When he [the king] sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. [Deuteronomy 17:18-19 (NLT)]
When I was in elementary school, the homeroom teacher would give us a list of spelling words to learn by Friday. Along with the week’s words, there usually was a spelling rule to learn which would help us spell them. Surely you remember the old maxim, “It’s i before e, except after c, or when sounded as a as in neighbor and weigh!” Applying that rule helped us know how to spell words like siege, yield, ceiling and rein.
Our spelling homework included writing the week’s words at least ten times. Just writing the words, however, was not enough to learn them so, in preparation for Friday’s spelling test, my mother made me spell them for her every night. This was long before spell-check and auto-correct, so spelling was important and we were expected to remember how to spell those words forever (or at least until the end of the year).
The book of Deuteronomy was written to remind the Israelites of what God had done in the past and to guide them in their future conduct once they reached the Promised Land. Although we know from 1 Samuel that God did not want the people to have an earthly king, in His omniscience, God knew they eventually would insist on having one. As a result, in Deuteronomy 17, we find instructions for any future kings of Israel. As part of their training, each new king was to write a copy of the law on a scroll. Whether this was to be the entire book of Deuteronomy or only the principles for godly living found in Moses’ second address (Deuteronomy 5 through 29), we don’t know. Either way, without scanner or copier, this was a tedious task; the king had to do it himself and in the presence of the priests.
Just as writing spelling words was to fix them in my mind, copying the law was to imprint its message on the king’s mind. Simply copying the words, however, was not enough. In the same way I continued to study those words after copying them, the king was to keep his copy of the law with him at all times and to read the words he’d written daily. Then, just as I was supposed to apply spelling principles to any new words I encountered, the kings were expected to apply God’s word to the way they ruled the kingdom. All that copying and reading were worthless if God’s regulations didn’t guide every decision they made.
Write it, read it, and practice it in life! That’s what children are supposed to do in spelling class and what the kings were supposed to do in Canaan. They may have written and read the law but, as the rest of the Old Testament aptly illustrates, they certainly didn’t do a good job of applying it. Let’s learn from their mistakes. Study God’s word but remember that it does no good to be able to recite every chapter and verse if we fail to apply its truth to our lives!
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. [Søren Kierkegaard]