Deuteronomy 17
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. THE PRINCIPLE INVOLVED. God is to be served with our best. He rejects the blemished for his service.

1. He is entitled to our best.

2. He requires it of us.

3. Withholding it argues unworthy views of God and of what is due to him. It usually implies contempt of God and hypocrisy in his service (Malachi 1:12, 13).

II. APPLICATIONS OF THE PRINCIPLE. God is to receive from us:

1. The best of our time - when the head is clearest, the energies most vigorous, the capacity for service greatest, and when there is least distraction. We offer the blemished when we engross these portions of our time for self, and give to God only our late hours, or hurried snatches of a day crowded with unspiritual and exhausting occupations.

2. The best of our age - youth, the prime of manhood and womanhood, with all the service these can render. We offer the blemished when we conceive the purpose of dedicating to God, in old age, powers already worn out in the service of the world.

3. The heartiest of our service. Service performed half-heartedly and grudgingly falls under the category of blemished sacrifices. Work done in this spirit will never be well done. Services of devotion will be huddled through, sermons will be ill prepared, the class in the Sunday school wilt be badly taught, visitation duties will be inefficiently and unpunctually performed. It is the presentation to God of the torn, lame, and halt.

4. The first of our givings. Givings should be hearty, liberal, of our first and best, and in a spirit of consecration. To give what "will never be missed" is a poor form of service. It is little to give to God what costs us nothing. Still more conspicuously do we offer the blemished when we devote to God but the parings of a lavish worldly expenditure, or give for his service far below our ability. - J.O.

The closing verses of last chapter prohibiting groves near God's altar may be taken in connection with the verses now before us as constituting the solemn prohibition of idolatry. God will not have any rival, either sun, moon, or any of the host of heaven, not to speak of the more miserable idolatries of things on earth; he makes idolatry a capital crime, and decrees death as its penalty. This brings out the enormity of the sin in the eyes of God; and it does not follow, because idolatry is not still visited with death, that it has become a lighter matter in the eyes of "the Judge of all the earth."

I. THE TEMPTATION TO NATURE WORSHIP. When men are not watchful, they live by sight and forget the life of faith. Others make the senses the only organs of knowledge, and base their so-called philosophy upon sensation. It is not to be wondered at, in such circumstances, that nature-worship prevailed in olden times and prevails still. A great deal of the antitheistic science of the present time is, when analyzed, just nature-worship. When men in their headstrong self-confidence attribute independent powers to nature; when they maintain-on what grounds they do not tell us, for it is a matter of faith, not of sight - that the "reign of law" is workable without God, then they are really idolizing nature. It seems a light thing to men to eliminate God from his works, but the sin will have to be answered for before the Judge. Besides, it was more excusable in the old Israelite than in the modern philosopher. The heavenly bodies in these Eastern countries are so magnificent that the impression produced upon the gazer is akin to worship. It was little wonder if in an unwatchful moment he "beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and the heart was secretly enticed, or his mouth kissed his hand" (Job 31:26, 27). The temptation to worship the heavenly bodies was strong and natural.

II. IS GOD'S SIGHT THE WORSHIP OF NATURE IS A CAPITAL CRIME, It is worthy of a violent death. Directions are given for the solemn execution. The witnesses, of whom there must be a plurality at least, are first to lay their hands upon the head of the idolater, then the whole people, doubtless through their representative elders, showing their acquiescence in the severe sentence; and then he is to be stoned to death. The idea is manifestly that he is unworthy of living longer when he has so far forgotten and ignored the claims of God. And assuredly our scientific nature-worshippers are equally guilty, nay, more guilty, in God's sight. If they are not put to death by public law, it is not because their sin is changed in its heinousness, but because God has made their case a reserved one for himself. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."

III. IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES WE ARE LEFT ONE WAY OF GETTING RID OF THE EVIL, AND THAT IS BY GOOD. God having withdrawn the prerogative of vengeance from men for sins against himself, and reserved the case for his own dealing with it, he has given us our direction in the words, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). The Israelites in their rude time were directed to remove the idolater by force; we are to get rid of him by loving persuasion. The former was the easier remedy. To heap coals of fire on the head of our opponent and enemy is not so easy an operation. But it can be done. God shows us the example himself. While reserving the prerogative of vengeance, he meanwhile manifests himself in Jesus Christ as the God of love. Though provoked by man's idolatries, he subjects him to the treatment of his love, and goes forth in converting power to meet his enemies. Of course the love is sometimes lost upon them, as we are accustomed to say. The appeal is rejected, but they have got the opportunity, and must account at last for despising it. In his loving footsteps let us follow. The nature-worship and manifold idolatries are amenable to the treatment of enlightened love. Let us study candidly and carefully the case, and administer with all tenderness the remedy. It may be that in some cases the old picture may be reversed. Instead of the imposition of hands in order to destruction, it may be an imposition of hands in ordaining to Divine work those who formerly ignored God altogether. However this may be, our duty is clear to try to overcome this particular evil by good. - R.M.E.

Men who pride themselves on honesty towards their fellows are often dishonest in dealing with God. They are punctual in observing appointments with men; they are unpunctual in reaching the house of God. When the principle of piety in a man is weakened, he will stoop to many artifices to deprive God of his due.

I. AN IMPERFECT SACRIFICE SPRINGS FROM BLIND PARSIMONY. When piety declines, a man becomes the slave of his senses. He is moved or terrified only by what is visible. He is afraid of a human frown; he is impervious to the Divine displeasure. The lamb which is unfit for barter, and which is scarce fit for food, will be deemed good enough for sacrifice. Yet how mentally blind is the man! What thick scales he has manufactured for his eyes! Yet, "he that formed the eye, shall he not see?" And cannot God, with a breath, blast that man's prosperity, and cage his soul in bondage? He had thought to snatch from God a dollar, and lo! he loses everything!

II. AN IMPERFECT SACRIFICE VITIATES ITS SYMBOLIC EFFICACY. These animal sacrifices had many moral uses. They developed the sentiment of gratitude for gifts bestowed. They expressed the penitence of the offerer, who thereby confessed that for his sins he had deserved to die. And inasmuch as a lamb or a heifer was immeasurably inferior to man, the sacrifice betokened the offering of a better Sacrifice, which should be a real atonement. Now, if men were permitted to bring a blemished victim, it would no longer prefigure him who is the "Lamb without blemish and without spot." In such a case, the faith of the offerer was dead.

III. Such RELIGIOUS FRAUD WAS INCIPIENT ATHEISM. Here was the budding of blackest sin - the first step on a slippery decline, which would land one in death. If I can set aside God's plain commands, as my selfishness desires; if I can treat God as my equal or my inferior, and devote to him only what is useless for myself; - I am on the very borders of utter atheism, and to-minnow shall be ready to say, "There is no God." Rankest unbelief often springs from practical disobedience. There is no neglect of God without self-injury. - D.

The crime here ordained to be punished by death was sabaeism, or the worship of the heavenly bodies. Though this was in some respects the noblest, as it seems to have been the most ancient, form of idolatry - the purest in its ritual, the most elevating in its influence, the least associated with vice, it was not to be tolerated in Israel. Its apparent sublimity made it only the more seductive and dangerous. It was a departure, though at first a very subtle and scarcely recognizable one, from pure monotheism - the beginning of a course of declension which speedily led in Egypt, Phoenicia, Babylonia, India, and most other nations to the grossest abominations. That the seductive influence of sun and star worship was powerfully felt by the ancients appears from Job 31:26, 27. In Egypt, according to M. de Rouge (quoted by Renouf, 'Hibbert Lecture'), "the pure monotheistic religion passed through the phase of sabseism; the sun, instead of being considered as the symbol of life, was taken as the manifestation of God himself." Max Muller tells us ('Hibbert Lecture,' p. 13) that the "oldest prayer in the world" (?) is one in the Rig-Veda, addressed to the sun. The term for God, which is common to the Indo-Germanic races (deva, daeva, theos, deus, etc.), proves that the conception of the Divine among them was formed from that of light, and that the objects of their religious worship were the effects and appearances of light. All ancient mythologies turn, as their principal subject, on the sunrise and sunset, the battle between light and darkness, etc. We learn:

1. It is the beginnings of evil which need most jealously to be guarded against.

2. Evil is not the less, but the more to be feared, that its first forms are usually pleasing and seductive.

3. It does not excuse evil that in its earlier forms it is still able to associate itself with worthy and noble ideas.

4. The workings of evil, however deceptive its first appearances, invariably end by revealing its true iniquity and hideousness. How astonishing the descent from the first enticing of the heart to worship sun or moon, and so to deny the God that is above, to the abominations and cruelties of Baal and Moloch worship! Yet the later excesses were present in germ from the beginning, and the descent was as natural and logical as history shows it to have been inevitable. - J.O.

Whether the fact be obvious to all men or not, it is fact that sin against God is also sin against human society. The relation of the Hebrew nation to God, is a type of the relation which God sustains to every nation. He is the Creator of individual life and of individual endowments. He is the Source of all the moral forces which bind men together in civil society. He has appointed to each nation its habitation, and has enriched it with more or less of material good. Hence every nation is under obligation to acknowledge and honor the one creating and reigning God.

I. THE CRIME. The crime consisted in esteeming the creature above the Creator. This was a direct breach of treaty between God and the nation. On God's side the engagement was to bring them into the land of Canaan, and secure them against foes. On Israel's side the engagement was to worship no other Deity but Jehovah. Hence the violation of a covenant so openly made and frequently ratified was a flagrant sin. Yet with every nation such a covenant is made by implication. If life is obtained from the invisible God, it is held on conditions imposed by him, and every item of conduct which is contrary to his known will is an act of rebellion. If rebellion against an earthly king is counted highest crime, incomparably greater is a deed of open rebellion against the King of kings. Idolatry is the root-stem of grossest immorality.

II. THE DETECTION AND PROOF OF THIS CRIME. In proportion to the greatness of the crime must be the carefulness of investigation, No punishment is to be inflicted on the ground of suspicion or prejudice. Human life is to be accounted precious, but the interests of righteousness are more precious still. On both these grounds, the scrutiny must be thorough. To prevent any injury to the sacred cause of justice, through error, or incompetence, or malice, one witness must be incompetent to obtain a verdict. Security against injustice comes from corroborated testimony and from independent witnesses. While every man is bound, in his sphere, to think and act righteously towards his neighbors, he must safeguard himself against hasty judgments and against the whispers of slanderers. In many positions in life we are called to act in the place of God.

III. THE PUNISHMENT DECREED. It was death by stoning. In that early age, and especially in the desert, there were no mechanical contrivances for suddenly extinguishing life. They were largely the children of nature, and possessed but few inventions of civilized life. The sagacity of Supreme Wisdom had placed frail man among natural forces, which might easily be employed in terminating bodily life. This arrangement impresses men with a sense of dependence. His bodily life succumbs to a stone. The unit must be sacrificed to the well-being of the community. "Into man lives for himself."

IV. THE INSTRUMENTS OF THE EXECUTION. The chief witness against an offender, became, by God's appointment, executor of the judicial sentence. This secured economy in the administration of law. It secured, to a large extent, veracity among witnesses, and moral certainty of the rightness of the verdict. Yet, that obloquy might not attach itself to one man alone, the whole community were charged to take part in the execution of the sentence. The deed would thus be the common deed of all. This practice would foster oneness of sentiment, oneness of purpose, and would promote harmonious national life. - D.

I. THE RIGHT OF THE CRIMINAL TO A PAIR AND PULL TRIAL. The right is asserted in the Law of Moses as strenuously as it could be anywhere. However abhorrent his crime, the criminal had every protection against unjust treatment which the Law could afford him. He must be formally impeached, tried before judges, and legally convicted under stringent conditions of proof. The evidence of one witness, however apparently conclusive, was not to be accepted as sufficient. A second must confirm it. The principle is a plain dictate of justice. Suspicion, rumor, dislike of the individual, or even moral certainty of his guilt, form no sufficient ground for condemnation. He is entitled to demand that his crime be proved under legal forms. A person really guilty may thus occasionally escape, but better this should happen than that the innocent should suffer. Lessons:

1. The rule of criminal jurisprudence should be the rule of our private thoughts, and of our expressed opinions about others. We are entitled to hold no man guilty of deeds for which we have not explicit proof.

2. While moral certainty of guilt may be created by proof which would not warrant judicial condemnation, we should beware of admitting as proof that which at the most only seems to tell against the person under suspicion.

3. Where no better ground exists for unfavorable judgment than vague, unsifted rumor, or the dislikes and prejudices with which a person is regarded, it is the grossest unfairness, and often great cruelty to the person concerned, to entertain evil reports, or even to allow them in the slightest degree to influence us.

4. Where opportunity for investigating reports to the discredit of another does not exist, or where we have no call to undertake such investigation, our duty is not to judge at all (Matthew 7:1). The utmost we should do is to exercise caution.

II. THE GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY WHICH RESTS ON WITNESSES. This was well brought out by requiring that the hands of the witnesses should be first upon the condemned person to put him to death. We may note:

1. That those who prefer serious accusations against others, ought to be prepared publicly to substantiate them. Were this more insisted on than it is, it would quash in the birth not a few malicious accusations.

2. That blood-guiltiness rests on those who, by false testimony, whether borne publicly or in private, effect another's ruin. - J.O.

The priests, in association with a judge or judges (Deuteronomy 19:17), constituted a supreme tribunal to which difficult causes were carried, and whose judgment was to be final. The priest had naturally a place in this supreme court:

1. As representing God in the theocracy.

2. As a member of the distinctively learned class of the nation.

3. As one whose special office it was to teach and interpret the Law of God (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Ezekiel 44:24; Malachi 2:7). The differentiation of functions in society has long since taken learning in the law out of the hands of the clergy, but we may remark -

I. THAT SPIRITUAL AND CIVIL FUNCTIONARIES MAY RENDER EACH OTHER IMPORTANT ASSISTANCE. The spheres of civil and spiritual jurisdiction are indeed distinct. Yet as the lawyer and judge, with their legal expertness, their knowledge of forms, and their experience in sifting evidence, are often of the greatest service in processes purely ecclesiastical, so, on the other hand, the best of them stand in need of that higher direction and enlightenment of the conscience from God's Word, which it is the business of a body of spiritual teachers to supply. The ministers of religion have a function:

1. In upholding the Law of God as the supreme standard of right.

2. In furnishing general enlightenment to the conscience.

3. In reminding judges, the highest of them, of their duties and responsibilities before God as set "for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:14).

II. THAT LAWS BASED ON GOD'S WORD HAVE ATTACHING TO THEM A DIVINE AS WELL AS A HUMAN AUTHORITY. The duty of the priest was not to invent laws, but to interpret the existing Law of God. To it all cases of right had ultimately to be appealed. God's Law, as exhibiting the unalterable principles of right, underlies human law and gives to it authority. Whatever may happen in courts on earth, no decision will stand in the court of heaven which that Law is found to condemn. Laws e.g. which invade rights of conscience, which (as in slave-holding countries) place the life of one man at the mercy of another, which are favorable to illicit relations of the sexes, which make light of divorce, which bear unequally on different classes of the community, which prop up abuses, etc., may be submitted to, but cannot be justified. Where, on the contrary, the law of a land is in essential harmony with the principles of righteousness, obedience to it becomes a duty of religion. He who sets it at naught strives with God not less than with man, is "as they which strive with the priest," and does "presumptuously" (cf. Hosea 4:4). - J.O.

The government among the Israelites was first by an eldership elected on the representative principle. Thus in Genesis 1:7 we find at the funeral of Jacob "all the elders of the land of Egypt." Again, when Moses came from Midian to emancipate his brethren, he was directed to consult "the elders of Israel," who were to go in with him before Pharaoh (Exodus 3:16, 18). After the Exodus, the priests were appointed as the ministers of religion; and with these were associated the elders selected to the number of seventy from those already in office, and to whom God gave his Spirit (Numbers 11:16, etc.). When the people settled in Canaan, they were directed to elect judges for judgment. This was the distribution and development of the eldership. And in case of any special difficulty, the aggrieved parties were to repair to the place of the central altar, and there lay the matter before the priests and the judge. It follows that the priests had co-ordinate ruling power with the elders or judges, that they were rulers and officiating ministers besides. And here we have to notice -

I. THESE CHURCH OFFICERS EXERCISED THEIR AUTHORITY UNDER GOD AS KING. The Church was a theocracy, and God was regarded as ever present with his officers and people. The same is true in the Church still. It is a theocracy; an ever-present Jesus still presides even where two or three are met together for the purposes of Church government (Matthew 18:20).

II. THE PRIESTS AND THE JUDGE ARE TO SHOW THE PARTIES THE DIVINE LAW ON THE SUBJECT. The decision is to be expository of existing law, not a decision on the ground of expediency. Now this necessarily follows from the Kingship of God. His will must be paramount. His officers simply try to find out his will. A national parliament may manufacture laws; but Church officers take their laws from the inspired Statute-book. It is exposition of Divine Law that the ruler in God's Church is really concerned with.

III. THE CHURCH OFFICERS REQUIRED IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE FROM THE PEOPLE TO THEIR INTERPRETATION OF GOD'S WILL. In a rude age this was needful, implicit obedience such as we require from children. But when we reach the corresponding part of the New Testament economy, the exhortation is, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The right of private judgment is admitted, and regulates the obedience. Just as when children grow to manhood, the implicit obedience demanded gives place to persuasion and the appeal to conscience.

IV. PRESUMPTUOUS DISREGARD OF GOD'S WILL EXPRESSED BY THE PRIEST AND JUDGE WAS PUNISHED WITH DEATH. This was disobedience in its generic form, and came under the penalty of death, just as in Eden. The aggrieved parties had appealed for light to God's officer; he was to be their Arbitrator, and they contracted to abide by his decision. Disobedience under such circumstances would overthrow the order both of Church and State. Hence the death penalty. Presumptuous disregard of Divine commandments is not now less heinous than it was then, though it may escape for the time being such a terrible penalty. The judgment of God is only postponed. Should the presumption continue, the penalty will come at last with compound interest.

V. THE PATIENT STUDY OF GOD'S WORD IS SURELY A DUTY WHEN PRESUMPTUOUS DISREGARD OF GOD'S WILL IS SO HEINOUS A SIN. It should be our supreme desire to know what God would have us to do. This can only be known through systematic and patient study of the holy oracles. The priest with the Urim and Thummim is not now available. We must content ourselves with a quieter way. The Book is given instead of the oracle, and we are directed to consult it for ourselves. Approaching it in a patient, obedient spirit, we shall find it unlocking many a mystery to us, and affording us the light we need. - R.M.E.

We can imagine a condition of human society in which wrong-doing would at once declare itself by some visible pain or sign. We can imagine a condition of society in which God would himself step forth and punish every offence against truth or virtue. But then, men would lose the benefits of moral training which the present system ensures. This necessity for men to take part in the administration of justice brings large advantage.

I. HUMAN INTERESTS OFTEN BECOME VERY COMPLICATED. The interests men have in property, liberty, reputation, often become very involved. This arises largely from the operation of selfishness. Every item which will add to a man's self-importance he will sue for by every process of law. This comes from the neglect of the comprehensive precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Another great difficulty in the administration of justice arises from men's untruthfulness. The day will dawn when a stigma of shame will brand the man who withholds or violates the truth. If now, in every judicial inquiry, the whole truth, pure and simple, were forthcoming, decision and verdict would be a simple result.

II. THE MOST HOLY WILL BE, CAETERIS PARIBUS, THE MOST SAGACIOUS. The man who lives nearest to God will obtain the most of God's wisdom. He will be free from base and selfish motive. He will be the most trusted by his fellows. He will have fullest access to God when intricate questions have to be solved. "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God." "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness." But pretended piety will serve no practical good.

III. EVERY JUDGE AMONG MEN ACTS SPECIALLY IN THE STEAD OF GOD. To be the administrator of justice, to adjudicate between right and wrong, is the highest office which men can fill. No position is more responsible; none more honorable. For all practical purposes, his decision must be regarded as the decision of God. Otherwise, there will be no termination to litigation and strife. From the verdict of the highest human judge, there is but one court of appeal, viz. the court of heaven. Without doubt, many judicial decisions on earth will be reversed by the Great Judge of all. This is sweet solace to the injured now. Yet it is nobler to suffer wrong at the hands of men than to resist by violence. For the present, we are to accept the sentence of the judge as absolute and obligatory. Our feet must diverge neither to the right hand nor to the left.

IV. CONTUMACY IS CRIME, PUNISHABLE BY DEATH. To despise the verdict of the judge is to weaken the authority of the State - is to sow the seeds of anarchy and ruin. Defective administration of law is better than none. "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry." Yet, if contempt of human authority be accounted a capital crime, how much more criminal must be contumacy against God!

V. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT HAS FOR ITS END THE GOOD OF THE COMMUNITY. It is an advantage to remove from the circle of human society a pest - a firebrand. The authority of law, the sacredness of justice, are set on high in flaming characters, and on all classes of the community the impression is salutary. Reverence for constituted authority is strengthened, and unbiased minds learn the heinous wickedness of disobedience. The effect is virtue, order, peace. - D.

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.

We have here provision made for the probable demand of the people for a visible king like the other nations. The unseen King did not make the same sensation in their view, and hence Moses is inspired to anticipate the unbelieving demand. And here notice -

I. THE UNSEEN KING MUST HAVE THE SELECTION OF THE VISIBLE ONE. It is in this way that the monarchy, when it came, was kept under the control of God. The theocracy was still the fountainhead of power. The people were not to choose their king. He was to have Divine right. It is noticeable that, in giving them Saul, the Lord made emphatic the sensationalism that lay under the demand, for the visible king was head and shoulders above his brethren. David was also a big man, else Saul would never have offered him his armor, when proposing to fight the giant. And it is noticeable how the sensationalism is rebuked in the enemies of Israel producing Goliath as a champion, before whom it is evident that the big Saul feared and quaked.

II. THEY ARE NOT TO EXPECT OR TO THINK OF A STRANGER KING. Thus the patriotism of the people is fostered. It is one of themselves that is to have the kingship when it comes. It is interesting to notice this deliverance after the reservation already noticed. God's choice is thus guaranteed to Israel. He will stand to the nation, if the nation will be faithful to him.

III. THE KING IS NOT TO RELY UPON THE CAVALRY ARM. Palestine, being mountainous, did not require cavalry. Infantry would be more effective. Cavalry, if raised and relied on, would necessitate an alliance with a cattle-breeding country like Egypt, and would be the precursor of a "spirited foreign policy," such as proves ruinous to a pastoral people such as Israel was meant to be. There was thus a wise restraint laid upon the foreign policy of the nation; as God desired their separation from surrounding nations, and their religious stability upon the mountain ridges of Palestine, he warns them against this danger. Besides, the cavalry arm until recently was the most powerful in the service, and the charge of cavalry is something to be proud of or to fear. Now, of course, artillery has put cavalry out of its vaunted position. The temptation was to "trust in horses and in chariots," and not in the Lord. Hence the warning.

IV. THE KING IS NOT TO HAVE A SERAGLIO. For through the wives he will surely be unmanned and have his heart turned away from God. It is the spiritual disasters of polygamy which are here insisted upon. A divided heart socially must entail a divided heart spiritually. No wonder the Psalmist prayed, "Unite my heart to fear thy Name."

V. NOR IS THE KING TO AIM AT GREAT RICHES. For wealth is a great snare, and it competes with God for the heart. Money, like cavalry, is a most natural foundation of trust. A too wealthy monarch is likely to be worldly minded and unspiritual.

VI. THE KING IS TO MAKE A SPECIAL STUDY OF THE DIVINE LAW. He is to get a copy for himself - he is to have it daily read to him - and he is to allow its humiliating influence to be exercised over him so as to be obedient always. And if obedient, he is promised an hereditary interest in the throne. He was thus to be kept in subjection to the unseen King. And though we may not aspire to kingships, we can profit by the warnings here prophetically addressed to the coming kings of Israel. For it is surely for us to allow nothing seen and temporal to threaten our faith in God. It may not be horses and chariots; it may not be money; it may be men in whom we are tempted to trust. Whatever it be, whether persons or things, that tempts us from our trust in God, it must be avoided. Better is it to be friendless, to be poor, to be solitary, than to be skeptical. Worldly success is where skepticism is born. The idols multiply as wealth and luxuries increase. There is something, we think, to hold by in the strain of life. And whatever our position in this world, let us feel always not only our trust in God, but our subordination in all things to him. If he is King of kings, he is certainly Lord over us. Let us live under the theocracy, and serve him with our whole hearts. - R.M.E.

A king is the creation of a nation's will. The nation does not exist for the king, but the king exists for the nation. His proper aim is not personal glory, but the widest public good.

I. KINGS ARE THE PRODUCT OF A DEGENERATE AGE. Since the King of heaven is willing to give his counsel and aid to men, it is for our honor and advantage to live under the direct administration of God; and it is only when piety and faith decline that men clamor for a human king. The conquests of Canaan by Israel had been most complete when Israel most carefully followed the commands of God. To sensitive minds, it would have been a dagger-thrust to imitate the practices of the degenerate heathen.

II. DIVINE LIMITATIONS ABOUT THE CHOICE OF A KING. In condescension to human infirmity, God will allow the elevation of a man to the throne. Through our own caprices, God ofttimes punishes us. Yet God kindly sets barriers about our capricious wills. For martial purposes, foolish men would often choose a stalwart giant, some Goliath, to be their king, though he be of foreign birth; or some successful warrior to lead them forth to battle. This is prohibited. The nation is to be self-contained. All the elements of prosperity may be found within its own borders. The will of God must be respected. God himself will select the man, point him out by unmistakable methods, and the nation can do no more than gratefully accept God's wise decision, He will choose; they must anoint.

III. DIVINE LIMITATIONS ABOUT THE CONDUCT OF A KING. To him does not belong the privilege to gratify every taste and temper. The very contrary. He is under greater obligations than any other man to restrain himself. Temptation will surround him on every side; but he must meet temptation with vigilance, patience, firmness. To be a true king, he must first conquer himself. He must restrain carnal ambition. He must restrain love of display. He must restrain the passion for conquest. He must restrain sensual pleasure. He must restrain his avarice. His real distinction is not to have many horses, many wives, or great riches. His distinction is to be wise administrator of righteousness, the protector of public liberty and peace. To fulfill faithfully the functions of a king, he must walk circumspectly in the narrow way - be a loyal subject to the King of heaven.

IV. LIMITATIONS ABOUT THE PRIVATE LIFE OF A KING, His first concern must be respecting his personal fitness for such responsible office. No pains must he spare to obtain complete equipment. He must count no labor severe or menial by which he may qualify himself for kingly duties. His first duty is to obtain completest acquaintance with the will of God. To this end he must possess a copy of God's written Law, and in this Law he must meditate day and night. The spirit of this Law must animate his being and breathe in all his speech. God's Word must be his vade mecum, his daily compass and chart. He must move among his courtiers and governors as a visible embodiment of truth and purity, a living transcript of the Divine will. This is a true pattern of a king - a man who excels in wisdom, having learnt of God; a man who is eminent for pious obedience, and writes in largest characters the model of a noble life. Such a man shall live. "Though lie die, his influence and rule shall live." - D.

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