Chapter 17

DEUTERONOMY CHAPTER 17

Forbidden Worship (Continued from chapter 16)

        • Do not sacrifice an ox or sheep to the Lord your God that has any blemish or defect because that would be detestable to Him.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “A sick or defective animal had little monetary value, so it was no sacrifice to surrender it to the Lord.”

          • Guzik adds, “Israel did not always live up to this standard: And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 1:8)…David powerfully illustrated the idea behind this commandment when he refused to accept the threshing floor of Araunah as a gift, which David was going to give to the LORD as the place to build the temple. David said, nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24). David understood that if it didn’t cost something, it wasn’t a sacrifice.”

Judicial Procedure for Idolatry

        • When you are living in the towns the Lord your God has given to you, if you hear that someone (either man or woman) is violating His covenant- doing what He considers evil- and is engaging in the forbidden practice of worshiping other gods by bowing down to the sun, moon, or stars, you must conduct a thorough investigation. If what you have heard turns out to be true and this detestable thing has been done in Israel, you must bring the guilty man or woman to the gates of the town and stone them to death.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “A typical town in ancient Israel was small (about 10 acres or less) and crowded. It had few open areas except for a plaza just inside or outside the main gate where public meetings were held, including trials and other judicial proceedings. The place here is clearly outside of the town because stoning to death would not incur inside the walls (Deuteronomy 22:24; 1 Kings 21:10) except under unusual circumstances (Deuteronomy 22:21).”

        • HCSB adds, “A pluralistic, inclusivist culture finds the religious intolerance exhibited here repulsive. It goes against the idea that each person should be permitted to worship any god he wishes (or none at all), and in any way he wishes. Israel’s covenant community, however, recognized only one God…To a holy God, the worship of other ‘gods’ was a defiant act of rebellion that could not be tolerated.”

        • No one can be sentenced to death on the testimony of only one witness. In order to condemn a person to death there must be at least 2 or 3 witnesses to testify to their guilt. These witnesses are to cast the first stones, then the rest of the people will join in. This is how you must purge the evil from among you.

        • The instruction for witnesses to throw the first stones guarded against unfounded allegations. False testimony carried serious consequences. Requiring a witness to take the leading role in an execution helped guarantee the reliability of his testimony; he would personally bear the guilt if he took the life of an innocent person (see John 8:1-11).(NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

Difficult Cases

        • If a case arises in your town concerning someone that has been killed, a lawsuit, or an assault that is too difficult for you to decide, you are to bring the case to the place the Lord your God designates and present it to the Levitical priests and the judge who is presiding at that time. They will hear the case and decide the verdict. You must carry out the verdict they announce and carefully do exactly as they have instructed- not modifying it in any way. Anyone who behaves arrogantly and refuses to listen to the verdict decreed by either the priest or judge who is serving the Lord your God is to be put to death. Everyone else will hear about this and be afraid to act arrogantly. You must purge the evil from Israel.

          • The people would purge the evil from among you by executing those whose sin brought the stain of guilt upon the community of Israel…The effects of evil should not be allowed to fester in the community. Like a cancer, they must be completely eradicated.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

        • Modern readers may cringe at the concept of purging the evil from the Israelite community in (what sounds to us today) via death penalty. This is partially due to the fact that we simply to not take sin seriously enough. Additionally, this is yet another instance in which some individuals see a dichotomy between the “God of the OT” and the “God of the NT.” However, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible includes an excellent commentary under the heading “Purge the Evil”:

            • Sin is so abhorrent to God that it cannot coexist with Him. The same should be true for his people. God is holy, and he expects his people to reflect his holiness (Leviticus 11:45; 19:2). God required severe measures to remove sins and sinners from the covenant community. God offered forgiveness, but only for the truly repentant; those who hardened their hearts could expect God’s judgment- a devouring fire, a purging process that devours sinners and their sins and leaves nothing behind (see Deuteronomy 9:3; 13:5; Isaiah 33:14; Hebrews 12:28-29). Such cleansing is meant to heal the community of believers and deter others from rebelling against the Lord (Deuteronomy 17:13). Early in the OT, God’s judgment among his people was often immediate (see, e.g., Numbers 11:1-3; 16:1-50; Joshua 7). God made his people aware of his demand for obedience and of the penalty for those who did not comply. God’s retribution is now reserved for the future day of judgment, when the sins of the unrighteous and the saints will be exposed and judged (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; 1 Peter 4:5). However, some instances of calamity can be understood as God’s judgment on his disobedient children (e.g., Acts 5:1-11; see 1 Corinthians 11:27-30; James 5:19-20). It is still a ‘terrible’ thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).”

Guidelines for a King

        • When you enter into the land that the Lord is giving to you, have taken possession of it, and have settled in it, and then say ‘We want to appoint a king to rule over us like all the nations around us,’ you must appoint the king the Lord your God chooses. You must only appoint a fellow Israelite- you are not to appoint a foreigner to rule over you.

          • Guzik writes, “God looked forward – some 400 years forward – into Israel’s future, to the time when they would demand a king. God warned them to set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, and that person had to be an Israelite and not a foreigner.”

          • The issue of whether or not God actually wanted a king to rule over Israel is debated. Guzik notes, “It is interesting to consider whether or not God wanted an earthly king over Israel. 1 Samuel 8:6-9, the record of Israel’s demand for king, puts the request for a king in a negative light. One might ask if God really did want Israel to never have an earthly king, and if He wanted them to recognize Him alone as king.”

          • HCSB adds, “Israel was commanded to permit itself no foreign rulers. This is a token of the fact that Israel was a people set apart by the Lord to be- through both declaration and example- His unique representative among the nations. To be ruled by a foreign king would open the door to contamination of Israel’s faith through the influence of pagan religion. Ultimately it would lead to the dissipation of God’s purpose in bringing salvation to all nations through a pure and separated people.”

        • Also, the king is not to amass a large number of horses for himself or send people back to Egypt to buy horses because the Lord has told you that you are never to go back that way again. He is not to take many wives for himself so that they will not lead his heart astray. He is not to accumulate large amounts of silver and gold for himself.

          • This passage is particularly prone to misunderstanding. In context, each of these things are a reference to complete reliance on God- not on human resources one can personally acquire.

        • For example, regarding horses Guzik writes, “The future king of Israel must not put undue trust in military might.” Regarding the command not to return to Egypt to buy horses, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Going there would show a king’s lack of dependence on God, who had redeemed Israel from bondage to Egypt. The best horses were found in Egypt (see 1 Kings 10:28-29).”

        • Guzik adds, “Each of these issues is a matter of balance. The king had to have some military power, but not too much; one wife and certain comforts, but not too much; some personal wealth, but not too much. Such balances are often the hardest to keep.”

        • Does Deuteronomy 17:17 condone or condemn polygamy? Groups on both sides of the aisle cite it as corroboration of their particular belief. However, in light of the context mentioned above, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible entry on this passage seems to me to be the most accurate. The answer is- neither. “Polygamy is neither prohibited nor sanctioned here. This guideline was meant to moderate the practice. In the ancient world, kings married many wives to cement political alliances with other kingdoms, showing trust in human power rather than God’s provision.”

        • The most important take away from this passage, however, is explained in the HCSB commentary, “The command to avoid the amassing of horses and wives was clearly disobeyed by all the kings of Israel, beginning with David and epitomized by Solomon (1 Kings 4:26; 10:26-29; 11:3-4). This is not an example of a contradiction in the Bible. It illustrates the discrepancy between God’s ideal standards and the human incapacity or unwillingness to obey them. Scripture upholds no one as a perfect exemplar of obedience to God’s command, except Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:14; 1 Peter 2:22).”

        • Guzik also takes this opportunity to highlight the very human tendency to justify anything we want to do, even when we know it’s wrong, “Yet, all along, we might see Solomon knowing the commands of Deuteronomy 17, yet deceiving himself by asking the self-justifying questions, ‘How much is ‘multiply’? I can handle this. I haven’t gone too far.’ It might seem self-evident that 700 wives and 300 concubines is multiplying wives to yourself, but one should never underestimate the ability of the human heart to deceive itself in such situations…Each of these three areas reflects the places where many modern Christian leaders fall: In regard to power, pleasure, or money. God’s commands for leaders have not changed; and neither has the need to be on guard against the self-deception in these things which felled Solomon.”

          • When he takes the throne, he must write a copy of these instructions on a scroll while in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must keep this scroll with him and read it daily for his whole life so that he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying these instructions. This will prevent him from exalting himself above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning from these commands so that he and his descendants will rule over Israel for many years.

          • Staying in the word of God was intended to build a reverence for God and a holy life in the king…It is striking to consider that reading a book – the Great Book, the Bible – can keep a person from sin. We may not understand all the spiritual work behind the word of God, but staying in the word will keep one from sin. It has been well written in many Bibles: “This book will keep you from sin. Sin will keep you from this book.” (Guzik)