Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Deuteronomy 17

Verses 1-20



Deuteronomy 17:1

Not only was the setting up of idols an offence to be punished by the judge, but also all profanation of the service of Jehovah, such as the offering in sacrifice of any animal, bullock or sheep, that had any blemish or defect (cf. Le Deuteronomy 22:19-24). Evil-favoredness; literally, any evil thing, i.e. any vice or maim (cf. Le Deuteronomy 22:22, etc.).

Deuteronomy 17:2

In Deuteronomy 13:1-18, Moses enacts what is to be done to those who seduce into idolatry. Here he declares what is to be done to those who are so seduced. Done wickedness; literally, done the evil. The definite article is prefixed; it is not any kind of wickedness that is here denounced, but the special sin of idolatry, the wickedness κατ ἐξόχην. All idolatry was to be strictly suppressed—those convicted of it to be put to death by stoning.

Deuteronomy 17:3

(Cf. Deuteronomy 4:19.) Which I have not commanded; i.e. have forbidden, a meiosis, as in Jeremiah 7:31.

Deuteronomy 17:5

Unto thy gates; judicial proceedings were conducted at the gates of the city, and in some place outside the walls the sentence was executed on the condemned criminal (Nehemiah 8:1, Nehemiah 8:3; Job 29:7; Deuteronomy 22:24; Acts 7:58; Hebrews 13:12), just as, during the journey through the wilderness, it had been outside the camp that transgressors were punished (Le Deuteronomy 24:14; Numbers 15:36).

Deuteronomy 17:6, Deuteronomy 17:7

Only on the testimony of more than one witness could the accused be condemned (of Numbers 35:30); and the hand of the witnesses was to be first against him to put him to death—a rule which would tend to prevent accusations being lightly adduced, as none would venture to witness against any one unless so deeply convinced of his guilt that they were willing to assume the responsibility of inflicting on him the last penalty with their own hands. Worthy of death be put to death; i.e. adjudged or appointed to death; literally, the dead man shall die. מֵת, the part. of מוּת, to die, is here equivalent to בֶּן מָוֶת, son of death (1 Samuel 20:31), or אִישׁ מָוֶת, a man of death (1 Kings 2:26), i.e. one assigned to death, already the property of death, and so as good as dead. Put the evil away; literally, consume or sweep away the evil. The verb בָּעַר means primarily to consume by burning.

Deuteronomy 17:8-13

So long as Moses was with the people, they had in him one to whom, in the last resort, eases might be brought for decision which were found too difficult for the ordinary judges (Exodus 18:19-26). But, as he was not to be always with them, it was needful to provide a supreme court, to which such cases might be carried when they could no longer be decided by him; and such a court is here appointed to be held at the sanctuary.

Deuteronomy 17:8

A matter too hard for thee; literally, too marvelous; something extraordinary, and which could not be decided by the ordinary rules of the judicature. Between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke; i.e. in cases where blood had been shed and death had ensued, either accidentally or from murderous intent (cf. Exodus 21:13, etc.; Numbers 35:9, etc.); in cases of disputed rights and claims (cf. 2 Chronicles 19:10); and in cases where corporeal injury had been suffered, whether in strife or from assault (Exodus 21:18, etc.); and, in general, wherever matters of controversy—disputes as to what was lawful and right, might arise in their towns and villages. In all such cases recourse was to be had to the court at the sanctuary—"to the priests the Levites," i.e. the priests who were of the tribe of Levi, and to the judge presiding there—the lay judge associated with the high priest as president. It is not intended by this that an appeal was to lie from the lower court to the higher, or that the parties in a suit might carry it at once to the supreme judge; the meaning rather is that, when the ordinary judges found a ease too difficult for them to deal with, they were themselves to transmit it to the supreme court for decision.

Deuteronomy 17:9

Enquire; what, namely, is "the sentence of judgment;" and this the judge should declare. Sentence of judgment; literally, word of right, verbum juris, declaration of what was legally right.

Deuteronomy 17:10-12

This sentence, being founded on the Law, the suitors were to accept and implicitly obey. If any through pride or arrogance should refuse to accept the interpretation of the Law given by the priests, or to submit to the sentence pronounced by the judge, he was to be regarded as a rebel against God, and to be put to death, that others might be deterred from the like presumption (Deuteronomy 13:11). The sentence, which they of that place which the Lord shall choose shall show thee; rather, which they shall declare to thee from that place which the Lord shall choose. According to the sentence of the law; literally, according to the mouth of the Law; i.e. according as the Law prescribes, according to the purport of the statute.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20

Israel, being under a theocracy, did not need an earthly king; but neither was this thereby precluded, provided the king chosen by the people were one whom Jehovah would approve as his vicegerent. In case, then, of their coming to desire to have a king over them like the nations around them, Moses gives instructions here as to the choice of a king, and as to the duties and obligations resting upon those who might be elevated to that office. The form in which these are conveyed clearly indicates that, at the time this was uttered, the existence of a king in Israel was contemplated as only a distant possibility.

Deuteronomy 17:14

When thou art come unto the land, etc. This phraseology, which is common to the laws which respect the affairs of the Hebrews after they should be settled in Canaan, implies that this law was given whilst they were yet outside the Promised Land. It is plain also, from the tenor of the whole statement in this verse, that the legislator in this case is providing for what he supposes may happen, is likely to happen, but which he by no means desires should happen. Moses foresaw that the people would wish to be as the nations around them—governed by a king—and he legislates accordingly, without approving of that wish.

Deuteronomy 17:15

The prohibition to choose a foreigner indicates that the people had the right of election. In what way this was to be exercised, and how it was subject to the Divine choice, is not declared. Judging from what actually happened in subsequent history, it would appear that only on special occasions, such as the election of the first king or a change of dynasty, did God take the initiative, and through a prophet direct the choice of the people; ultimately the monarchy became hereditary, and it was understood that the prince who succeeded to the throne did so with the Divine approval, unless the opposite was expressly intimated by a message from God.

Deuteronomy 17:16, Deuteronomy 17:17

Certain rules are prescribed for the king. It is forbidden to him to multiply horses, to multiply wives, and to amass large treasures of silver and gold, and he must have a copy of the Law written out for him from that kept by the priests, that he might have it by him, and read it all the days of his life. The multiplying of horses is prohibited, because this would bring Israel into intercourse and friendly relations with Egypt, and might tend to their going back to that country from which they had been so marvelously delivered; a prohibition which could only have been given at an early stage in the history of the people, for at a later period, after they had been well established in Canaan, such a prohibition for such a reason would have been simply ridiculous. The prohibition to multiply wives and to amass large treasures has respect to the usage common from the earliest period with Oriental monarchs to have vast harems and huge accumulations of the precious metals, as much for ostentation as for either luxury or use; and as there was no small danger of the King of Israel being seduced to follow this usage, and so to have his heart turned away from the Lord, it was fitting that such a prohibition should be prospectively enacted for his guidance. Both these prohibitions were neglected by Solomon, and probably by others of the Jewish kings; but this only indicates that the law was so ancient that it had come in their time to be regarded as obsolete. The rule that the king was to write him a copy of the Law for his own constant use does not necessarily imply that he was to write this with his own hand; he might cause it to be written by some qualified scribe for him.

Deuteronomy 17:18

A copy of this law; literally, a double of this Law, i.e. not, as the LXX. have it, "This reiteration of the Law" (τὸ δευτερονόμιον τοῦτο), but a duplicate or copy of the Pentateuchal Law. The Jews understand by "double" that two copies of the Law were to be made by the king (Maimon; ' De Regibus,' e. 3. § 1); but this is unnecessary: every copy of a law is a double of it. Oat of that which is before the priests. The priests were the custodians of the written Law (Deuteronomy 31:26); and from the text of their codex was the king's copy to be written.

Deuteronomy 17:19

And it shall be with him, etc. It was to be carefully kept by him, but not as a mere sacred deposit or palladium; it was to be constantly with him wherever he was, was to be the object of his continual study, and was to be the directory and guide of his daily life (cf. Joshua 1:8; Psalms 1:2; Psalms 119:15, Psalms 119:16, Psalms 119:24, Psalms 119:97-99, etc.).

Deuteronomy 17:20

That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren. "Not imagining himself to be above all laws, nor slighting his subjects, as unworthy of his notice, but taking a due care to promote their happiness" (Patrick). He, and his children; properly, his sons (בָנָיו). The legislator anticipated not an elective monarchy, but one hereditary in the same family (cf. Michaelis, 'Laws of Moses,' pt. 1. § 54).


Deuteronomy 17:1

(See Homily, Deuteronomy 15:21, on "Sacrifices to be without blemish.")

Deuteronomy 17:2-7

The sacredness of personal reputation seen in the regulations concerning human testimony.

So far as this passage presents to us the doctrine that idolatry, being apostasy from God, was treason to the Hebrew commonwealth, and was to be punished with death, the matter is dealt with in the Homily on the thirteenth chapter. An inquiry of great importance would sooner or later arise, and would, therefore, need to be provided for in the Mosaic institutes, viz.: "On what evidence shall any one be adjudged guilty of such a crime?" It will be seen here that, while God so guarded his own honor that it might not be sullied with impunity, so he guarded the reputation of the people that it might not be assailed or impeached on any frivolous pretext or any unproven report. The exactitude in the order of expression in the fourth verse is very noticeable: If it be so—and it be told thee—and thou hast inquired—diligently—and, behold, it is true—and the thing certain—then, and not till then, may the penalty be inflicted. Observe:

1. Every one was held to be innocent till he was proved otherwise.

2. No one's character was put at the mercy of any one unattested witness.

3. He who reported with his tongue should be the one to smite with his hand! (Deuteronomy 17:7). £ A mighty stroke of policy this, to guard personal honor from assailment! It might sometimes make crime more difficult of proof, but it gave the innocent a wondrous guard against unjust accusation. Many would be ready to backbite who would shrink from stoning another. Men by thousands may be found who would not break bones, but who think nothing of breaking hearts.

4. The people were to cooperate in putting away the evil when once it was proved to exist. "Slow to suspect, but quick to put down evil," was to be the moral rule of their conduct in such cases. Now, of course, it is not our province to deal with all this from the purely legal Point of view, as a matter of jurisprudence; but we cannot fail to indicate the moral principles which are here involved; and which a Christian teacher would do well to set in the light of Matthew 7:1, Matthew 7:2. Observe—

I. OUR GOD WOULD ENLIST THE SYMPATHIES OF HIS PEOPLE IN PUTTING DOWN EVIL. We are to be workers together with him. He has redeemed us that we may be zealous of good works.

II. HE WOULD WAVE US VERY SENSITIVE to the honor of his Name, but also very sensitive to the spotlessness of each other's name and fame. This passage is quite as remarkable for the guard it throws around man, as it is for the concern it would evoke for the honor of God (see Psalms 15:1-3; Leviticus 19:16; Psalms 34:13; 1 Peter 3:10).

III. WE MAY NOT REGARD ANOTHER AS GUILTY ON THE BARE EVIDENCE OF RUMOR. Each one's reputation is too sacred in God's eye and ought to be too precious in ours for this. It is humiliating to think such precepts as these should be needed. "The Law is not made for a righteous man," and it is a sad proof of how much unrighteousness there is in the world that such a law should be needed still. Every one is to be regarded as innocent till he is proved guilty.

IV. IF THE PUBLIC GOOD REQUIRES IT, ILL REPORTS SHOULD BE EXAMINED. It may be painful work, but it has to be done sometimes. But we are tempted to think it would be a mighty safeguard against ill reports being raised on any light or frivolous pretext, if he who first moved secretly with his tongue were always required to be the first to smite openly with the hand!

V. SUCH REPORTS ARE TO BE PROVEN TRUE ERE ACTION IS TAKEN THEREON. No man's repute is to be smitten at a venture. To all men it is precious as life. The best men value it more than life. They would rather give up their breath than part with their honor. And the legislation of high heaven upholds them!

VI. PROVEN EVIL IS TO BE PUT AWAY. We are to be very slow to believe ill of another; "slow to speak." But when such ill is proved beyond doubt, then it behooves us to censure, to expose, to condemn it, and to put it away. We are to stand by a brother till he is shown to be guilty, but that once done, regard both for God and man requires us to disavow all sympathy with wrong, and to co-operate with the Great Supreme in the extirpation of ill.

Deuteronomy 17:8-13

Religion the guard of justice.

In the preceding chapter, Deuteronomy 17:18-20, judges and officers are specified as appointed by Goel to be the guardians of justice and right. The Hebrew is very emphatic in Deuteronomy 17:20, "Justice, justice, shalt thou follow," etc. Manifold complications, however, would be sure to arise as the nation advanced, and as the primitive simplicity of their first settlement passed into more fixed arrangements as to property, etc. In such difficult cases, it might not be easy, and perhaps it would not always be possible, for the judges and shoterim to determine what was just. The legislator is here bidden, therefore, to make provision in case such perplexities should arise. When the people should come to the land which the Lord their God gave them, there would be one place which the Lord would choose to put his Name there. There should "thrones of judgment" sit. The priests, who would have to offer sacrifices and to intercede for the people before God, would also be expected to be so versed in the Law of God, that they could appropriately he regarded as the highest court of appeal, by whose decision the highest sanctions of religion would be brought to declare and enforce "justice, justice." Their decision was held to be given them by light from on high. £ And when such decision was in accordance with the Divine will, the people were bound by it. To resist it was "a presumptuous sin;" and, withal, it was one of so deep a dye, that it was not safe for Israel that any man should continue among them, who spurned the highest decisions which could possibly be given. At the same time, there were sundry checks and counter-checks against the abuse of this law. The authority of this highest court was relative or conditional, not absolute. If priests became unfaithful, and their judgments unjust, then the sin of presumption was chargeable upon them (cf. Deuteronomy 18:20; see also Jeremiah's, Ezekiel's, and Malachi's charges against such unfaithful expounders). Note, further, that as early as the time of the Judges, when the priests profaned their office, God set them aside, and wrought and taught by means of the prophet Samuel. So that the supreme court bound the people only so far as it was what it was designed to be, even God's appointment for securing justice, by investing it with the sublime sanctions of religion. But when it was that, and so far as it answered its end, its utterances were to the people as the voice of God.

Now, we all know that, as a formal institution, this court of appeal has long since passed away. But we greatly mistake if there are not couched here sundry momentous principles, of which no age, country, or race can afford to lose sight. These principles are—

I. THAT RELIGION IS THE TRUE GUARANTEE OF JUSTICE BETWEEN MAN AND MAN. That in the course of time the essence of religion may have so evaporated, and its place be so taken up by forms and ceremonies, that the connection between religion and justice may seem to be lost, must be admitted to be a possibility, but it does not alter the principle here enunciated. The guarantee of justice between man and man is found in a power of appeal on both sides to a law of immutable right mutually acknowledged. To such a law conscience, the regulative faculty, points with steady finger. Such law obeyed, she approves the obedience, and when disobeyed, she condemns the disobedience. Both the approval and the condemnation of the voice within are witnesses to the existence and government of a Great Judge of all, who, seated on the throne of universal empire, issues his mandates to the world! And in the appeal from human acts to the judgment of the Great Supreme, lies the safeguard of justice between man and man. £ In a word, religion is the sole adequate guarantee of morality. Both are comprehended under the one word, "righteousness." Religion is righteousness towards God; morality is righteousness towards man. If man ever comes to regard himself as the supreme existence, empowered to make right right, and wrong wrong, instead of regarding himself as subject to the everlasting laws of right, the best and dearest privileges of the human family will be in imminent peril, and at best can endure but for a while!

II. RELIGIOUS SANCTIONS FIND THEIR EXPRESSION IN THE LAW OF GOD. See Psalms 19:1-14; in which the Psalmist extols the pure and holy Law of Jehovah, as being the written expression of perfect right. In the Ten Commandments the various phases of the right in act or thought are set forth. And according to the ordinance alluded to in this paragraph, when a case arose which was too difficult to be solved by the lower authorities, it might be taken up to a higher court, that the will of the Lord might thereby be discovered by the most trustworthy exposition of the bearings of God's Law on each particular case.

III. GOD'S HOUSE IS TO BE THE SEAT AND CENTER WHERE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS ENTHRONED, EXPOUNDED, AND ENFORCED. If in Israel a poor man could not get justice elsewhere, he was to be sure of it in God's house. It was a pious Hebrew's delight to inquire in God's temple. And we do not think adequately of the temple service if we merely regard it as consisting of sacrifice and mediation; the holy house was also a place where men could learn the mind and will of God in their bearing on the life of man both in general and in specific cases. And one of the delights of the Psalmist's heart was this: "there are set thrones of judgment." And so now, in God's house, not only are we bidden to "behold the Lamb of God," but "to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world."

IV. GOD'S MINISTERS ARE TO BE THE EXPOUNDERS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. There are no priests now, as of yore. But the Church of God has a ministry, and by this ministry the truth of God is to be "opened up" and "commended to every man's conscience as in the sight of God."

V. WHEN GOD'S HOLY AND RIGHTEOUS LAW IS EXPOUNDED TO THE PEOPLE, THEY ARE LOYALLY TO ACCEPT IT, SUBMIT TO IT, AND OBEY IT. And this, not because of him whose voice speaks, but because of him in whose behalf the preacher speaks. Men are to receive the truth, not as the word of man, but as the Word of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5).

VI. REFUSAL TO OBEY THE WILL OF GOD, WHEN CLEARLY EXPOUNDED, IS A PRESUMPTUOUS SIN. (See passages where same Hebrew word is used which is here rendered "presumptuous," specially Psalms 19:13.) The epithet indicates the greatness of the sin. It is one which Jehovah specially hates, severely rebukes, and utterly condemns. He "resisteth the proud." He hides things from the wise and prudent. He scorneth the scorners. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. First pride, then shame. "What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?"

Deuteronomy 17:14-20

Kings subject to the King of kings.

In this paragraph we have directions to be attended to in case Israel should, in the course of time, desire a king. As things were, the Lord God was their King; and it would be a sinful discontent with the Divine arrangements if they wished any change in that respect in their national constitution. It would show an envious desire to be like unto the nations round about, and a craving after the pomp and display of the heathen world. Still, if such a wish should spring up, they are not to be violently coerced into the maintenance of the theocracy. They are to have their way. A dangerous permission this, but maybe it is a necessary one, to educate the people out of their perversity. The permission, however, is not left without its restrictions. Here are rules for the people, and also rules for their king whenever they should have one. The people are told that they must defer to the will of the Lord their God as to who should be their king; and also that they might not set one over them of an alien nation (Deuteronomy 17:15). And as for the king who should be chosen, for him there are four prohibitions and four commands. The prohibitions are these:

(1) the king is not to take them back to Egypt;

(2) nor to multiply cavalry;

(3) nor to amass wealth;

(4) nor to multiply wives to himself.

The commands are these:

(1) The Law of God is to be written,

(2) retained,

(3) read,

(4) obeyed by him; and only as this is the case is there any promise of the stability of his throne.

(For a grand commentary on all this, read 1 Samuel 12:1-25.) The history of the Hebrew nation continuously discloses the folly and danger of people and kings departing from the Law of God. Hence we have a fine homiletic theme for the preacher, when called on to preach a sermon on national affairs. £ It is this: Obedience to the Law of God the only stability of thrones.

I. IT IS BY RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT THRONES ARE FIRM. Righteousness—according to the root of the word—is acting according to relation. Such is the significance of δικὴ. It is acting in harmony with the relations between man and man, and between man and God. When a scepter is swayed rightly, the throne is established.

1. God has created man with power to perceive a distinction between right and wrong, and with a faculty which approves one and condemns the other.

2. When the right is manifestly done, the people are content.

3. Content of the people gives cohesion to the nation and support to the throne.

4. God's blessing is promised to the righteous. The signs of that blessing are seen in continuance and prosperity.

II. THE ONLY AUTHORITATIVE EXPOSITION OF RIGHT FOR THE WORLD IS IN THE WRITTEN LAW OF GOD. (See preceding Homily, Div. II.) Dr. Matthew Arnold speaks of the force pervading the Old Testament as" a power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness?' This is the peculiarity of Hebrew literature. Their kings are always estimated according to whether they did right "in the sight of the Lord."

III. CONSEQUENTLY, IT IS BY OBEDIENCE TO GOD'S WRITTEN LAW THAT THRONES ARE MADE SECURE. This grand old Book is the charter of the people's liberties, because it demands that kings rule righteously. It is the monarch's best safeguard, because it insists on a method of government which will ensure the loyalty of a grateful people, and the blessing of the monarch's God! With regard to kings and nations, it is true, "Great peace have they which love thy Law, and nothing shall offend them." Earthly kings will ever find it true, "Them that honor me, I will honor."

Deuteronomy 17:16

No retreat! or The gate behind us closed.

"Ye shall henceforth return no more that way." In these words, Moses reminds the people that Egypt once quitted was quitted forever. If they should come in the course of time to desire and to choose a king, he must by no means take them back to Egypt; their dark experience of Egyptian bondage was never to be repeated. They should return that way no more. The only course open to them was to go onward to the realization of their destiny as a free people, for the gate behind them was closed, never to be opened again. The text may naturally be regarded as God's voice to his emancipated host, saying, "No retreat!" We shall apply this to the life of believers. It is true in two spheres.

I. IT IS TRUE IN THE SPHERE OF BEING. With regard to the old state of sin, out or' which the children of God have been brought by the redemption which is in Christ Jesus and by the power of the Holy Ghost, it is true, "ye shall henceforth return no more that way."

1. They way not if they would. They have quitted the broad road which leadeth to destruction, and, through the gateway of repentance, have entered on "the King's highway of holiness." Having once come over from Satan to Christ, it is altogether forbidden them to dream of a return. Whosoever he be who has avowedly quitted the service of sin for that of the living God, never must he think of returning to the world he has left. Back to his old life of sin? Never! He is to reckon himself henceforth as "dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God," and, whether living or dying, he is to be the Lord's.

2. They would not if they might. Not only is it the Law of God that they must not retreat, but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus leads them to say, "We will not, by the help of God." And herein is the blessed freedom of the new creature in Christ Jesus. What God wills, he wills. He has voluntarily left the world, and voluntarily he remains out of its camp. The very thought of "returning any more that way" is anguish to him. He has said to earth, once for all, farewell; to sinful pleasures, farewell; to the pride of life, farewell. He has cast in his lot with Christ, and he esteems reproach for him greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. He would not move a step that is not towards God and heaven. He has done with the vanities of earth, and can return no more that way!

II. IT IS TRUE IN THE SPHERE OF TIME. We can neither retrace the steps we have already trodden, nor recall nor reproduce the circumstances of bygone days or years.

1. We cannot recall, or change, or obliterate the past, even if we would. The trials and cares of bygone years are gone, never to be repeated. The actions of past years are done, and however we may desire it, they cannot be undone. There is no such thing as recalling a single moment, to correct what has been amiss, nor erasing a single word or deed so as to prevent its issues traveling on to eternity! We may do something now to shape future years, but—to alter past years—nothing. For good or ill they have left their mark. We can alter nothing. We can "return no more that way."

2. The pilgrim, Zionward, would not retreat if he could. The child of God who has been, however imperfectly, endeavoring in Divine strength to serve and please his Father in heaven, reviewing his years with their trials, afflictions, and cares, feels it to be a great joy to him that he can return no more that way. He would not linger here. He wants to speed him onward. He oftentimes sings at eventide, with thankful heart, "a day's march nearer home." The goal of his being is ahead. To serve God here is blissful. But he longs, not to repeat past imperfections, but to "go on unto perfection," to press forward towards the higher service of the heavenly world. He feels and knows that all the Divine arrangements for him are mercy and truth. He would not change them. Mercy shuts off the past beyond recall. Mercy opens the future.

"Then, welcome, each declining day,

Welcome each closing year!"


Deuteronomy 17:1

The blemished.

I. THE PRINCIPLE INVOLVED. God is to be served with our best. He rejects the blemished for his service.

1. He is entitled to our best.

2. He requires it of us.

3. Withholding it argues unworthy views of God and of what is due to him. It usually implies contempt of God and hypocrisy in his service (Malachi 1:12, Malachi 1:13).

II. APPLICATIONS OF THE PRINCIPLE. God is to receive from us:

1. The best of our time—when the head is clearest, the energies most vigorous, the capacity for service greatest, and when there is least distraction. We offer the blemished when we engross these portions of our time for self, and give to God only our late hours, or hurried snatches of a day crowded with unspiritual and exhausting occupations.

2. The best of our age—youth, the prime of manhood and womanhood, with all the service these can render. We offer the blemished when we conceive the purpose of dedicating to God, in old age, powers already worn out in the service of the world.

3. The heartiest of our service. Service performed half-heartedly and grudgingly falls under the category of blemished sacrifices. Work done in this spirit will never be well done. Services of devotion will be huddled through, sermons will be ill prepared, the class in the Sunday school wilt be badly taught, visitation duties will be inefficiently and unpunctually performed. It is the presentation to God of the torn, lame, and halt.

4. The first of our givings. Givings should be hearty, liberal, of our first and best, and in a spirit of consecration. To give what "will never be missed" is a poor form of service. It is little to give to God what costs us nothing. Still more conspicuously do we offer the blemished when we devote to God but the parings of a lavish worldly expenditure, or give for his service far below our ability.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 17:2, Deuteronomy 17:3


The crime here ordained to be punished by death was sabaeism, or the worship of the heavenly bodies. Though this was in some respects the noblest, as it seems to have been the most ancient, form of idolatry—the purest in its ritual, the most elevating in its influence, the least associated with vice, it was not to be tolerated in Israel. Its apparent sublimity made it only the more seductive and dangerous. It was a departure, though at first a very subtle and scarcely recognizable one, from pure monotheism—the beginning of a course of declension which speedily led in Egypt, Phoenicia, Babylonia, India, and most other nations to the grossest abominations. That the seductive influence of sun and star worship was powerfully felt by the ancients appears from Job 31:26, Job 31:27. In Egypt, according to M. de Rouge (quoted by Renouf, 'Hibbert Lecture'), "the pure monotheistic religion passed through the phase of sabseism; the sun, instead of being considered as the symbol of life, was taken as the manifestation of God himself." Max Muller tells us that the "oldest prayer in the world" (?) is one in the Rig-Veda, addressed to the sun. The term for God, which is common to the Indo-Germanic races (deva, daeva, theos, deus, etc.), proves that the conception of the Divine among them was formed from that of light, and that the objects of their religious worship were the effects and appearances of light. All ancient mythologies turn, as their principal subject, on the sunrise and sunset, the battle between light and darkness, etc.

We learn:

1. It is the beginnings of evil which need most jealously to be guarded against.

2. Evil is not the less, but the more to be feared, that its first forms are usually pleasing and seductive.

3. It does not excuse evil that in its earlier forms it is still able to associate itself with worthy and noble ideas.

4. The workings of evil, however deceptive its first appearances, invariably end by revealing its true iniquity and hideousness. How astonishing the descent from the first enticing of the heart to worship sun or moon, and so to deny the God that is above, to the abominations and cruelties of Baal and Moloch worship! Yet the later excesses were present in germ from the beginning, and the descent was as natural and logical as history shows it to have been inevitable.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 17:4-8

Criminal procedure.

I. THE RIGHT OF THE CRIMINAL TO A PAIR AND PULL TRIAL. The right is asserted in the Law of Moses as strenuously as it could be anywhere. However abhorrent his crime, the criminal had every protection against unjust treatment which the Law could afford him. He must be formally impeached, tried before judges, and legally convicted under stringent conditions of proof. The evidence of one witness, however apparently conclusive, was not to be accepted as sufficient. A second must confirm it. The principle is a plain dictate of justice. Suspicion, rumor, dislike of the individual, or even moral certainty of his guilt, form no sufficient ground for condemnation. He is entitled to demand that his crime be proved under legal forms. A person really guilty may thus occasionally escape, but better this should happen than that the innocent should suffer. Lessons:

1. The rule of criminal jurisprudence should be the rule of our private thoughts, and of our expressed opinions about others. We are entitled to hold no man guilty of deeds for which we have not explicit proof.

2. While moral certainty of guilt may be created by proof which would not warrant judicial condemnation, we should beware of admitting as proof that which at the most only seems to tell against the person under suspicion.

3. Where no better ground exists for unfavorable judgment than vague, unsifted rumor, or the dislikes and prejudices with which a person is regarded, it is the grossest unfairness, and often great cruelty to the person concerned, to entertain evil reports, or even to allow them in the slightest degree to influence us.

4. Where opportunity for investigating reports to the discredit of another does not exist, or where we have no call to undertake such investigation, our duty is not to judge at all (Matthew 7:1). The utmost we should do is to exercise caution.

II. THE GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY WHICH RESTS ON WITNESSES. This was well brought out by requiring that the hands of the witnesses should be first upon the condemned person to put him to death. We may note:

1. That those who prefer serious accusations against others, ought to be prepared publicly to substantiate them. Were this more insisted on than it is, it would quash in the birth not a few malicious accusations.

2. That blood-guiltiness rests on those who, by false testimony, whether borne publicly or in private, effect another's ruin.—J.O.

Deuteronomy 17:8-13

The priest and the judge.

The priests, in association with a judge or judges (Deuteronomy 19:17), constituted a supreme tribunal to which difficult causes were carried, and whose judgment was to be final. The priest had naturally a place in this supreme court:

1. As representing God in the theocracy.

2. As a member of the distinctively learned class of the nation.

3. As one whose special office it was to teach and interpret the Law of God (Le Deuteronomy 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Ezekiel 44:24; Malachi 2:7). The differentiation of functions in society has long since taken learning in the law out of the hands of the clergy, but we may remark—

I. THAT SPIRITUAL AND CIVIL FUNCTIONARIES MAY RENDER EACH OTHER IMPORTANT ASSISTANCE. The spheres of civil and spiritual jurisdiction are indeed distinct. Yet as the lawyer and judge, with their legal expertness, their knowledge of forms, and their experience in sifting evidence, are often of the greatest service in processes purely ecclesiastical, so, on the other hand, the best of them stand in need of that higher direction and enlightenment of the conscience from God's Word, which it is the business of a body of spiritual teachers to supply. The ministers of religion have a function:

1. In upholding the Law of God as the supreme standard of right.

2. In furnishing general enlightenment to the conscience.

3. In reminding judges, the highest of them, of their duties and responsibilities before God as set "for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:14).

II. THAT LAWS BASED ON GOD'S WORD HAVE ATTACHING TO THEM A DIVINE AS WELL AS A HUMAN AUTHORITY. The duty of the priest was not to invent laws, but to interpret the existing Law of God. To it all cases of right had ultimately to be appealed. God's Law, as exhibiting the unalterable principles of right, underlies human law and gives to it authority. Whatever may happen in courts on earth, no decision will stand in the court of heaven which that Law is found to condemn. Laws e.g. which invade rights of conscience, which (as in slave-holding countries) place the life of one man at the mercy of another, which are favorable to illicit relations of the sexes, which make light of divorce, which bear unequally on different classes of the community, which prop up abuses, etc; may be submitted to, but cannot be justified. Where, on the contrary, the law of a land is in essential harmony with the principles of righteousness, obedience to it becomes a duty of religion. He who sets it at naught strives with God not less than with man, is "as they which strive with the priest," and does "presumptuously" (cf. Hosea 4:4).—J.O.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20

The king in Israel

We have here—

I. THE DESIRE OF A KING ANTICIPATED. (Deuteronomy 17:14.) Moses anticipates that, when settled in the land, the people would desire a king, that they might be like other nations. This was:

1. A desire springing from a wrong motive.

(1) As involving a low estimate of their privilege in being ruled directly by Jehovah. It was the glory and distinction of their nation that they had God so nigh them, and were under his immediate care and sovereignty. But they could not rise to the sublimity of this thought. They deemed it a grander thing to have a mortal as their king, to be like other nations, and be led, judged, and ruled by a visible monarch. Their demand was a substantial rejection of God, that he should not reign over them (1 Samuel 8:7).

(2) As involving the idea of a king modeled on the pattern of the kings around them. The king they wished for was one who would embody for them their own ideas of splendor and prowess, and these were of a purely carnal type. Saul, their first king, had many of the qualities which answered to their notion of a king, while David, ruling in humble subordination to the will and authority of Heaven, answered to the Divine idea. Piety and submission at every point to the will of God are not elements that bulk largely in the common conception of a monarch.

(3) As involving self-willedness. The people did not humbly present their case to God, and entreat him for a king. They took the law into their own hands, and demanded one, or rather they declared their intention of setting one over them, irrespective of whether God wished it or not.

2. A desire in some respects natural. The spiritual government of an invisible Ruler was an idea difficult to grasp. The mind craved for some concrete and visible embodiment of that authority under which they lived. It probably lay in God's purpose ultimately to give them a king, but it was necessary that they should be made first distinctly to feel their need of it. The need in human nature to which this points is adequately supplied in the Messianic King, Christ Jesus. The central idea of the Kingship of Christ is the personal indwelling of the Divine in the human. In Christ, moreover, is realized the three things which ancient nations sought for in their kings.

(1) An ideal of personal excellence. "Heroic kingship depended partly on divinely given prerogative, and partly on the possession of supereminent strength, courage, and wisdom" (Maine).

(2) A leader inspiring them with personal devotion.

(3) A bond of unity in the State, the monarch representing, as he does still, the whole system of law and authority which is centralized and embodied in his person. "The king is the dot on the i" (Hegel). The kingship in Israel typified that of Christ.

II. THE ELECTION OF A KING PROVIDED FOR. (Deuteronomy 17:15.) The position of king in Israel was essentially different from that of the monarch of any other nation. While discharging the same general functions as other kings (ruling, judging, leading in battle), his authority was checked and limited in ways that theirs was not. He was no irresponsible despot, whose will was law and who governed as he listed. He filled the throne, not as absolute and independent sovereign, but only as the deputy of Jehovah, and ruled simply in the name and in subordination to the will of God—in this respect affording another marked type of God's true king, whom he has set on his holy hill of Zion (Psalm it.). This fact gave rise to a second peculiarity, that he had no authority to make laws, but only to administer the Law already given. The manner of his election corresponded to these peculiarities of his position.

1. He was chosen under Divine guidance (cf. i Samuel Deuteronomy 10:20, Deuteronomy 10:21).

2. The Divine choice was ratified by the free election of the people (1 Samuel 10:24). From which we learn

(1) that the throne is strong only when it rests on the free choice, and on the loyal affection of the body of the people

(2) That kingly like all other authority, is derived from God. This is a truth of general application, though it was in a peculiar sense true of Israel. The Scripture gives no sanction to the "right Divine of kings to govern wrong." But popular sentiment has always recognized that a certain "divinity doth hedge a king." Ancient nations (Egypt, etc.) held him to be the representative of God on earth. The state and style with which a monarch is surrounded, and the homage paid to him, are expressions of the same idea. He embodies the functions of government, and has honor, majesty, and high-sounding titles bestowed on him on that ground. But this is simply to say that in certain respects he represents Deity. To constitute perfect "Divine right," it would be necessary:

(a) That a monarch should occupy the throne with perfect Divine sanction. Most rulers, on ascending the throne, try to make out, however weakly, some shadow of right to it.

(b) That he should govern in perfect accordance with the Divine will. The only perfect case of ruling by Divine fight is the reign of Christ.

III. THE CHARACTER OF THE KING DELINEATED. (Deuteronomy 17:15-20.) He was to be an Israelite—one of themselves. Then:

1. He was not to multiply horses to himself, that is:

(1) He was not to be ambitious of military distinction.

(2) He was not to place his main reliance for the defense of the nation on extravagant military preparations.

(3) He was not, for the sake of supposed material advantage, to lead the people into ensnaring alliances.

2. He was not to multiply wives to himself. That is:

(1) He was to avoid enervating luxury.

(2) His court was to be chaste and pure. Cf. Tennyson, 'To the Queen:' "Her court was pure; her life serene," etc.; and 'Dedication' to the Idyls—

"Who reverenced his conscience as his king;
Whose glory was, redressing human wrong;
Who spake no slander, no, nor listened to it;
Who loved one only, and who clave to her," etc.

3. He was not to multiply to himself silver and gold; that is, he was not to affect the dazzle of imperial splendor, but to be simple and unostentatious in his manner of life. But:

4. He was to be a diligent student of the Word of God.

(1) He was to write out with his own hand a copy of the Law.

(2) He was to read in it diligently all the days of his life; the result of which would be:

(a) That he would be kept in the way of obedience;

(b) that his heart would be preserved humble towards God and his brethren; and

(c) he and his seed would enjoy prosperity on the throne. What a noble sketch of the model king, yet how contrary to current ideas of royal greatness! We have happily been taught in our own country to appreciate the advantages of a pure court, and to feel its wholesome influence on the general tone of morals, and we are able to understand, also, the beneficial effect of uprightness and piety in a sovereign in adding to the love, esteem, and reverence with which the sovereign is regarded; but how far are we from dissociating the greatness of a reign from its external splendor, its military conquests, the wealth and luxury of its aristocracy, the figure it displays in the eyes of other nations, and the terror with which it can inspire them! Nor do we look in sovereigns generally for all the virtues which we find in our own, but are apt to condone want of piety, and even acts of great iniquity, if they but prove themselves to be bold, energetic, and enterprising rulers. The character of the sovereign is in some respects of less moment than it once was, but its influence for good or evil is still very great, and the evil fruits reaped from the court life, say of a Charles II. or a George IV; are not exhausted in one or a few generations. Piety upon the throne will lead to piety in the court and throughout the nation, and will give an impulse to everything else that is good. Whereas an evil and corrupting example sows seeds of mischief, which may involve the nation in the greatest losses and disasters (see Massillon's sermon, 'Des Exemples des Grands').—J.O.


Deuteronomy 17:1-7

Idolatry a capital crime.

The closing verses of last chapter prohibiting groves near God's altar may be taken in connection with the verses now before us as constituting the solemn prohibition of idolatry. God will not have any rival, either sun, moon, or any of the host of heaven, not to speak of the more miserable idolatries of things on earth; he makes idolatry a capital crime, and decrees death as its penalty. This brings out the enormity of the sin in the eyes of God; and it does not follow, because idolatry is not still visited with death, that it has become a lighter matter in the eyes of "the Judge of all the earth."

I. THE TEMPTATION TO NATURE WORSHIP. When men are not watchful, they live by sight and forget the life of faith. Others make the senses the only organs of knowledge, and base their so-called philosophy upon sensation. It is not to be wondered at, in such circumstances, that nature-worship prevailed in olden times and prevails still. A great deal of the antitheistic science of the present time is, when analyzed, just nature-worship. When men in their headstrong self-confidence attribute independent powers to nature; when they maintain-on what grounds they do not tell us, for it is a matter of faith, not of sight—that the "reign of law" is workable without God, then they are really idolizing nature. It seems a light thing to men to eliminate God from his works, but the sin will have to be answered for before the Judge.

Besides, it was more excusable in the old Israelite than in the modern philosopher. The heavenly bodies in these Eastern countries are so magnificent that the impression produced upon the gazer is akin to worship. It was little wonder if in an unwatchful moment he "beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and the heart was secretly enticed, or his mouth kissed his hand" (Job 31:26, Job 31:27). The temptation to worship the heavenly bodies was strong and natural.

II. IS GOD'S SIGHT THE WORSHIP OF NATURE IS A CAPITAL CRIME, It is worthy of a violent death. Directions are given for the solemn execution. The witnesses, of whom there must be a plurality at least, are first to lay their hands upon the head of the idolater, then the whole people, doubtless through their representative elders, showing their acquiescence in the severe sentence; and then he is to be stoned to death. The idea is manifestly that he is unworthy of living longer when he has so far forgotten and ignored the claims of God.

And assuredly our scientific nature-worshippers are equally guilty, nay, more guilty, in God's sight. If they are not put to death by public law, it is not because their sin is changed in its heinousness, but because God has made their case a reserved one for himself. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."

III. IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES WE ARE LEFT ONE WAY OF GETTING RID OF THE EVIL, AND THAT IS BY GOOD. God having withdrawn the prerogative of vengeance from men for sins against himself, and reserved the case for his own dealing with it, he has given us our direction in the words, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). The Israelites in their rude time were directed to remove the idolater by force; we are to get rid of him by loving persuasion. The former was the easier remedy. To heap coals of fire on the head of our opponent and enemy is not so easy an operation. But it can be done. God shows us the example himself. While reserving the prerogative of vengeance, he meanwhile manifests himself in Jesus Christ as the God of love. Though provoked by man's idolatries, he subjects him to the treatment of his love, and goes forth in converting power to meet his enemies. Of course the love is sometimes lost upon them, as we are accustomed to say. The appeal is rejected, but they have got the opportunity, and must account at last for despising it.

In his loving footsteps let us follow. The nature-worship and manifold idolatries are amenable to the treatment of enlightened love. Let us study candidly and carefully the case, and administer with all tenderness the remedy. It may be that in some cases the old picture may be reversed. Instead of the imposition of hands in order to destruction, it may be an imposition of hands in ordaining to Divine work those who formerly ignored God altogether. However this may be, our duty is clear to try to overcome this particular evil by good.—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 17:8-13

The ruling -power of the priests in the Jewish Church.

The government among the Israelites was first by an eldership elected on the representative principle. Thus in Genesis 1:7 we find at the funeral of Jacob "all the elders of the land of Egypt." Again, when Moses came from Midian to emancipate his brethren, he was directed to consult "the elders of Israel," who were to go in with him before Pharaoh (Exodus 3:16, Exodus 3:18). After the Exodus, the priests were appointed as the ministers of religion; and with these were associated the elders selected to the number of seventy from those already in office, and to whom God gave his Spirit (Numbers 11:16, etc.). When the people settled in Canaan, they were directed to elect judges for judgment. This was the distribution and development of the eldership. And in case of any special difficulty, the aggrieved parties were to repair to the place of the central altar, and there lay the matter before the priests and the judge. It follows that the priests had co-ordinate ruling power with the elders or judges, that they were rulers and officiating ministers besides. And here we have to notice—

I. THESE CHURCH OFFICERS EXERCISED THEIR AUTHORITY UNDER GOD AS KING. The Church was a theocracy, and God was regarded as ever present with his officers and people. The same is true in the Church still. It is a theocracy; an ever-present Jesus still presides even where two or three are met together for the purposes of Church government (Matthew 18:20).

II. THE PRIESTS AND THE JUDGE ARE TO SHOW THE PARTIES THE DIVINE LAW ON THE SUBJECT. The decision is to be expository of existing law, not a decision on the ground of expediency. Now this necessarily follows from the Kingship of God. His will must be paramount. His officers simply try to find out his will. A national parliament may manufacture laws; but Church officers take their laws from the inspired Statute-book. It is exposition of Divine Law that the ruler in God's Church is really concerned with.

III. THE CHURCH OFFICERS REQUIRED IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE FROM THE PEOPLE TO THEIR INTERPRETATION OF GOD'S WILL. In a rude age this was needful, implicit obedience such as we require from children. But when we reach the corresponding part of the New Testament economy, the exhortation is, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The right of private judgment is admitted, and regulates the obedience. Just as when children grow to manhood, the implicit obedience demanded gives place to persuasion and the appeal to conscience.

IV. PRESUMPTUOUS DISREGARD OF GOD'S WILL EXPRESSED BY THE PRIEST AND JUDGE WAS PUNISHED WITH DEATH. This was disobedience in its generic form, and came under the penalty of death, just as in Eden. The aggrieved parties had appealed for light to God's officer; he was to be their Arbitrator, and they contracted to abide by his decision. Disobedience under such circumstances would overthrow the order both of Church and State. Hence the death penalty.

Presumptuous disregard of Divine commandments is not now less heinous than it was then, though it may escape for the time being such a terrible penalty. The judgment of God is only postponed. Should the presumption continue, the penalty will come at last with compound interest.

V. THE PATIENT STUDY OF GOD'S WORD IS SURELY A DUTY WHEN PRESUMPTUOUS DISREGARD OF GOD'S WILL IS SO HEINOUS A SIN. It should be our supreme desire to know what God would have us to do. This can only be known through systematic and patient study of the holy oracles. The priest with the Urim and Thummim is not now available. We must content ourselves with a quieter way. The Book is given instead of the oracle, and we are directed to consult it for ourselves. Approaching it in a patient, obedient spirit, we shall find it unlocking many a mystery to us, and affording us the light we need.—R.M.E.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20

The limitations of monarchy.

We have here provision made for the probable demand of the people for a visible king like the other nations. The unseen King did not make the same sensation in their view, and hence Moses is inspired to anticipate the unbelieving demand. And here notice—

I. THE UNSEEN KING MUST HAVE THE SELECTION OF THE VISIBLE ONE. It is in this way that the monarchy, when it came, was kept under the control of God. The theocracy was still the fountainhead of power. The people were not to choose their king. He was to have Divine right.

It is noticeable that, in giving them Saul, the Lord made emphatic the sensationalism that lay under the demand, for the visible king was head and shoulders above his brethren. David was also a big man, else Saul would never have offered him his armor, when proposing to fight the giant. And it is noticeable how the sensationalism is rebuked in the enemies of Israel producing Goliath as a champion, before whom it is evident that the big Saul feared and quaked.

II. THEY ARE NOT TO EXPECT OR TO THINK OF A STRANGER KING. Thus the patriotism of the people is fostered. It is one of themselves that is to have the kingship when it comes. It is interesting to notice this deliverance after the reservation already noticed. God's choice is thus guaranteed to Israel. He will stand to the nation, if the nation will be faithful to him.

III. THE KING IS NOT TO RELY UPON THE CAVALRY ARM. Palestine, being mountainous, did not require cavalry. Infantry would be more effective. Cavalry, if raised and relied on, would necessitate an alliance with a cattle-breeding country like Egypt, and would be the precursor of a "spirited foreign policy," such as proves ruinous to a pastoral people such as Israel was meant to be. There was thus a wise restraint laid upon the foreign policy of the nation; as God desired their separation from surrounding nations, and their religious stability upon the mountain ridges of Palestine, he warns them against this danger. Besides, the cavalry arm until recently was the most powerful in the service, and the charge of cavalry is something to be proud of or to fear. Now, of course, artillery has put cavalry out of its vaunted position. The temptation was to "trust in horses and in chariots," and not in the Lord. Hence the warning.

IV. THE KING IS NOT TO HAVE A SERAGLIO. For through the wives he will surely be unmanned and have his heart turned away from God. It is the spiritual disasters of polygamy which are here insisted upon. A divided heart socially must entail a divided heart spiritually. No wonder the Psalmist prayed, "Unite my heart to fear thy Name."

V. NOR IS THE KING TO AIM AT GREAT RICHES. For wealth is a great snare, and it competes with God for the heart. Money, like cavalry, is a most natural foundation of trust. A too wealthy monarch is likely to be worldly minded and unspiritual.

VI. THE KING IS TO MAKE A SPECIAL STUDY OF THE DIVINE LAW. He is to get a copy for himself—he is to have it daily read to him—and he is to allow its humiliating influence to be exercised over him so as to be obedient always. And if obedient, he is promised an hereditary interest in the throne. He was thus to be kept in subjection to the unseen King.

And though we may not aspire to kingships, we can profit by the warnings here prophetically addressed to the coming kings of Israel. For it is surely for us to allow nothing seen and temporal to threaten our faith in God. It may not be horses and chariots; it may not be money; it may be men in whom we are tempted to trust. Whatever it be, whether persons or things, that tempts us from our trust in God, it must be avoided. Better is it to be friendless, to be poor, to be solitary, than to be skeptical. Worldly success is where skepticism is born. The idols multiply as wealth and luxuries increase. There is something, we think, to hold by in the strain of life.

And whatever our position in this world, let us feel always not only our trust in God, but our subordination in all things to him. If he is King of kings, he is certainly Lord over us. Let us live under the theocracy, and serve him with our whole hearts.—R.M.E.


Deuteronomy 17:1

The prevention of religious fraud.

Men who pride themselves on honesty towards their fellows are often dishonest in dealing with God. They are punctual in observing appointments with men; they are unpunctual in reaching the house of God. When the principle of piety in a man is weakened, he will stoop to many artifices to deprive God of his due.

I. AN IMPERFECT SACRIFICE SPRINGS FROM BLIND PARSIMONY. When piety declines, a man becomes the slave of his senses. He is moved or terrified only by what is visible. He is afraid of a human frown; he is impervious to the Divine displeasure. The lamb which is unfit for barter, and which is scarce fit for food, will be deemed good enough for sacrifice. Yet how mentally blind is the man! What thick scales he has manufactured for his eyes! Yet, "he that formed the eye, shall he not see?" And cannot God, with a breath, blast that man's prosperity, and cage his soul in bondage? He had thought to snatch from God a dollar, and lo! he loses everything!

II. AN IMPERFECT SACRIFICE VITIATES ITS SYMBOLIC EFFICACY. These animal sacrifices had many moral uses. They developed the sentiment of gratitude for gifts bestowed. They expressed the penitence of the offerer, who thereby confessed that for his sins he had deserved to die. And inasmuch as a lamb or a heifer was immeasurably inferior to man, the sacrifice betokened the offering of a better Sacrifice, which should be a real atonement. Now, if men were permitted to bring a blemished victim, it would no longer prefigure him who is the "Lamb without blemish and without spot." In such a case, the faith of the offerer was dead.

III. Such RELIGIOUS FRAUD WAS INCIPIENT ATHEISM. Here was the budding of blackest sin—the first step on a slippery decline, which would land one in death. If I can set aside God's plain commands, as my selfishness desires; if I can treat God as my equal or my inferior, and devote to him only what is useless for myself;—I am on the very borders of utter atheism, and to-minnow shall be ready to say, "There is no God." Rankest unbelief often springs from practical disobedience. There is no neglect of God without self-injury.—D.

Deuteronomy 17:2-7

Idolatry a crime against society.

Whether the fact be obvious to all men or not, it is fact that sin against God is also sin against human society. The relation of the Hebrew nation to God, is a type of the relation which God sustains to every nation. He is the Creator of individual life and of individual endowments. He is the Source of all the moral forces which bind men together in civil society. He has appointed to each nation its habitation, and has enriched it with more or less of material good. Hence every nation is under obligation to acknowledge and honor the one creating and reigning God.

I. THE CRIME. The crime consisted in esteeming the creature above the Creator. This was a direct breach of treaty between God and the nation. On God's side the engagement was to bring them into the land of Canaan, and secure them against foes. On Israel's side the engagement was to worship no other Deity but Jehovah. Hence the violation of a covenant so openly made and frequently ratified was a flagrant sin. Yet with every nation such a covenant is made by implication. If life is obtained from the invisible God, it is held on conditions imposed by him, and every item of conduct which is contrary to his known will is an act of rebellion. If rebellion against an earthly king is counted highest crime, incomparably greater is a deed of open rebellion against the King of kings. Idolatry is the root-stem of grossest immorality.

II. THE DETECTION AND PROOF OF THIS CRIME. In proportion to the greatness of the crime must be the carefulness of investigation, No punishment is to be inflicted on the ground of suspicion or prejudice. Human life is to be accounted precious, but the interests of righteousness are more precious still. On both these grounds, the scrutiny must be thorough. To prevent any injury to the sacred cause of justice, through error, or incompetence, or malice, one witness must be incompetent to obtain a verdict. Security against injustice comes from corroborated testimony and from independent witnesses. While every man is bound, in his sphere, to think and act righteously towards his neighbors, he must safeguard himself against hasty judgments and against the whispers of slanderers. In many positions in life we are called to act in the place of God.

III. THE PUNISHMENT DECREED. It was death by stoning. In that early age, and especially in the desert, there were no mechanical contrivances for suddenly extinguishing life. They were largely the children of nature, and possessed but few inventions of civilized life. The sagacity of Supreme Wisdom had placed frail man among natural forces, which might easily be employed in terminating bodily life. This arrangement impresses men with a sense of dependence. His bodily life succumbs to a stone. The unit must be sacrificed to the well-being of the community. "Into man lives for himself."

IV. THE INSTRUMENTS OF THE EXECUTION. The chief witness against an offender, became, by God's appointment, executor of the judicial sentence. This secured economy in the administration of law. It secured, to a large extent, veracity among witnesses, and moral certainty of the rightness of the verdict. Yet, that obloquy might not attach itself to one man alone, the whole community were charged to take part in the execution of the sentence. The deed would thus be the common deed of all. This practice would foster oneness of sentiment, oneness of purpose, and would promote harmonious national life.—D.

Deuteronomy 17:8-13

High court of appeal.

We can imagine a condition of human society in which wrong-doing would at once declare itself by some visible pain or sign. We can imagine a condition of society in which God would himself step forth and punish every offence against truth or virtue. But then, men would lose the benefits of moral training which the present system ensures. This necessity for men to take part in the administration of justice brings large advantage.

I. HUMAN INTERESTS OFTEN BECOME VERY COMPLICATED. The interests men have in property, liberty, reputation, often become very involved. This arises largely from the operation of selfishness. Every item which will add to a man's self-importance he will sue for by every process of law. This comes from the neglect of the comprehensive precept, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Another great difficulty in the administration of justice arises from men's untruthfulness. The day will dawn when a stigma of shame will brand the man who withholds or violates the truth. If now, in every judicial inquiry, the whole truth, pure and simple, were forthcoming, decision and verdict would be a simple result.

II. THE MOST HOLY WILL BE, CAETERIS PARIBUS, THE MOST SAGACIOUS. The man who lives nearest to God will obtain the most of God's wisdom. He will be free from base and selfish motive. He will be the most trusted by his fellows. He will have fullest access to God when intricate questions have to be solved. "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God." "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness." But pretended piety will serve no practical good.

III. EVERY JUDGE AMONG MEN ACTS SPECIALLY IN THE STEAD OF GOD. To be the administrator of justice, to adjudicate between right and wrong, is the highest office which men can fill. No position is more responsible; none more honorable. For all practical purposes, his decision must be regarded as the decision of God. Otherwise, there will be no termination to litigation and strife. From the verdict of the highest human judge, there is but one court of appeal, viz. the court of heaven. Without doubt, many judicial decisions on earth will be reversed by the Great Judge of all. This is sweet solace to the injured now. Yet it is nobler to suffer wrong at the hands of men than to resist by violence. For the present, we are to accept the sentence of the judge as absolute and obligatory. Our feet must diverge neither to the right hand nor to the left.

IV. CONTUMACY IS CRIME, PUNISHABLE BY DEATH. To despise the verdict of the judge is to weaken the authority of the State—is to sow the seeds of anarchy and ruin. Defective administration of law is better than none. "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry." Yet, if contempt of human authority be accounted a capital crime, how much more criminal must be contumacy against God!

V. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT HAS FOR ITS END THE GOOD OF THE COMMUNITY. It is an advantage to remove from the circle of human society a pest—a firebrand. The authority of law, the sacredness of justice, are set on high in flaming characters, and on all classes of the community the impression is salutary. Reverence for constituted authority is strengthened, and unbiased minds learn the heinous wickedness of disobedience. The effect is virtue, order, peace.—D.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20

Limitations round about a king.

A king is the creation of a nation's will. The nation does not exist for the king, but the king exists for the nation. His proper aim is not personal glory, but the widest public good.

I. KINGS ARE THE PRODUCT OF A DEGENERATE AGE. Since the King of heaven is willing to give his counsel and aid to men, it is for our honor and advantage to live under the direct administration of God; and it is only when piety and faith decline that men clamor for a human king. The conquests of Canaan by Israel had been most complete when Israel most carefully followed the commands of God. To sensitive minds, it would have been a dagger-thrust to imitate the practices of the degenerate heathen.

II. DIVINE LIMITATIONS ABOUT THE CHOICE OF A KING. In condescension to human infirmity, God will allow the elevation of a man to the throne. Through our own caprices, God ofttimes punishes us. Yet God kindly sets barriers about our capricious wills. For martial purposes, foolish men would often choose a stalwart giant, some Goliath, to be their king, though he be of foreign birth; or some successful warrior to lead them forth to battle. This is prohibited. The nation is to be self-contained. All the elements of prosperity may be found within its own borders. The will of God must be respected. God himself will select the man, point him out by unmistakable methods, and the nation can do no more than gratefully accept God's wise decision, He will choose; they must anoint.

III. DIVINE LIMITATIONS ABOUT THE CONDUCT OF A KING. To him does not belong the privilege to gratify every taste and temper. The very contrary. He is under greater obligations than any other man to restrain himself. Temptation will surround him on every side; but he must meet temptation with vigilance, patience, firmness. To be a true king, he must first conquer himself. He must restrain carnal ambition. He must restrain love of display. He must restrain the passion for conquest. He must restrain sensual pleasure. He must restrain his avarice. His real distinction is not to have many horses, many wives, or great riches. His distinction is to be wise administrator of righteousness, the protector of public liberty and peace. To fulfill faithfully the functions of a king, he must walk circumspectly in the narrow way—be a loyal subject to the King of heaven.

IV. LIMITATIONS ABOUT THE PRIVATE LIFE OF A KING, His first concern must be respecting his personal fitness for such responsible office. No pains must he spare to obtain complete equipment. He must count no labor severe or menial by which he may qualify himself for kingly duties. His first duty is to obtain completest acquaintance with the will of God. To this end he must possess a copy of God's written Law, and in this Law he must meditate day and night. The spirit of this Law must animate his being and breathe in all his speech. God's Word must be his vade mecum, his daily compass and chart. He must move among his courtiers and governors as a visible embodiment of truth and purity, a living transcript of the Divine will. This is a true pattern of a king—a man who excels in wisdom, having learnt of God; a man who is eminent for pious obedience, and writes in largest characters the model of a noble life. Such a man shall live. "Though lie die, his influence and rule shall live."—D.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 17". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.