This week’s Torah portion* is Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9, and it is worth recounting that part of it that relates to kings. Being ruled by a king, or any royalty, may strike up moderns as being wrong. The difference, of course, is at the time God set aside Israel as the witness to the one true God, the rules instituted by God were radical.
Radical for the time and place, and yet still worthy in today’s world. Here’s a section dealing with any king who is appointed with the blessing of God. From Deuteronomy 17:
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,’ 15you 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. 16Only 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.’ 17And 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. 19And 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, 20that 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.
What I’d like to especially point out is the instruction that a king “shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life…” Keep God’s word close; on you at all times. This is wisdom that could, and should, be heeded by our leaders today.
As for the set of restrictions to the king, they stand out against what had been the absolute right of kings; what came to be called, however falsely, the “divine right of kings.” Yes, Romans 13 and all of that. But here in Deuteronomy we see that God’s charge to a king very much included limits on the king’s actions.
As a practical matter, prophetic history demonstrates that Israel’s kings often ignored God’s law. And all of Israel paid the price, which included the Babylonian exile. It is a lesson that today’s kings should take to heart. Along with God’s law, and His revelation that His son demands both mercy and justice of His kings.
* Heb. parsha, the weekly portion of Torah that constitutes the basic reading for Jews. The entire Torah, for us, the first five books (Pentateuch) of the Hebrew Scriptures, is read aloud throughout the course of each year.