How should a king or president lead? In America over the years we’ve seen wildly divergent styles of leadership in our presidents. Take a few minutes and think about it. Try to avoid your personal support or disagreement with their political views. Just consider how our recent 5 or 6 presidents have lived out their leadership style. How would you describe them? And furthermore, what makes a good leader? Plato in The Republic presents his view of the ideal leader, what he calls the Philosopher King. What about God’s heart for leadership? Can we learn how God wants kings or presidents or those in many positions of leadership to handle their role?
In part 3 of this series, we saw that God knows the people of Israel will ask for a king, so perhaps he can set some laws in place to help this king idea turn out different from the nations around them. The nations around Israel had kings, and Israel knew what those kings were like. They could be horribly abusive, selfish, and destructive. Why in the world Israel would want that when they had YHWH as their king? Well, God knows the human heart. We long for celebrities, like kings, queens, and presidents, to worship. Therefore God wants Israel’s king to be different from the pagan kings.
Look what he says in Deuteronomy 17, verse 15. The first way a future Israelite king would be different is that he was to be chosen by God. As we saw in 16:18, Israel could choose the local judges, but God chooses the king.
Second, the king must be an Israelite, not a foreigner. Why? Because God wants Israel to have kings who see themselves as equal brothers with the rest of the nation. See that in verse 20 where God teaches that the king should “not consider himself better than his brothers”? That’s not possible if the king is a foreigner. What is God’s heart for this king? He wants the king to be humble. Not on a pedestal. Not worshiped. That is so different from the way of the other nation’s kings.
Thirdly, God lists a number of rules for the king. Look at verse 16 and following: the king must not acquire a lot of horses, he must not make the people go back to Egypt, he must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. Also he must not accumulate lots of gold. Sound like any of Israel’s kings you may have heard of? Yup. Solomon. Solomon broke all these rules, even ended up enslaving people as laborers for building projects. God knows the proclivities of the human heart, and he wants Israel to be different.
Those were the negative rules. Now for a positive one. Look at verses 18-20. This is really quite amazing.
When he takes the throne, the king is to write out his own copy of this law. Wow. What a practice! The king’s copy of the law is to be with him, he is to read it all his days that he may learn to revere the Lord! Of course, the king is to carefully follow the Law.
This is huge. When you think of kings, what is one of the normal activities that kings do to govern their lands and people? (I’m not talking about taxes.) Kings make proclamations. Royal decrees. Kings are the ruler of the land, thus they make the laws. But not Israel’s kings. Israel’s kings are to follow God’s laws. Why? As we saw in part 3, because God is the actual king! And his law is best. No king could improve on it. The king, therefore, was to always know his place, and that is a place of serving God.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if our local and national leaders would strive to lead like this? Officials who are Christians, you can choose to do so, even if that style of leadership isn’t enshrined in the laws of our land. Jesus gave his disciples clear instructions about how they were to lead, and it was to be very different from the pattern of leadership in the world. They were not to “lord it over” people, meaning that Christ-like leaders should lead like Jesus himself led, serving, willing to give of himself out of love for his people.