Deuteronomy 17


‘Do not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw in it, for that would be detestable to him. If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the LORD gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.’ Deuteronomy 17:1-7

Moses begins by speaking about sacrifices given to the Lord, he says that the ‘flawed’ or ‘defected’ animal is an animal which is lame or blind, Leviticus 22:22-24 / Deuteronomy 15:19-23.

We remember this was something God’s people were guilty of during the days of Malachi, Malachi 1:8 / Malachi 1:13-14. To violate the will of God is detestable to Him, that is, God hates it, 2 Samuel 24:24.

Only the best was to be brought before the Lord and since the offerings were to be eaten by the Levites and the people who brought the offering, then it’s reasonable that God would command them not to eat a sickly animal.

Notice that Moses defines ‘evil’ as a ‘violation of his covenant’, this tells us that God’s covenant is a law and when it is violated then sin has occurred, 1 John 3:4. If anyone worshipped other gods, then they were to be punished by stoning to death at the city gate, Acts 7:58 / Hebrews 13:12.

However, this needed to be proved first, with two or three witnesses, Matthew 18:15-20 / 1 Timothy 5:19, to remove any doubt that the accusation wasn’t just gossip or some personal vendetta against the accused.

Notice the hands of the witnesses must be first in putting the guilty person to death, this made certain that no one would be executed for a crime they didn’t commit, John 8:7.

The stoning to death was a community event, as the hands of all the people were also involved, this is done so that the whole town would know the justice of what was being done.

The main thrust of these instructions is that the people ‘purge the evil from among you’. The reason for this command is simply to remove the guilty person from the congregation, they are like leaven, 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, or gangrene, 2 Timothy 2:16-18, that can spread throughout the people.

Law Courts

‘If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the LORD your God will choose. Go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the LORD will choose. Be careful to do everything they instruct you to do. Act according to whatever they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God is to be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. All the people will hear and be afraid and will not be contemptuous again.’ Deuteronomy 17:8-13

Some cases of evil behaviour would be straightforward, that is, the sin has been identified, the two or three witnesses were in place and the guilty person was then stoned to death. Moses here describes some cases which may not be so straightforward, Exodus 18:23-27.

Some cases may have many people speaking testimony that contradicted others. These were cases of bloodshed, that is, cases of murder, there were cases of lawsuits, that is, cases of civil actions, and finally cases of assaults, that is, cases in reference to personal assault.

A person may conclude that a fair judgment can’t be passed upon another due to the confusing situation. And so difficult cases for judgment were to be taken before the priests at the tabernacle and the judges of the land, 2 Chronicles 19:4-11.

The priests and judge of the land would hear the matter and give a judgment as God had ordained or authorised them to do, Exodus 18:26. When these men’s judgment came, all were to pay attention to the decision.

Once the verdict was delivered by the priests and or judge of the land it was to be respected. The priests and judge may decide to release a man or woman from the error that is charged after hearing all the evidence.

The priests and judge may determine to give the sentence of death. Whatever the judgment of these men is it was to be respected by all, Hebrews 13:17 / 1 Peter 5:5.

Anyone bringing the difficult case before the priests and judge may not agree with their judgment and refuse to kill the guilty or refuse to save the life of the one judged innocent.

Such a person who acts contrary to God’s priests or judge of the land is to be killed himself. Why? Because they too have now proved to be rebellious against God’s will, John 8:7.

The King

‘When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. 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. 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 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 17:14-20

Israel were to be a theocracy that was ruled by God as the sole monarch and He would rule through the law of commandments that were given on Mount Sinai.

It appears that God knew that Israel would have a desire to be like the nations around them in having a physical king, 1 Samuel 8:6-9. In the future days of Israel would see a king over the people like the nations around them, they certainly wouldn’t be a foreigner but their king would be chosen by God Himself.

This was the case when God anointed those whom He chose to be kings in Israel, 1 Samuel 10:24 / 1 Samuel 16:11-13 / 2 Samuel 5:1-3 / 2 Kings 9:1-13.

Notice the terms and conditions of God’s choosing, first of all, they must follow God’s rules, that is, they weren’t to put their trust in their military strength, by multiplying the amount chariots, 1 Kings 4:26, horses, 1 Kings 10:28, and their king wasn’t to even think about leading Israel back to Egypt.

The king was also forbidden from having many wives, Exodus 34:16 / 1 Kings 11:3, too much silver and gold, 1 Kings 10:23 / 1 Timothy 6:17, simply because these things would turn them away from God.

The king must also fully respect God’s laws, this is seen in that they must have a written copy of the law handy and read it all the days of his life.

The king was to ‘revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees’. In other words, just as the people who witnessed and participated in the stoning of an evil person would become fearful, Deuteronomy 17:13, the king was to fear God by keeping His commandments, 2 Timothy 2:15 / 1 Peter 2:17.

Finally, the king wasn’t to think too highly of himself and turn away from God’s law. If he did everything God commanded then he and his descendants would enjoy a long reign.

Jamieson, in his commentary, says the following.

‘In this passage, Moses prophetically announced a revolution which should occur at a later period in Israel’s history. No sanction or recommendation is indicated. On the contrary, when the popular clamour had effected such a constitutional change in the theocracy by the appointment of a king, the Divine disapproval was expressed in the most unequivocal terms, 1 Samuel 8:7.’

Go To Deuteronomy 18


"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."