Learning Before the King's Throne

By James R. Critchlow, Ph.D.
Ranked Adjunct Assistant Professor in Old Testament
Learning before the throne of God

There are many aspects of discipleship in the Old Testament. The LORD God mentored Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam mentored Eve on their responsibilities. Noah trained his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, in their ark duties. Joshua acted as Moses’ understudy for 40 years.

Deuteronomy 10:12-13 explains what the LORD required of all the people of Israel:

"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (ESV).

The five infinitive constructs (to fear, walk, love, serve and keep) specify what the LORD demanded of Israel. If the people were careful to do these, they would be successful.

But what did the Law given at Mount Sinai by the LORD assert about the leadership of Israel after the period of the Judges and Priests? In Deuteronomy, the LORD gave provisions for the day when Israel would demand a king “like all the nations.” He anticipated the occupation of the land of Israel and the precipitous demand for a king that would occur in 1 Samuel 8. Deuteronomy 17:14-17 provides the template for this future king whom God would choose:

“When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold (ESV).

There are clear stipulations that prevent the king from seeking martial, personal or financial power in horses, marriage alliances or wealth.

The passage continues in 17:18-20, instructing the future king of Israel to write a personal copy of the law under the supervision of the priests. This book was to remain in his personal possession, and its daily study was an essential aspect of his royal duties.

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (ESV).

Just as in Deut. 10:12-13 cited above, the majority of the verbs in this royal prescription are infinitive constructs, functioning as result clauses. These establish the LORD’s desired outcome, i.e., that the king would fear the LORD, keep his Law, do as He instructs and not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn away from the commandments and instructions.

It was for these reasons that the use of the infinitive con- struct was especially revelatory. “In governing his own life by the same Torah that regulates the whole nation, the king reins in his exercise of power.” The priests would be there to ensure proper letter formation and spacing—which might delay the process—particularly if the royal writer made an uncorrectable mistake.

Not only must the king produce the copy (mishneh), he must have it with him and read from it daily. Under the over-watch of the priests, this was probably to be a sched- uled activity. There should be no business that was to displace this practice in the king’s day. Even the time when the king marched out to war was to be preceded by the reading of the Word of God.

It has been my practice to aspire to this Old Testament discipleship pattern. Although I will never be a king, I am in training as a servant of the Great King. I struggle to read the whole counsel of God in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and then record 7-15 verses in my Day-TimerTM. Wherever I go, this copy of the Bible is my companion. It is my daily study, rule, guide and reminder.

I have emphasized the value of daily study of God’s Word for all my students. Nothing should ever displace this practice. No exam, sermon, project or event should displace our time in the Word of God. For those who have gone well beyond their educational years, this principle is still in force. God desires us to know His Word. He wants to speak to us through His revelation. Whether we use the original or a modern language, this directive for leadership was appropriate for ancient Israelite kings. It is also good for King’s kids.

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