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D'varim/Deuteronomy 17:15 ... you shall surely set over you a king whom the L-rd your G-d shall choose.
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We might be forgiven for wondering what this text is all about given the ruckus kicked up by the prophet Samuel when Israel asks for a king in 1 Samuel 8. Here's the context of our text: "If, after you have entered the land that the L-RD your G-d has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, "I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me," you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the L-RD your G-d" (D'varim 17:14-15, NJPS). When Samuel - who had acted as both judge and prophet in Israel for many years - was getting old and his sons were not walking in the ways ofHaShem, the people asked Samuel: "Therefore appoint a king for us, to govern us like all other nations" (1 Samuel 8:5, NJPS). As almost all the commentators point out, the Torah is not commanding Israel to ask for and appoint a king, it is simply giving permission for them to do so and legislating parameters for who that king may be. Our text lists the first and most important criterion: the king must be a man of G-d's choice.
Nachmanides, who Drazin and Wagner tell us "believed that G-d is involved in everything that occurs on earth, even when a leaf or snowflake falls," explains that this text implies that "G-d is involved in the appointment of every Jewish official, even those who hold lower positions." He bases this on the heavenly voice that spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar - "the Most High is sovereign over the realm of man and He gives it to whom He wishes" (Daniel 4:29, NJPS) - and adds, "as the Sages said, 'Even the water commissioner is appointed from heaven' (b. Berachot 58a)." We might find support for this position from Rav Sha'ul who told the community in Rome, "For there is no authority except from G-d, and those that exist have been instituted by G-d" (Romans 13:1, ESV) and Yeshua's words to Pontius Pilate: "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11, ESV).
Helping us to understand the historical context of and Ancient Near East in the years 1,300-1,000 BCE, Ronald Clements reports that "Human societies simply 'received' their kings as emissaries of G-d, rather than choosing and appointing them ... This assertion maintains the long-standing [ANE] tradition that kings were not humanly appointed but were the subject of divine election."1 Peter Craigie makes an important connection between the choice of king and the choice of the location of the central Israelite sanctuary: "The anticipated king would be divinely appointed; just as the sanctuary's location would be chosen by G-d - "the site that the L-RD your G-d will choose amidst all your tribes as His habitation, to establish His name there" (D'varim 12:5, NJPS) - so too would his royal representative be chosen. The office is dependent neither on popularity nor military strength, it would be filled by a man approved by G-d."2 Once the position is filled, according to Patrick Miller, succession is assumed to hereditary unless someone is removed by G-d: "While dynastic rule is clearly assumed - "... to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel" (17:20, NJPS) - the king must be chosen by the L-rd and the continuation of the dynasty depends on his obedience to the L-rd's requirements."3
So let's look at the text in a little more detail and see what we can learn for today. The earliest commentary on the book of D'varim tells us, "You shall surely set over you - if he dies, appoint another in his place - a king - but not a queen - whom the L-rd your G-d shall chose - through the word of a prophet" (Sifre, Piska 157) and opens the question of how HaShem notifies the Israelites of His choice.Sifrei has just said, "through a prophet"; Ibn Ezra and the Ramban said, "by the priestly Urim"; Chizkuni goes a little further: "by the priestly Urim and Thummim." The Modern Jewish commentators agree. Richard Elliott Friedman writes, "This means that a prophet must designate the king as chosen by G-d. Thus Samuel designated Saul and David, Nathan designates Solomon and Ahijah designates Jeroboam." Citing very similar proofs, Jeffrey Tigay writes, "G-d's choice would be communicated by a prophet. Saul, David and the northern kings Jeroboam and Jehu were chosen in this way (1 Samuel 9:16-17, 10:20-24, 16:1-13; 1 Kings 11:29-39; 2 Kings 9:1-13)." The prophet Hosea criticises Israel, to show that appointment by the people directly, without input from G-d is strongly deprecated: "They have made kings, but not with My sanction; they have made officers, but not of My choice. Of their silver and gold they have made themselves images, to their own undoing" (Hosea 8:4, NJPS). This sets choosing a king without or against G-d's choice at the same level as making idols!
King David, described as "a man after His own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14, ESV), is used as the prime example of a king whom G-d chose, from his anointing as a shepherd boy, the youngest and smallest of the sons of Jesse, to be king over His people Israel. RabbiHirsch eulogises, "This king, David the son of Jesse, in whom the dual phases of Jewish royalty, the sword and the lyre, the of the spiritual capacity of the nation internally, besides the victorious defence of it externally, appeared to such an eminent degree that the Psalmist calls him a 'find' which G-d found for the service of His work: 'I have found David, My servant' (Psalm 89:20, NJPS)." As David was a king who, in spite of his sins and human weaknesses, nevertheless kept Israel true to the worship of HaShem, the Sforno writes, "they should choose only a fit person, chosen by G-d, so that he not lead Israel away from their faith."
David, however, is also used as an exemplar, of the king who is to come, of the one who will fulfil the promise, "David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel" (Jeremiah 33:17, ESV). Rabbi Hirsch again: "The noblest realisation of a Jewish Torah-king will still be a sprout from the stem of Jesse which had apparently been cut down long ago, and a long awaited twig from his root so long hidden by night" in a clear reference to Isaiah 11:1. This king will not only be of Davidic stock, but will be G-d's perfect choice, be full of the Ruach and display divine characteristics: "The spirit of the L-RD shall alight upon him: a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and valor, a spirit of devotion and reverence for the L-RD. He shall sense the truth by his reverence for the L-RD: He shall not judge by what his eyes behold, nor decide by what his ears perceive. Thus he shall judge the poor with equity and decide with justice for the lowly of the land. He shall strike down a land with the rod of his mouth and slay the wicked with the breath of his lips. Justice shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his waist ... In that day, the stock of Jesse that has remained standing shall become a standard to peoples -- nations shall seek his counsel and his abode shall be honored" (Isaiah 11:2-6,10, NJPS).
The Hebrew word for "twig, sprout, shoot" (used in Isaiah 11:1) is and our Jewish people pray for God's 'twig' to be raised up three times each day in the synagogue: "May the offshoot of Your servant David soon flower, and may his [ horn] pride be raised high by Your salvation, for we wait for Your salvation all day. Blessed are You, L-rd, who makes the [ horn] glory of salvation flourish" (Amidah, stanza 15, Aurhotised Daily Prayer, 86-87). Notice how the words for 'twig', 'horn' and 'salvation' - the last pronounced in the same way as the name 'Yeshua' - are repeated. Although they don't correctly recognise Him yet, our people are choosing Yeshua, the branch from the root of David!
Twice during Yeshua's earthly life and ministry, G-d spoke out His choice of Yeshua: at His baptism, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17, ESV); and at the Transfiguration, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" (17:5, ESV), or as Luke records it: "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" (Luke 9:35, ESV). Yeshua is G-d's chosen man, His chosen King for Israel and the nations. Peter describes Yeshua as "a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious" (1 Peter 2:4, ESV), then quotes from Isaiah 28:16 to remind his audience what G-d said of Yeshua, "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame" (v. 6, ESV).
The Scriptures present us with a tension between two well-known positions: that of John Calvin who taught - following Yeshua's own words, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (John 15:16, ESV) - that man (or should that be 'people') is chosen by G-d; and that of Jacob Arminius who taught that G-d reveals Himself to man who has to choose to accept Yeshua as his king: "if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord and believe in your heart that G-d raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9, ESV). Our confession and our belief are forms of choosing. We choose Yeshua, rather than the world or ourselves, as the authority in our lives; we choose to obey Him, live by His standards and carry out His commands in love and worship to Him. And because we choose Him, He chooses us and will never let us go.
1. - Ronald E. Clements, "Deuteronomy" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), pages 969-970.
2. - P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), page 254.
3. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 147.
Further Study: Matthew 10:32-33; Revelation 3:4-5
Application: It's the simplest question in the world, but perhaps one that we neglect to ask ourselves: have we chosen Yeshua? If so, then the follow-on question is this: are we living that choice in everything that we say, do and think every day?
Comment - 14:59 08Sep19 Brian and Anne Nelson: We bow humbly before His Throne of Grace and Mercy in the incredible understanding and acknowledgement of His Holy Word that He, The Almighty Creator would even consider man/you and us, let alone choose and desire to have fellowship with you and us. Thank You, Heavenly Father for such amazing Love. Please help us to walk in Your Love, the only way to be pleasing to you through the righteousness of Messiah Yeshua Hamashiach to His Glory and Honour alone.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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