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Handbook for the Heart: Deuteronomy 17:18–20 and the Character of a Christian Leader

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series

"Character of a Christian Leader"

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2014.10.20 booksLast week we looked at Deut 17:14–17 and discovered three prohibitions for Israel’s kings that Christian leaders can follow in principle today. This week, we’ll read through Deut 17:14–20 again and see the import of the positive commands for the king in Deut 17:18–20.

Deuteronomy 17:14–20 (ESV)
14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Study the Word of God (Deut 17:18–19).

What is summarized here as one command (study) involved multiple commands for the king of Israel. He was to “write for himself in a book a copy of this law,” that is, the Law of Moses (Deut 17:18; cf. 1:5; 4:44; 27:3, 8, 26; 29:21, 29; 30:10; 31).1 It was to be carefully copied, as it was to be “approved by the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18), which means at the least that the priests somehow involved in this copying of the Law.2 The king was to keep this copy “with him” in order to “read in it all the days of his life” (Deut 17:19).

As kings of old, we, too, are to study God’s Word in order to faithfully obey it as we ought (cf.  1 Tim 4:16; 6:14; 2 Tim 2:15). Just as the king showed the fear of the Lord by reading and God’s Word then, so Jesus says to us today, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Humbly obey the Word of God.

This continued reading of God’s Word was for the king’s perseverance in the faith as described in multiple ways. First, this reading was intended for him to “learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them” (Deut 17:19). The repetition of “keeping . . . and doing” stresses the obedience of the king. This obedience would evidence his fear of God and saving knowledge of the one, true God (cf. Prov 1:7).

Second, this reading was intended for the king to remain humble. He was to “read in it . . . that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers” (Deut 17:19–20). Despite his kingly position, the king was an Israelite like all other Israelites, and God’s choice of him as king was no reason to boast. Continued study of the Law would keep him humble.

Third, this reading was intended for the king’s avoidance of sin and consequent blessing. His knowledge and obedience of God’s Word would enable him to “not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left” (Deut 17:20). Besides having the joy of remaining faithful to the Lord, the king would also “continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deut 17:20). This promise entailed the continuance of the king’s rule and the extension of this rule to his descendants thereafter.

Just as reading God’s Word was intended to keep the king humble among his brothers, so also Christian leaders today must always remember that their privileged service is not to magnify themselves but humbly serve them. Jesus pictured this service in washing the disciple’s feet (John 13:1–20) and ultimately by giving His life as a ransom for men (Mark 10:45).

While there is no demand for Christian leaders to be replaced by their children, it could be pointed out that a faithful leader is expected to have children who are faithful to the ways of the Lord (Titus 1:6). This would certainly be God’s continued blessing to multiple generations in light of a leader’s study and humble obedience to His Word.

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About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.

  1. Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy (NAC 4; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 266. []
  2. Robert G. Bratcher and Howard A. Hatton, A Handbook on Deuteronomy (UBS Handbook Series; New York: United Bible Societies, 2000), 309, briefly give four options for how the priests were involved. Copying could have taken place by (1) being somehow copied from the autograph of the Law (cf. Deut 31:9), (2) dictation, (3) by the king in the priests’ presence, or (4) by the priests under the king’s supervision. []