Many Christians have been taught that God did not want his people to have a king. But in Deuteronomy 17:14?20, long before the people asked for a king, God said, ?Be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses.? God did want Israel to have a king, but he had a certain kind of king in mind.
Qualifications for a Godly King
- The king must be an Israelite (Deut. 17:15), to that the king would belong to people who recognized God?s authority.
- The king must not acquire many horses (17:16a). Horses came from Egypt, and horse trading would tempt the Israelites to interact with pagan people.
- The king must not take many wives (17:17a). It was normal in ancient times to seal treaties between kings by intermarriage. But foreign women would influence the Israelites to abandon the unique lifestyle God had called them to. Later in Israel's history, Ahab (who married Jezebel) and Jehoram (who married Athaliah) learned the hard consequences of ignoring this proscription.
- The king must not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver (17:17b). Perhaps God wanted to make sure Israel's king remained dependent upon him for success; or perhaps he wanted to keep his people from interacting with the pagan nations that supplied gold and silver.
- The king must keep a copy of God's Torah with him, to be read throughout his life, so he would rule according to God's principles (17:18-20).
This was God's king?faithful, separate from the pagans, and guiding God's people to righteous living.
"A King Such as Other Nations Have"
Facing a Philistine threat at the time of Samuel, Israel requested a king. The key to God's displeasure was the request itself: ?... appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have? (1 Sam. 8, emphasis added). The Israelites did not ask for a king that God would choose, but one that the world would choose.
Jewish scholars maintain that the story of David and Saul makes this contrast clear. When the people asked for a ruler such as other nations had, God gave them Saul?a man who couldn't even keep track of donkeys in his care?to show them what their kind of king would be: a self-absorbed failure. Throughout his life, Saul did things to satisfy his desires and not God's.
By contrast, David?a shepherd like God?was God's choice for king, a man after his own heart. David lived by the words of the Torah, keeping the Lord always before him. When he sinned with Bathsheba, he was beside himself with sorrow, because he knew he had turned from God.
Who is Your King?
Today, we face the same decision the Israelites did. Who (or what) do we want as our king?
When we look at the rulers of our world, we are left wanting something better. Matthew voiced our need: ?If this is the best the human race can provide, there must be someone else.? Then he remembered the words of Jesus: ?... one greater than Solomon is here? (Matt. 12:42).
That is God's final choice for the ideal king. Jesus the Messiah.