Deuteronomy 17

The Word Made Fresh

1 “Do not sacrifice to the LORD an ox or sheep that has any imperfection or blemish. The LORD would not be pleased with such a sacrifice.

2“If you discover in one of your towns that one of you has done an evil thing and violated the covenant with the LORD your God 3by worshiping other “gods” like the sun or moon or other lights in the night sky, remember that I have forbidden such behavior. 4When you hear of such a thing investigate it thoroughly. If what you have heard turns out to be true 5you must bring that man or woman to the town gates and stone him or her to death. 6But do this only if there are at least two or three witnesses. Do not stone anyone on the evidence of just one witness. 7The hands of those who testified will be the first to cast the stones and then the hands of all the people are to join in. In this way you will get rid of such an evil thing among you.

8“If a case comes before you that involves bloodshed, legal right, or assault, and it is too difficult for you to judge, you must take it to the place the LORD your God will choose 9and consult with the priests and whoever is the sitting judge at the time, and they will decide for you. 10You must then carry out the sentence exactly as they have pronounced it 11and do not change or modify their decision in any way. 12Anyone who deliberately disobeys the priest or judge who rules in the case must be put to death in order to get rid of such evil among you. 12All the people will hear of it and be afraid and such disrespect will not occur again.

14“When you have settled in the land the LORD your God has given you and decide that you should have a king like all the nations around you, 15you may accept the king the LORD your God chooses, and it will be someone among you. Never accept the authority of a foreigner over you. 16Your king must not endeavor to possess many horses for himself or send any of you to Egypt to buy more horses. The LORD has said you must never return there. 17And your king must not collect a lot of wives. If he does his heart will be turned away from his responsibilities. He must not seek to acquire a huge amount of silver and gold for himself. 18When he assumes the throne he must have the Levitical priests oversee the writing of this Law and keep a copy for himself. 19He must keep it and read it daily so that he may learn to respect the LORD his God and be careful to obey every word of it. 20He must never think too highly of himself or lord it over the community or turn away from the law, and he and his children will then rule long over the kingdom of Israel.”

Commentary

1: Again, Moses emphasizes that defective animals must not be sacrificed. The position of this injunction would indicate that perhaps pagans regularly did sacrifice such animals.

2-7: Wow. Moses means business! If anyone is found, man or woman, by the testimony of at least two witnesses, to serve and worship any god but God, that person must be put to death. There is the curious addition that the witnesses must be the first to cast stones – perhaps to insure honesty in their witness? If they gave false testimony and then carried out the execution, they would be guilty of murder.

8-13: Difficult cases would be brought to the appropriate judge – in the book of Judges that designation is fleshed out – and whatever sentence the judge gives must be carried out to the letter on penalty of death.

14-20: In II Kings 22 we will read that the priest Hilkiah found the book of the Law (the Torah) in the temple during a restoration project in the time of King Josiah. Some scholars think that Hilkiah may have edited the scroll a bit. These verses seem to describe the excesses indulged in by Solomon – the many horses, the many wives, the conscription of workers for building projects that benefited foreign powers like Egypt, and so forth. That theory aside, Moses foresaw that they would someday insist on having a king, and certain consequences would follow.

Takeaway

Democratic forms of government were unheard of in Moses’ day, and probably would not have worked anyway in their situation. The takeaway from this chapter is that faithfulness to God is primary and absolutely necessary to the survival of Israel.  Doesn’t our faithfulness to God have an impact on the survival of our nation, too?