenant.
God in His providential power, was aware that Israel would later reject the theocratic form of government and will demand for a king just like the surrounding nations.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1 Samuel 8:4, 5 ESV italics mine)
So, through Moses, God gave them in advance some of the qualifications and functions of an Israelite king:
14 “You will soon arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you, and you will conquer it and settle there. Then you may begin to think, ‘We ought to have a king like the other nations around us.’ 15 If this happens, be sure that you select as king the man the LORD your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite, not a foreigner. 16 The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself, and he must never send his people to Egypt to buy horses there, for the LORD has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ 17 The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will lead him away from the LORD. And he must not accumulate vast amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself. 18 “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy these laws on a scroll for himself in the presence of the Levitical priests.19 He must always keep this copy of the law with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God by obeying all the terms of this law. 20 This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. This will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel (Deut. 17:14-20, NLT).
The king should not be a foreigner – ” You must appoint a fellow Israelite, not a foreigner” (Deut. 17:15)
The NIV renders, “…..He must be from among your own brothers.” The king must be a ‘native’ Israelite. Somebody who is indigenous or born in Israel. The term ‘native’ means “a person born in a specified place or associated with a place by birth” (Oxford Online Dictionary).
The same qualification is set out in the 1987 Philippine Constitution for any one who aspire to be the President of the Republic, “No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines..” (Article VII, Section 2.) Article IV, Section 2 on the other hand explains what it means to be a natural-born citizen: “Natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship.”
The king should be loyal to God and the covenant (Deut. 17:16-17)
This qualification is expressed in three different ways in the text:
First, “The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself..” (v.16). The desire to do so could mean going back to Egypt to buy horses. God does not want them to have any dealings with the Egyptians anymore. Acquiring a large number of horses also means building a strong military force that could result to trusting his army’s strength rather than God’s power. One of King David’s sins was the census of his military might in 2 Samuel 24. Israel’s increasing power and prosperity under David may have given him and his people feelings of self-praise, as if they and not God, had been the cause of this growth (Bridgeway). A plague broke out in Israel as a punishment for this sin.
Second, the king should not take many wives for himself (v.17a). One of the ways to secure peace and order, and economic stability is to engage in political marriages. These marriages lead to idolatry and syncretism which is deeply abhorred by God. It happened to King Solomon – his women influenced him to built altars for their gods. Eventually, Solomon himself offered sacrifices in those temples.
Third, the king should not acquire large amount of wealth in silver and gold (v.7b). Among other possible explanations, I believe God does not want the king to compromise with other pagan kings in his pursuit to acquire wealth. Total reliance to Yahweh to provide his needs should be observed by anyone who ascends to the throne of Israel. After all, material blessings will come if the king and the entire nation will be faithful in obeying the covenant. Again, as in the issue of horses, great riches may cause the king to trust his wealth rather than God. The same warning was given in 1 Tim. 6:17. Paul said that riches are uncertain (ESV) so wealthy people should not rely on wealth but on “God who provides us with everything to enjoy.”
The man who became king was to make his own copy of Gods law and study it constantly, so that he might govern the people according to Gods standards (v.v.18-20). (Bridgeway).
The main point of the guidelines becomes clearer in these three verses. Kingship should be characterized by total allegiance to God’s revealed will inscribed in the Torah. God’s word will keep the kingship from going astray and will prevent the king from boasting. The same command was given to Joshua when he succeeded Moses. He was told to meditate the Law day and night so that he will be prosperous and successful (Josh. 1:8). Jesus also reiterated the importance of reading and meditating the Word of God when he quoted Deut. 8:3 during his temptation in Matt. 4:4.
Deuteronomy teaches total allegiance to Yahweh and faithfulness to the covenant or the Torah. This theme even transcends the basic concept of monotheism in Israel. These guidelines are rooted in this theme. The people of Israel are commanded to put their loyalty to the One True God of Israel as they take possession of the Promised Land. This loyalty should flow from the throne to the common Israelite masses.
In the Philippines, the first line of the Preamble of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states, “We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God…” According to Dannug and Campanilla:
The people of the Philippines, in ordaining and promulgating the 1935 Constitution and 1973 Constitution implored the aid of “Divine Providence”. The phrase “the aid of Divine Providence” is a manifestation of the Filipinos’ intense religious nature and placement of unfaltering reliance upon Him who guides the destinies of men and nations. The elevating influence of religion in human society is recognized here as elsewhere. The drafters of the 1987 Constitution used the word ‘Almighty God” instead of “Divine Providence”. (Roman R. Dannug and Marlo B. Campanilla. Politics, Governance and Government with Philippine Constitution. Quezon City, Philippines: C&E Publishing, Inc. 2004)
As with the Israelite king, this religiosity should emanate from the president of this country down to the masses. Furthermore, the qualifications of an Israelite king mentioned above somehow must be incarnate in the lives of our presidential hopefuls. Our long history is marked with cases of corruption, violence resulting from acquiring large amount of private armies such as the Maguindanao massacre in November of 2009, and the almost never ending cases of compromise. Living up to the ideals the people fought for in EDSA in 1986 is still a struggle until today.
To vote wisely, is to listen to what Deuteronomy 17:14-20 is telling us.
Barker, Kenneth, Burdick, Donald, Stek, John, Wessel, Walter, Youngblood, Ronald, Boa, Kenneth and Kruidenier, William M. NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999.
Bartholomew, Craig G. & Goheen, Michael W. The Drama of Scripture. Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004.
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament. An Introduction. Makati, Philippines: St. Paul Publications, 2003.
Fee, Gordon D. & Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible Book by Book. Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature Inc., 2002
Feliciano, Evelyn F. Filipino Values and our Christian Faith. Manila: OMF Literature Inc., 2005.
Gaebelein, Frank E. Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Versions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1992
Halley, Henry H. Halley’s Bible Handbook. Minnesota: Zondervan Publishing House, 1964.
*This blog is adapted from the author’s blog, Biblical Guidelines in Electing a President in Such a Time as This posted in articuloteologia.blogspot.com in April 2010.