Book of Deuteronomy Chapter Seventeen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verse 1: "You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep which has a blemish or any defect, for that is a detestable thing to the Lord your God." There is a problem with the command within this verse—which we know by examining history, considering the daily news, or merely looking inside ourselves. Nothing, none of us, whether animal or human, is "without blemish." What is wrong can seem subtle, but the "detestable" in us is seen by Almighty God. This verse then, does not insist on outwardly perfect sacrifices from us or what we might bring because nothing here on earth, is perfect. This verse is a picture, a parable of something, Someone from outside who IS perfect, and yet would become part of what we are; the Sacrifice needed by humanity... Someone utterly without sin who would die in our place. The Sacrifice was to be the Christ, the Messiah, who "has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Hebrews 9:26). He is as utterly perfect as we are not... the Father "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). How can we understand that the God of Justice is also the God of Love?—through Jesus, who was sacrificed for you and me.
Verses 2-5: "If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the Lord your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, by transgressing His covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, 4 and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death." How do we reconcile so much time spent watching TV, sitting in front of a computer, reading something, attending events, talking about essentially nothing, working at some task, and yet having so little time left over to worship God? Where is the line in all this that defines idolatry? The answer is that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). And both our problem and the Solution is seen in the well-known Romans 6:23—"The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Verses 6-7: "On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst." We know today that "witnesses" can include not only those who saw what we did and are willing to testify about it, but also it can be the blood on a weapon and on our clothing. DNA is a new tool in the search for justice, along with forensic evidence of all kinds. God sees something deeper than deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) when He looks at our lives... He sees our motives, and even our thoughts convict us in the sight of the God of justice. He sees "anger" and angry outbursts as a form of murder (Matthew 5:21-22). He views "lust" as a form of adultery (Matthew 5:28)—divorce and remarriage can be, in His view, adultery (Matthew 5:32). God Himself is a Witness against us and so is the second witness, Scripture, "the Word of God (which) is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13). God is just, we are not, and so we need a perfect Sacrifice, given for us—the Lord Jesus Christ. God's Justice is revealed by faith in the Lord who died to save us.
Verses 8-11: "If any case is too difficult for you to decide, between one kind of homicide or another, between one kind of lawsuit or another, and between one kind of assault or another, being cases of dispute in your courts, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 9 So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them and they will declare to you the verdict in the case. 10 You shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the Lord chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. 11 According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left." The judicial system set up for Israel had a lot of similarities to the judiciary in many parts of the world today. However, here in the Law we find that Israel's courts of appeal included Levitical priests. Today's theory of government in many parts of the world is that the courts, including appellate courts should be secular, not religious. Whatever your feelings or mine about religious involvement in government, the emphasis in these verses includes an implied assumption that the Levitical priest or other judge would look to the Lord for decisions. The victim's family and/or the parties to a lawsuit would then abide by the judge's decision. I often remember Proverbs 21:1—"The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." God brings justice to this world. Even our bad decisions, including those made by a king, priest or judge, will someday be revealed to contain good outcomes because God makes it so (Romans 8:28).
Verses 12-13: "The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13 Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again." We don't want the rejection of law to fill our land because anarchy does lead to chaos and many die because of it. The priest, the judge and others who legislate our lives will make sometimes good and sometimes bad decisions that affect us deeply, but citizens rioting and looting in stores and in the streets likely hurt the innocent as much and often more than the guilty. At such chaotic times, at all times actually, we need to offer "supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks...for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, for there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Prayer has the potential to bring your nation back from the edge of disaster and blessedly lead many to Christ.
Verses 14-15: "When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ 15 you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman." God knows the future and a key reason is that He is already there. He knew that Israel would later demand a king in order to escape theocracy and be "modern" like the nations around them. Today we look to parliaments and presidents. The "old" days of kings and tyrants didn't work out so well. We actually need the Lord and we always did. He is the one who offers JUSTICE like no other, but the problem is that we have looked to Him legalistically instead of from the heart. We have too often sought religion that has divided us instead of faith in the Lord that saves us. In relation to Israel, God was dealing with THAT nation which He created out of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and its leaders were not to be "foreigners" but instead descendants of their forefathers, and them only.
Verses 16-17: "Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, 'You shall never again return that way.' 17 He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself." By the time we come to Solomon in Scripture, we find that each facet of these verses was being violated by the kings, princes and all others who lived in the Court of the King. Horses, often obtained in Egypt, were common, the king was expected to have a harem, and rulers bragged about the amount of gold and silver they possessed. God gives good advice to all, and when our hearts are prompted in a certain way to do or not do a particular thing—act as the Lord leads you! Your life will be better when you decide to trust in Him.
Verses 18-20: "Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel." 2 Timothy 2:15 is clear instruction for leaders and all who are in authority, along with all those who are not: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." The Bible, the Word of God, or the "word of truth" as it is called in 2nd Timothy, is ignored and even banned in many countries. Substitute literature, including writings of various religions may be allowed while the Bible is not. The "law" in these verses of Deuteronomy, includes the first four Books written by Moses, along with this fifth book we are studying right now. One of the future kings of Israel was David, who wrote about the "law" this way: "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple..." (Psalm 19:7). You need the Lord and the Bible is about Him. Justice calls from its pages.
God of Justice, rescue me. I have done what I should not do, and I am sorry. Please forgive me. I place my trust in the Perfect Sacrifice, whose Name is Jesus Christ. I am Yours, Lord. In Jesus Name. Amen.