Deuteronomy 17:18-20 • October 29, 2023 • g1274
Pastor Chris Amaro teaches a message through Deuteronomy 17:18-20 titled “Words Fit For A King.”
I want to give you some context, some background to Deuteronomy 17, so you know what’s going on.
In the Old Testament book of Exodus, God leads His people out of Egypt. They had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. In the book of Exodus, God raised up Moses, who lead the people out of bondage in Egypt. In Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, God sets about the business of getting Egypt out of His people. They were not thinking like His people.
The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” That doesn’t mean it is a second law in addition to the first law. God had given His Law to Moses, which Moses had delivered to the people. What “Deuteronomy” means is that it is a retelling of the Law. So this is the second time the people had heard it.
Why did they have to hear it the second time? Years prior to this when they left Egypt, God told them He would lead them to the Promised Land. And it was only an 11-day journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. In this land, there would be everything the Israelites needed. There were occupants in the land, but God said they would clear the whole land and it would be theirs.
When the Israelites arrived at Kadesh Barnea, which was at the border, the people got scared for various reasons. So instead of living by faith and following Moses, who was following God, into the Promised Land, they decided to live by fear. That happens sometimes. Fear instead of faith. So they doubted God, became disobedient to God and refused to go into the Promised Land.
At the point, God said that since they wouldn’t obey Him, for the next 40 years He was going to march them around the wilderness until the older generation that lived in doubt and fear had died off. Then God would take the younger generation and lead them into the Promised Land. So our text today is dealing with that younger generation.
Moses would be telling the people for a second time, even though they had already heard it, because he would not be going into the Promised Land with the people. God told Moses he would not be going into the Promised Land, because he had doubted God; he misrepresented God. So God was going to use Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land.
Moses, being a good leader and a father figure, shares with the children of Israel for the second time. He basically told them, “As you go along, remember this and this and this.” So Moses is retelling them the same Law that they already knew. He’s saying good-bye; a transition was taking place, and they would soon leave with Joshua. So Moses is being a good parent.
You know what it’s like being a parent. You talk to your kids and teach them right from wrong, good from bad, how to make good choices and use wisdom. Then when they leave for the evening to be with their friends, or leave to go to college or when they get married, you retell them the things they already know. You want them to understand that these things are important.
So that’s what’s happening here in Deuteronomy. And at the beginning of chapter 17, he’s talking to them about acceptable and unacceptable animals for sacrifice. Again, he’s already told them that.
In the Old Testament books, there is much that does not apply to us. When you’re reading through Leviticus, Numbers and even Deuteronomy, you see instructions regarding foods that are acceptable and those that are unacceptable, which don’t apply to us. Yet what we find in these pages are Biblical principles that can be applied to our own, modern-day lives and we can reap benefits from them.
What we find in these Old Testament books is a revelation of the mind and heart of God. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” says Hebrews 13:8. God does not change. The things that He loved in the Old Testament, He still loves today. Those things that He loved for His own people in Deuteronomy, He still loves for us today. So as we look deep into these pages, we find God’s mind and heart.
I need that in my life. I need to know what God’s mind and heart is. I open up my social media every day and hear what everybody’s opinion is. But what I need is what God thinks and desires of me and what He dislikes. I want to know that.
And now we come to Deuteronomy 17, where, at the end of the chapter, for the first time, we see something unique takes place: express rules are given to a future king. We’ll look at verse 14, but our focus will be on verses 18-20.
Moses says in verse 14, “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you….” So the land is theirs, not for any other reason than God says it’s theirs. He told them that in Genesis 12:1: “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.’” And verse 7 says, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’” So God gave them the land. In fact, He gave them much more land than they ever possessed. But because of struggles and doubts, they ended up with a much smaller part.
So Moses is saying, “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me….’” God knew that would happen. God wanted them to be a theocracy, a people ruled by God alone. But he knew the people would want a king just like all the other nations around them.
We know about that. We have an expression called, “Keeping up with the Joneses.” “They got that! What can’t we get that? They have a new car! Why can’t we have a new car?!” Everything they have, we want.
God knew that when the people were in the land, they would look around and say, “We’re a theocracy, but all the nations around us have kings. We need a king!” So God says that when that happens, verse 15, “You shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses…”—let God choose—“…one from among your brethren…”—make sure he’s an Israelite—“…you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.”
Then God tells them what the king is not supposed to do, verse 16. “But he shall not multiply horses for himself…”—don’t build up your military, but trust God—“…nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’” They’ve been freed from Egypt, so they’re not to go back there. Verse 17, “Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.”
If you read on through the history of Israel, you will find that so many kings totally ignored these instructions. Most notably who didn’t keep these instructions was the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon. He did some extremely foolish things. He multiplied horses; they’re still finding evidence around Israel of many of Solomon’s stables. He also multiplied wives, who pulled his heart away from the Lord. So many kings did these same things.
Now we get to verse 18, and something different happens. Moses just told the future king what to do and what not to do. But now he says, “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.”
Now I’ve divided up verses 18-20. From verse 18 through the first part of verse 19 I call “royal writing.” And from the middle of verse 19 through verse 20 I call “royal rewards.” And in verses 18-20, Moses is giving instructions to the future kings of Israel. He’s telling them what to do and what not to do.
In this first section I’ve called “royal writing,” Moses gives a list of things to do. God, through Moses, tells them the most important thing to do. Verse 18 says, “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.”
It is important to note that this “copy of this law” is not the king’s own version of the Law. What the king needed is his own copy of God’s Law, and the king is to make his own copy from the Law that the priests had. The Levites were servants who served along with the priests. God’s law is synonymous with God’s Word. God gave the Law; it’s His Word. So these instructions were specific.
So in the instructions given to this king, what he will need first and foremost is his own copy of the Word of God. I emphasize that it is his own copy of the Law, from the same one the priests and Levites have, because the king is not to make up the Law on his own. He is not to self-interpret the Law. He is not to find out what the rest of the world is thinking, or do whatever his constituents want. The king’s copy is to be an exact copy of what the priests and Levites had. In other words, he is to have the Word of God, untainted and untouched.
Now notice Moses says that the king “shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book.” Why was he to write it himself? I like this. From the very beginning, before there is even a king, God has developed something called “servant leadership.” “No, king. We’re not bringing you your own copy on a platter. Get it yourself. Go to the priests and Levites, sit down and copy it yourself.”
So you can imagine that what God is doing is developing in the mind and heart of this king an intimate knowledge of God’s Word. If you and I set about the task of copying God’s Word, word-for-word, imagine what that would do for our knowledge of His Word! We would become intimately acquainted with God’s Word.
This is the reason God, through Moses, is telling this to the king. He does not need man’s opinion; he needs to know what God says. And that’s what we need also. So Moses is giving these instructions, because the king will need this in order to lead the people.
Some may be thinking, “But I don’t lead anybody. I don’t have a spouse. I don’t have kids. I’m not captain of the team. I’m not a manager; I’m just an employee. So this doesn’t apply to me.”
But if this is good enough for a king, it’s good enough for us. In these words, we find out God’s mind and heart. And regardless of my position in life, or of my lack of leadership in life, I need to know what God desires. And what God desires is that if the king will be leading His people, the king needed the Word of God. We need the Word of God.
What I am sharing with you is simple. And it will save you thousands in therapy costs. Read the Word of God and obey it. Then watch what happens. Watch what God does.
So, verse 18 says, “Write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.” The king is to copy the Law. Then verse 19 says, “And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life.” So it is to be a constant companion, and it is to be a constant consideration. The king wasn’t just to make his own copy and put it in the royal library. It wasn’t to be put in some museum.
One of the major benefits of technology is that I can have God’s Word available to me in an instant on my phone or tablet. I can be anywhere and in a matter of moments, I’ve got access to the Bible. That’s a wonderful thing. So you can have the Word of God with you at all times. And living in this country, we have free access to the Word and can gather to study the Word of God. Not everybody has that. Some countries have underground churches, sneaking around in order to study the Word.
Then the Word is also to be a constant consideration for the king: “He shall read it all the days of his life.” That’s what it is for.
I got saved when I was 20. Up until that time I was told I was a Catholic, but I was a terrible Catholic. I went to the Catholic church for weddings, funerals, baptisms and every event that involved food. I also went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve in Latin. I didn’t have a clue what the man was saying. All I knew is that it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I thought, Here I am suffering through this mass, which seems to be hours long, but I’m gaining points with God. I was raised to believe that the Bible is a book that could only be understood by the priests.
Then when I was in high school, I walked into a barn, which was Calvary Chapel, San Bernardino. Pastor Miller used to preach in a barn. The people there had their Bibles opened. Some were writing inside their Bible and highlighting passages! Stickers and notes. I was dumbfounded! You’re not supposed to do that! It’s supposed to be a book that is revered. And it was, but it also is a book that is meant to be opened up and read by the common people. Our brothers and sisters throughout history have bled and died so we can have the Bible on our laps. That’s incredible!
And when I saw this happening, I learned from this preacher-surfer guy on the stage that the Word of God was meant to be read and understood. I had barely graduated from high school; I had all Ds with the exception of one A—that was in Freshman English—but even I could read and understand it!
There is no better education than the diligent, deliberate, daily discipline of reading God’s Word. J. C. Ryle said, “Knowledge of the Bible never comes by intuition. It can only be obtained by diligent, regular, daily, attentive reading.” Some of us think we’re going to learn the Bible through osmosis. The Bible sits on the shelf, or we slide it under our pillow at night. Somehow we think it will soak into our brain. That’s not going to happen. I must apply myself to it.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul said, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” “Meditate” means that you read God’s Word and then you consider it, you think about it, you let it soak in. Reading the Bible without meditating on it is like eating without swallowing.
And Paul went on to tell Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:15, “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.” A consistent diet of reading God’s Word will produce progress in my life. And some of us need to progress, so what we need is a consistent diet of the Word of God.
A. W. Tozer said, “The Word of God, well understood and religiously obeyed, is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few, favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
What we need is the same thing that this king needed. We need all of God’s Word inside all of us.
Our second, main division is “royal rewards,” from the middle of verse 19-20. Verse 19 starts out with “that.” It means God, through Moses, is giving us a reason. He had just given us some instructions—“Do this, this way.” And He knows that we want to know the reason for everything—“Why? I can do whatever I want.” So He tells them: “That he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes.” “Learn” is the keyword here. It’s our first of two points under “royal rewards.”
It was Seneca, the Roman philosopher, who said, “No man is good by chance; virtue is something which must be learned.”
And what will I learn by reading the Word of God, by having this consistent, daily diet of God’s Word? We get our answer in verse 19: “…that he may learn to fear the Lord his God.” So it is “to fear the Lord.” This is our first subpoint. And what does it mean, “to fear the Lord his God”? He’s not talking about being afraid of God. We should have some sense of being afraid of God in that we understand He is all-powerful and could snatch the life out of us at any moment. However, here Moses is talking about respecting or honoring God. Understand who He is and give Him His rightful place.
So why should we learn to fear the Lord? Psalm 11:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments.” I need wisdom. That’s what we’re talking about in our text. He is telling this king how to access wisdom.
Good leadership is at an all-time low. And that is because wisdom is at an all-time low. Wisdom is being exercised at every level, whether in retail or in the political arena, but the problem is that it is worldly wisdom. Worldly wisdom is self-serving and others-sacrificing. You see it every day. But in stark contrast, godly wisdom, Biblical wisdom is self-sacrificing and others-centered. Servant leadership is the Biblical model.
We all have or know of bosses who sit in their offices and pointed out things for you to do with an attitude of “Move along now; go get it done.” They never roll up their sleeves and get in the trenches with you to help you out. Biblical servant leadership rolls up its sleeves, gets in there with you and serves alongside you. That’s what godly wisdom develops. A leader exercising godly wisdom is going to be a servant leader.
So we are going to learn to fear the Lord through reading His Word. What a wonderful thing!
Along with fearing the Lord, we are also instructed, in verse 19: “Be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes.” So I said that I’m going to learn to fear the Lord and follow the Law. Following the Law is our second subpoint. The Law of God is synonymous with the Word of God. So by reading God’s Word consistently, by having a daily diet of God’s Word, I am going to learn to fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. I need that. But I’m also going to learn how to follow the Law—how to read it and obey it.
This is how you can save a lot of money on therapy costs: read the Word and then do it. If you read the Word and obey it, you will begin to see your life change—drastically and dramatically. Sometimes the change takes place quickly and sometimes slowly, but you will see your life begin to be transformed by the Word of God.
Going back to Deuteronomy 5:29 we see the mind and heart of God. And it is heartbreaking. It seems that God gets candid with Moses. God speaks plainly from His heart and mind. God, speaking to Moses, says, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” God says He wants His people to fear Him and obey Him, and He tells them the reason why: then He can bless them so much.
I think of my four kids, who are older now, and of all the things they have done—the hardships they went through—and of the times when they did not ask Dad for help. Sometimes they did. But many times they didn’t ask for help. I would have happily bled for them. I would have given my life for them, had they asked. So I think of all the times they had cheated themselves out of the bit of wisdom that Dad has, out of Dad’s resources. They just wanted to do it themselves.
Then I think of how many times in the last 30 years that I cheated myself out of God’s wisdom and God’s resources, because I just wanted to do it myself. I’d been missing out. I cheated myself. But now I want to learn to fear the Lord and follow the Law.
That’s what pleases God. God just wants us to fear Him and obey Him, so it will be well with us and our children. God just wants to bless His people. But these people would not align themselves with God.
This is why we read through the Bible, through these Old Testament books. We dig and we find these gold nuggets of His Word. So we see what God thinks and what He wants. We need that.
So we learn to fear the Lord, we learn to follow the Law, and the third subpoint is we will learn humility, verse 20. “…that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren.” Again, servant leadership. If you’re in a leadership position, you never want your heart lifted above your brethren. We want to learn humility, which we learn through the Word of God. In James 4:6, James said, “He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” I need grace so I need to humble myself. In Philippians 2, we see a wonderful picture of Jesus humbling Himself. I’m a follower of Jesus, so I need to do the same thing that He did—humble myself.
We also learn, in verse 20, in a dedicated diet of reading God’s Word, “that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left.” So our fourth subpoint is steadfastness. I think that steadfastness is at the heart of all of us; it’s our chief desire. On the outside we look good, but on the inside we’re a mess. You are at Sunday service because you need to be. And you come because you need to serve somebody else. Revival Christian Fellowship is a hospital; it’s where we come to get well. And what we want most of all is to learn to read God’s Word, to simply obey it and to stay steadfast so we don’t turn to the right or left but stick with God’s Word.
And we have learned that a steady diet of God’s Word will produce in us a steadfastness. And not just a steadfastness for anything, but a steadfastness for obedience to God’s Word. We need to learn more of God’s Word because we’re a mess. We need more of God’s Word in our lives, not less of it. We need to know how to think like God. We need to know what He knows and what He wants us to know.
And what do we also get for learning to fear the Lord, following the Law, for humility and steadfastness? It’s long life, verse 20. Our second point under “royal rewards” is long life. “…that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.” What does this mean? When God was sharing this through Moses and giving all these instructions, He was telling the king who would rule in Israel that if he would read God’s Word, obey it as he leads the people, then he would reign for a long time—he and his family—and would be blessed.
But what about us? We’re not royalty. Some of us are leaders, but others are not. So what about the rest of us? It means that a steady diet of the Word of God produces many things in us. At least according to this verse, it preserves our lives. And it also blesses my life in the process.
If you’re a grandparent, your consistency in reading the Word of God is going to be a blessing to your kids and to your grandkids. And you know they need it. Whoever I interact with—family, coworkers, neighbors—it will be a blessing to them the more time I spend in the Word of God.
But it also preserves me. Let me give you an example. Many of you understand that if not for the Bible, some of you would not even be in church. There are some who would have died long ago, because of the choices you made. It was all about self-satisfaction through “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.” That’s how you lived. And if it had not been for the grace of God calling your attention to His Word, and if you had not committed yourself to Him and reading His Word, you would have been gone a long time ago. Some of you have incredible stories of you being dead somewhere—they lost the heartbeat, you were gone—but God brought you back to life.
When I was a teenager, I did not expect to live as long as I have. I had no hope. I had no plans. I had no ambition for anything. I used to go to parties all the time. People would end up fighting and shooting each other, so I thought I’d probably get shot one day at a party. That would be the end of me. But because of the grace of God, He reaches from the “guttermost” to the “uttermost.” He finds us, saves us, gives us His Word to guide and direct our lives. And in doing so, He preserves our lives, because we’re no longer making those stupid decisions that we were making before. Now we have the Word of God to say, “No; you shouldn’t do that.” So we don’t do that. In my obedience to God’s Word, it preserves my life. And in the process, it blesses the people in my life.
Parents, your dedication to the Word of God is blessing your kids. You may not see it right now, but your dedication to consistency in the Word of God is evident to your kids. They won’t say anything, but they’re watching. And at some point, they’ll remember and say, “Mom and Dad were committed to the Word.” They’ll get sick of the “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll” and say, “I need something else. What do Mom and Dad have? They have the Word of God.” So it ends up even being a blessing to your family, to the people around you.
This world is in desperate need of wisdom, and we can only get wisdom through God’s Word. It’s the only way it’s going to come. So I need to make my recommitment to Him, to the reading of His Word. It needs to be near and dear to me.
I have known Pastor Miller for 25 years. We have served together for about 19 or 20 years. When I first walked into Calvary Chapel, San Bernardino, he was teaching the Word of God. And when I got to Revival Christian Fellowship five-and-a-half years ago, he was teaching the Word of God. Does he surf occasionally? Yes. Does he have a wife, kids and grandkids? Yes. But the one thing that stands out about our pastor has been a consistent commitment to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word.
So what you get when you come to Revival Christian Fellowship—from the youngest age in the nursery all the way up to Senior Fellowship—you get all the classes teaching the Word of God. That’s what is transforming us. Everywhere you go in this church, that’s what you’re getting—a commitment to the Word of God.
Pastor Chris Amaro teaches a message through Deuteronomy 17:18-20 titled “Words Fit For A King.”