Deuteronomy 17

Deuteronomy 17

Deuteronomy 17:1 Love for the Lord overflows in one’s love for neighbors.  Human life was important to God since He created man in His image. Respect for Him led to respect for His creation and for what He valued. The Lord called Israel not to offer Him an animal that had any defect or flaw in it. He expected that His people would offer Him the best as an expression of their love for Him flowing from their hearts.   

Deuteronomy 17:2-3 Following this Moses then gives an example of false worship that flows from a heart not fully devoted to the Lord. It describes how an evil action is revealed in breaking covenant with God. It involved the worship and serving of other gods such as the sun, moon, and stars. These were the same words used in Deut 5:9 as part of the command outlined in the second commandment.  

Deuteronomy 17:4-5 When word was received that such a sin had occurred it needed to be investigated. God’s covenant people were to be involved in seeking out if this covenant infidelity was true. If so, the offender was to be brought to an open area near the city gate and publicly stoned there to death (v. 5). This was not to be done in private but before the all so that the people of God would fear the consequences of breaking their covenant with the Lord. This was to be the motif of all sin that called for capital punishment throughout the tanak (acronym for Torah, Naviim or the prophets and Ketubim, the writings). Exod 21:12, 15-17; Lev 20; 24:16-17; Num 15:35; 35:16-17; Deut 13:10; 18:20; 19:12; 22:22, 25 are passages illustrating this command being broken and enforced by Israel.

Deuteronomy 17:6-7 The Law required that the accusation be made and then confirmed by at least two witnesses (Num 35:30; Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16; John 7:51; 8:17-18). This was to assure that this was not done for personal retaliation and that what was seen was confirmed by others.  The accusers then would be assigned with casting the first stone. This rule is the background to Jesus’ warning, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). This was a serious accusation with the harshest of penalty. That the whole community was to be involved in the punishment speaks to the unity of God’s covenant people. If one member sinned, the entire community was affected and to a degree all had a part in the sin. The entire community was charged with adjudicating and sentencing the member involved with a sin despised by the Lord. This is what “purging the evil from among you” involves. 

Deuteronomy 17:8-11 In these verses the Biblical judicial legal system was laid out. When cases were too difficult for the judges to decide provision made for appeals. The hard cases would be taken to the place the Lord would choose, an allusion likely to the central sanctuary where the High Priest and the judges of Israel would preside. They would then examine the issues and issue a finding.   There were differences between violations related to the Temple and worship and civil law on the other. Thus, there was the need for experts in both areas, the priests in the one and the judges in the other. These two areas would be able to interpret and apply the law in each of their respective areas of expertise.  We see an illustration of a priestly judicial examination in the case of an accusation of adultery in Num 5:11-31. The accused woman would appear before the priest who would “bring her before the Lord” (v. 16). After a specified ritual involving drinking water mixed with dirt from the Temple floor the results could be identified by the priest overseeing the procedure. There are other examples of priestly adjudication in these passages: Exod 18:19; Deut 19:17; 21:5; 2 Chr 19:8; and Hag 2:11. The identification of this judicial system was first revealed in the observation of Moses’ father-in-law Jethro and his counsel to him in Exodus 18.

Deuteronomy 17:12-13 Furthermore the judgments rendered were to be followed. Failure to submit would be dealt with by the authorities or by the Lord. This would be a prescription for scofflaws to God’s justice who by such actions demonstrate contempt for the Lord and His holy Law. This of course was related to God’s covenant with His people and their call to reflect His holiness. Obedience brought blessing disobedience brought his judgment and would reflect on their relation to God and His testimony to the nations.

Deuteronomy 17:14-17 One of the three roles of Moses was a prophet, which meant that he was a foreteller as well as a teacher of God’s Law. In his prophetic role he foresaw the day when Israel would call for a king to lead them. This would be their sinful response to their propensity to be like the nations around them. Knowing this, Moses and the Lord here gives instructions and guidelines in selecting and guiding such a person who is chosen.  He was to come from the people of Israel, a member of the covenant community and subject to its conditions. Three chief laws were prescribed for him, he was first not to trade with Egypt to multiply horses and emulate their army. There was a tendency to trust in horses Ps. 20:7. The Lord of Hosts was the one who would defend and lead Israel in her battles. He was far mightier than any worldly army as Israel saw in their deliverance from the superpower of their day, Egypt. Secondly the king was not to multiply wives, which was one of the chief ways of consolidating power and making strategic alliances with neighboring nations. The intermarriage of monarchs has continued even into the twentieth century. Israel’s king and power were to flow from the King of Kings and not worldly alliances and strategies. In addition, marriage to foreign wives would allow non-covenant women to be placed in an influential position within the nation.  This would lead to the importation of their gods and idols which would influence the people and the king. Such syncretism and tolerance of idols and false worship would lead Israel astray as it did under Solomon. Finally, he was not to increase gold and silver which lulls a person to a false sense of security.  This would cause God’s anointed rulers to trust in wealth rather than the Living God who is the giver of all resources. Solomon is the tragic example of a king who went against all three and the result was that the kingdom was split as a judgment from the Lord and never would recover from his three fold sin as we see in 1 Kgs 10:14-11:8. Israel will not recover until the return of the coming King/Messiah who will reign over Israel.  

Deuteronomy 17:18-19 Each king of Israel was to make a copy of the Torah in the presence of the priests so that they can be sure it is copied correctly. The king’s copy was to be made from the “official” version that was kept in the sanctuary. This is likely the book that was found by the priests under the reign of Josiah 2 Kgs 22:8-13 which led to Judah’s short-lived revival. The king was not only to write his copy of Torah but also to read and study it so that his reign would be informed by God’s Word.  The king was God’s representative on earth and was called to rule with God’s Word and the wisdom that comes from His Word. 

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