Deuteronomy 17:14-20 outlines for the nation of Israel some necessary qualifiers for a king to reign over them. This book of the Bible supplied a restatement of the Law for the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the promised land of Canaan. Deuteronomy exhorts the people of Israel to obey the Law, to give allegiance to God alone, and to remember that repentance can restore them to the land and to relationship with God-if lost. This particular passage foresees a time when Israel will demand a king to be like the nations around her.
There are two primary concerns for any king of Israel: that his heart not turn away from serving Yahweh and that his heart might not be lifted up above those whom he leads. In summary, the concerns are for an unconsecrated heart and a proud heart. These should be our deep concerns too as we lead.
What is crucial here is to think with a Hebrew understanding of the word “heart.” We relegate this concept to mere emotions. The Hebrew understanding of the “heart” is more holistic. It includes the mind, will and emotions. The heart is our governing center-it is that part of us that chooses all day, every day-either for good or for bad.
v.17 states, And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. Let’s be honest, these are two things that men are always susceptible to-the love of women and the love of money. But women leaders can struggle likewise. A preoccupation with money or material things and men can also turn their hearts away from a single minded focus. These pursuits have great potential to turn any heart away from a pure devotion to God. King Solomon may be the greatest biblical example of this (see 1 Kings 11:1-3). An unconsecrated heart becomes an independent heart. Even the exhortation to not seek many horses (v. 16) was meant to sustain a pure national identity and a holy dependence on God alone. To say it conversely, a consecrated heart is one in full dependence upon the Lord.
v.18-19 exhort the king to keep a copy of God’s Law close by and to read it all the days of his life. This was to keep him with a right reverence for God and 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 or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. The writer ties not only a humble spirit to the constant reading of God’s Word, but also leadership longevity.
You see, for the Christ-centered leader, if our hearts become unconsecrated-if our hearts turn away from a determined pursuit of God and His kingdom-then we risk the same fate as Solomon-a broken and divided kingdom. If our hearts become proud then we become only self interested. We are no longer in a good position to serve those we are meant to lead. We will serve ourselves. And our leadership lives will be cut short.
Consecration and humility-these were necessary requirements for he who would be king in Israel. These are also worthy heart pursuits maintained by the grace of the gospel for any spiritual leader today.