Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Deuteronomy Chapter Seventeen: Stay the Course
In Deuteronomy 17 we see the theme of staying the course rising again to the forefront. It manifests first off with a reiteration of the forbidding of idolatry (see also the posts on ch.12 and 14). The importance of being free from pagan practices is most clear in the next chapter (ch.18 v.10) where Moses reports that some forms of idolatry have sunk so low that they make their children pass through fire. So, while we may feel unsettled about the legal imperative to kill those caught in idolatry (v.5), we can at least trust that if weren't for this firm justice a thick evil would take root. Also, and here I am repeating what I have already written about, this death sentence is not enacted on whimsy (v.6-7).
The theme of staying the course takes a different shape in verses 8-13. Here Moses allows for complicated legal matters to be decided by the Judge/Priest (v.8-9). And, Israel is called to not "turn [...] to the right or the left" from the judgment that the Judge/Priest declares. This again displays the importance of following God and listening to those wiser in times of transition.
In the last section the theme hones in on a potential king that will rule Israel in the distant future. 1st Sam. ch 8 clearly shows that Israel's desire for another king, besides God, is a grievance to God but, and in spite of 1st Sam. Ch.8 we have guidelines on how a King should live. This illustrates God's holy accommodation, though it grieves him he allows it under strict guidelines. The future king is to live in a spirit of modesty. We learn in v.16 that the king is strictly forbidden from returning Israel to Egypt so that he may prosper. The heart of that command being: don't put your people in bondage for your own benefit, don't make them a 'means' to your 'end'. Here God, via Moses, honors human dignity and commands the future king of Israel to do the same. But not only can the king not use his people for his benefit, he must deny decadence in all areas of life, even if it doesn't compromise the immediate health of his people (transportation and military v.16, sexuality v.17, monetary worth v.17). Further, the king must submit to the law of God: "It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes [...]" (v.19). And then we read that he must not exalt himself above anyone else in the community of Israel (v. 20). Here we see a true portrait of biblical leadership: the Servant-King. The final verses solidify this they read: "[he must not] turn aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom Israel" (v.20). Here, and this is telling, we have an edict which is given to the king, further it is exactly the same syntax as the one given earlier in the chapter to Israelites seeking help in legal matters (v.11). So, while all of Israel must submit to the rule of the Judge/Priest, the king must submit to the rule of God's law; so in the end we come to understand not only that king and the common-folk alike are held accountable to God, but that the king is himself common-folk.
In Jesus Christ we have a King who is also simultaneously Judge and Priest, that mentioned, he is still our great Servant-King.