Saturday, March 31, 2007

The king should set an example -- and so should you

Today's Old Testament reading, from Deuteronomy, gives the children of Israel a command about their future kings.
14When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you ... and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us," 15be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses.... 16The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself.... 17He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

18When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law... 19It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
from Deuteronomy 17:14-20
So what is this list of commands about? Why are they given? And so what? Here's my take on it. Kings have the same set of tendencies that the rest of us do, and these commands appear to be a set of prudent practices -- they are ways to avoid certain kinds of trouble. Especially that last one -- write a copy of the Law and read it all the days of his life.

But in addition to that precept, there are three prohibitions: against acquiring a lot of horses, wives, and cash
(there's actually a fourth, about going back to Egypt, which most of them avoided). I would think the temptation would be tremendous to raise a standing army of mounted troops. Especially if you're a fairly small country surrounded by powerful, ancient enemies. Same deal with political marriages. And money? Hey, in the U.S. we have a whole department, a Cabinet-level position, to deal with the treasury (only ours has a negative balance).

This was quite a counter-cultural command given here, one that foresaw some of the difficulties of Solomon's reign. The kingdom of Israel was to be something entirely unlike the kingdoms of the rest of the world.

What's the lesson here for us today, in the church age? I think the temptation is tremendous for us Christians, or us as the church universal, to raise piles of money, to try to move the levers of political power, etc. In other words, to act like any other interest group.

How are we to be "entirely unlike" the kingdoms of the world? And how am I personally to be "entirely unlike" those who do not know our Lord? I'm not sure about the answers, but I am sure that "Uh, we're supposed to act differently from everyone else? Really?" is not it.

We've been called out, set apart -- like the children of Israel were. They had some successes and some failures, just as we do. I'm not sure what specifically I'm to do with today's passage, other than to remember that we're called to be different, set apart. You can probably think of some specifics.

If I come up with anything non-obvious, I'll let you know.

posted 4/2

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