Deuteronomy 16-17

When God Was King.

“Each year every man in Israel must celebrate these three festivals: the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Harvest, and the Festival of Shelters. They must appear before the LORD your God at the place he chooses on each of these occasions, and they must bring a gift to the LORD.” – Deuteronomy 16:16 NLT

There is something interesting going on in these two chapters that I have never noticed before. At first glance, they appear to be disjointed and a little confusing. Moses seems to jump around from talk about festivals and feasts to judges, idol worship, and then kings. It’s almost as if Moses suffers from ADD. He appears to be all over the map topically. And yet, after closer examination, the emphasis seems to be on the sovereignty and reign of God.

This section is all about God as king. In fact, when Moses reminds the people that they are to come before the Lord three times a year at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths, he is calling them to bring tribute to God as their king. This was a practice common among the nations who occupied the land. This requirement that the men of Israel  report to the central sanctuary three times a year had a parallel in the Near Eastern treaty requirements. It was common practice for suzerains to require their vassals to report to them periodically, in some cases three times a year, in order to renew their allegiance and to bring tribute. So God is calling His citizens to come before Him three times a year to renew their allegiance and to bring tribute to Him as king.

As king, God would appoint judges, just and righteous men to help settle disputes and dispense justice. “Let true justice prevail, so you may live and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:20 NLT). God wanted justice to flourish in His kingdom. And as king, He would not tolerate the worship or veneration of other gods. He demanded unflagging loyalty from His citizens. Unfaithfulness was to be punished. Justice was to reign in His land and among His people.

But Moses also alludes to a day coming when the people of God would demand a king other than God. In spite of the fact that God would allow the people to enter the land, possess it, and live in it, they would decide that they want a king like all the other nations. They would become dissatisfied with God as their king and determine to place a human king on the throne of Israel. God anticipates this event and even gives requirements regarding this eventual outcome. This king would be chosen by God. He would rule according to God’s standards, and adhere to God’s laws. His kingdom would only be as successful as he was faithful. Sadly, we know the outcome of this story. Israel would demand a king. And God would give them a king after their own hearts – King Saul. He would be all they ever hoped for – tall, good looking, a natural born leader. But also a lousy follower of God. He would disobey God and disappoint the people of God. God would eventually replace him with David. But David and his son Solomon would both violate the very requirements outlines in this passage. And their disobedience would lead to God’s punishment on them and their kingdoms. Their legacy of less-than-perfect leadership would live on in the lives of the kings of Israel and Judah, most of whom were flawed and faithless kings and sorry replacements for the one true king – God Himself.

This is about God. It always has been and always will be. He is our God and we are His people. We owe Him tribute and honor. We are to live according to the rules of His kingdom, not our own. We are to remain faithful to Him and to be satisfied with His leadership in our lives.

Father, You are king. I am to answer to You and You alone. But so often I fail to obey You and I seek others kings in my life. Help me to remember that I owe all my allegiance to You. I am to worship You and You alone. I am to live according to Your rules and the terms of Your kingdom. You are a faithful and just king who rules with fairness and dispenses justice. There is no reason I should ever doubt You or dethrone You from my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men