From: Heaven on Earth
When Moses presents God’s covenant requirements to the people, they respond, “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do,” (Exodus 19:8). In answering the call to be God’s special people, Israel affirms that holiness will be its trademark, (Leviticus 26:1-13; also see Leviticus 11:44). If Israel is faithful to the covenant, God will be its defender and provider. As a result, the wayward nations will witness Israel’s blessings, flock into its borders, and serve its God.
To assist Israel in its mission, God makes three provisions. First, he instructs his people to eat an annual Passover meal, commemorating the meal they ate on the night of their escape from Egypt, which anticipated and effectuated their release. In doing so, he asks them to participate in a liturgical act of memory. Liturgy involves remembrance and performance. In some sense it is a ritualistic and dramatic reenactment of the past through the use of storytelling and symbols.
Passover was to be a yearly opportunity for the Israelites to praise God for their liberation from domination and their new political reality as a nation. As a nation of free people, Israel is not to oppress others. Rather it is to be an advocate for justice and a champion of the downtrodden. The Passover meal is intended to help Israel remember its past and serve as a reminder of its obligations. If the people apply the lessons of the past to the present, they will find favor with God and humankind.
Second, Yahweh provides Israel with the law to guide the people in accordance with his sociopolitical principles, (Exodus 20). The first commandment prohibits the worship of other gods and recognizes Yahweh’s superiority over them all. The psalmist will later connect Yahweh’s power over the pagan gods with his office as king: “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods,” (Psalm 95:3). The Old Testament laws were designed to regulate the affairs of God’s people and to assure that justice prevails.
Third, God supplies Israel with guidelines for choosing a king who is qualified to rule the nation under him.
When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community. Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You must never return that way again.” And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the Levitical priests. 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, neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)
From this passage we see that God intends for Israel to have a king. He gives clear instructions about the kind of ruler he wants the people to choose. According to the divine stipulations, Israel’s king must not be like the rulers of the surrounding nations.
- He must be a king of God’s choosing, (v. 15).
- He must be a native Jew and not a foreigner, (v. 15).
- He must be a man of simple tastes, (v. 16). He must not accumulate a corral of horses for himself and financially oppress his people. In today’s parlance, we might say he must not buy a fleet of luxury automobiles while his people take public transportation.
- He must not have dealings with tyrannical Egypt in order to make personal gains for himself, (v. 16).
- He must not enter into multiple marriages, (v. 17). This is probably a reference to political marriages with daughters form other kingdoms, who would move his heart away from trusting in Yahweh.
- He must live modestly and not use his office to accumulate wealth, (v. 17).
- He must be a person who keeps and reads a personal and accurate copy of God’s Word, (v. 18). The purpose for this requirement is fourfold:
- that he may fear God, (v. 19);
- that he may learn to live in accord with its precepts, (v. 19;
- that he may live humbly before the people as their equal and not above them, for he is not above the law, (v. 20);
- that his dynasty may prosper for many generations, (v. 20).
From the beginning of creation, God planned for his people to be ruled by a divinely sanctioned leader who listens to and obeys God’s voice. Through this process of faithful rule and unwavering obedience, the knowledge of God will spread throughout the world.