Deuteronomy 17 Devotional
by Pastor Mark Hudson
Worship in the life of Israel centered the individual and the community. What may sound absurd to most people in the U.S., spirituality was not something that an individual could decide on their own. Spirituality was a response to God. Worship was never intended to be something where one expresses themselves in any way they desired. That was not worship; that was paganism. Worship was an obedient response to God’s revelation. Revelation is a gracious act of God to humanity. Revelation should have been received with gratitude. We know this isn’t what happened when God revealed the 10 commandments. Yet Israel should have received and obeyed God’s revelation.
Verse one is an example of the proper response to God’s directions about worship. Do what God says. Don’t create shortcuts. Don’t worship your way or attempt to worship and save money by offering blemished animals. Just obey what God directs you to do.
In vs. 2-7, notice the difference in a theocracy when someone has different theological views. Remember, in one sense, this section is not written to us. In another sense this section is for us like all Scripture is for us. But we must understand what we are to take from this passage and how to apply it. In our culture, when someone has a different theological view, we show tolerance. In a theocracy, a different view of God and worship results in death. Notice all the steps involved. This is intended for a person who does evil in the sight of God. God is the offended party. This person has transgressed God’s covenant that God only made with Israel. The person has left (gone) and served “other” gods and worshipped them. This person has embraced this false religion by worshipping, not just exploring. Worship means they are all in. This person worships things created not the Creator.
The leaders are to proceed carefully. They must find two or three witnesses not just one person who may bear a grudge. The leaders are to “inquire diligently” making sure this evil has been done. Then the community, led by the accusers, were to stone the person outside the city gates. While we should never do a thing like this, we do have church discipline that we exercise in a spiritual fashion. This seems to be a close parallel.
In terms of homicide, assault, or legal right, serious sins both in our day and in the eyes of God, the people had a prescribed process. The implication is that they should attempt to try the case themselves but if they recognize the case might be beyond them, they are to take difficult cases to “the place that the Lord your God will choose.” The Levites and the judge are to be consulted and “they shall declare to you the decision.” We are not told how they arrive at their decision or how long it takes. While not made explicit, the assumption is that the priests and the judge seek God and relay His decision. These leaders are not working or deciding apart from God or acting autonomously but rather work in tandem, submission, and in obedience to God’s revealed will.
I would caution us that we ought not to treat our pastors’ and teachers’ advice, exhortation, etc. the same way as verses 10 and 11 teach. On one hand we want to learn with a submissive spirit not quarrelling or arguing with our teachers if they teach the Bible. But pastors and elders, while ordained, are not priests in a theocracy. And of course, we do not kill let alone reprimand a believer if they disagree with a pastor. I am trying to get us away from complete obedience to a teacher or pastor. Of course, that is a far cry from seeking to learn, listening careful, and respecting and honoring those who labor and provide Biblical instruction. We still need to be checking the teacher against Scripture as the Bereans show in Acts 17:11.
Yet, a theocracy is not a democracy. Now we treat with respect Muslims, Buddhist, and Jews. We respectfully disagree on their view of salvation, God, sin, etc. But we are not thinking that we need to “purge the evil from Israel.” Can we, though, see how serious it is for believers to disobey the word of God? We must show discernment in the entertainment we watch and how much of it. We need to be corrected constantly in our view of sin, God, salvation, and righteousness. We lean toward ungodliness and sin. We need to be brought back to the gospel over and over. It is wrong to reject Biblical teaching and to remain apart from the church. We need the entire church family.
Verses 14-20 provide direction for choosing a king and what the king should do and refrain from doing. The discussion of Israel moving from a theocracy to a kingdom is a complicated discussion. In I Samuel 8 when the people reject Samuel’s sons and demand a king, God responds to Samuel’s lament and prayer with these words, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you (demanding a king), for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” To get from there to this chapter, “. . . you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose” takes thoughtful reasoning and reflection. The king was not to acquire wives (more a political move than romantic) return to Egypt, acquire horses (to trust in his military) or acquire wealth (and be even farther removed from his subjects).
We end with this command: “he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.” First, he was to copy it and then read it, learn to fear the Lord by keeping all the words of this law and doing them, so
- that his hear may not be lifted above his brothers
- that he might not turn aside from the commandment,
- that he may continue long in his kingdom (he and his children).
Lord, we are not preparing for a physical, violent, long-lasting battle with God’s enemies. Yet, we are in the midst of a hostile land, and we need to spiritually be awake and alert against the spiritual enemies that continually revolt against the Lord Jesus. Help us to be people who love the Word and follow and obey the Scriptures. May we show diligence in studying the Bible with a view toward applying it to our own lives. We are so deeply loved by You. In all our striving against sin, let us never forget Your grace and Your love. You hold us fast and Yours we will be forever and ever. In Christ’s glorious name, Amen.