18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)
The first thing a king of Israel would do when he took the throne was sit down and write “for himself on a scroll a copy of this law.” This guaranteed at least two things: first, that the king be able to read and write (a valuable skill in the ancient world, and not necessarily a given); and two, that the king be familiar with God’s word.
Side note: I personally think every elected official in this country should be required to write a copy of the US Constitution for themselves the day they take office. For all the times they seem to ignore it, I can’t help but think many of them don’t know what it says!
Tragically, this tradition didn’t seem to be followed all that often. Throughout Israel’s sad history of the monarchy, there seem to have been more kings that didn’t know God’s word than did. Many of Solomon’s actions, for example, were everything Deuteronomy 17 said not to do. Compare 17:16-17 to the life of Solomon recorded in 1 Kings:
|Verse 16: The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, ||26 Solomon also had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen. (1 Kings 4:26)|
28 And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. (1 Kings 10:28)
|Verse 17: He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.||Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh… from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 3 He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. (1 Kings 11:1-3)|
|Verse 17: He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.||All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. (1 Kings 10:21)|
There was a great disconnect between what Solomon wrote down and what he lived out. Maybe he didn’t understand the assignment. God didn’t say, “Write down the law for yourself.” The language is precise: “Write for yourself on a scroll a copy of THIS Law.” Let’s take that phrase by phrase, starting at the end and working our way backwards:
- This Law: Not just any law, Not your interpretation of the law. Not picking and choosing from other religions, self-help books and civic religion. The law, the whole law, and nothing but the law.
- A copy: When the king made a copy of the law, it wasn’t a forgery. He wasn’t pretending he owned something real that he knew was fake. God’s Word is the most real thing there is, and by copying it down exactly, the king was taking God’s great and precious promises and making them his own.
- On a scroll: God wanted the king to carry the law with him, not engrave it on the walls of his palace. God wasn’t interested in His Word to become a museum piece on display behind a velvet rope. God’s Word is practical and portable.
- For himself: If the king delegated this task to his scribes or slaves, he would have missed the point entirely. This was not about reproducing God’s Word. When we make God’s word our own, it will increase and multiply (see Acts 12:24).
Personalizing God’s Word is about implementation, not interpretation. One of the most useless and dangerous questions a Sunday school teacher or small group leader can ask is, “What does this verse mean to you?” The right question is, “What does this verse mean?” followed by, “What adjustments do you need to make in response to it?”
Before I judge Solomon too harshly, I have to examine my own life. Is there a disconnect between what I read, what I preach, what I’ve memorized, and how I live? Do I live my life in such a way that it is obvious I’ve internalized God’s Word and made it my own? All too often, I fear the opposite is true. What I do says more about what I believe than what I say.