14 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”….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 priests, who are Levites. 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 brothers 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, 18-20
On the fourth of July, 1776, after conducting some other rather important business, the Second Continental Congress appointed John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to “bring back a device for a seal of the United States of America.”
Franklin proposed for the seal that they adapt the biblical story of God parting the Red Sea for the Israelites. Jefferson suggested that the seal be “the Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by Cloud by Day, and a Pillar of fire by night.”
Jefferson eventually embraced Franklin’s proposal and rewrote it for presentation to the Congress, that the seal for the United States of America be the Lord God leading the Children of Israel through the Red Sea. While another theme was eventually chosen for the seal, the story of the Lord leading His people played a formative role in our founders’ thinking. They believed that the Lord had led and blessed them and that the Hand of Providence was at work in the nation’s founding.
Today’s text from Deuteronomy was an critical for the founders as they considered the role of a chief executed and other elected officials. God’s command that each new king should “write for himself a copy” of God’s law meant for the founders that leaders and citizens should be fluent in the Scriptures. Thus they promoted public education so that children could be taught to read the Bible. Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Dartmouth were established to train ministers of the Gospel.
Our founders were convinced that through the knowledge of the Bible that an elected leader or citizen would “not consider himself better than his brothers….and then he and his descendants will reign a long time” (Deuteronomy 17:20). They were convinced that this was the way to true brotherhood, community, and lasting prosperity.
Let us fervently pray that our nation and leaders will return to this faith in the Providence that governs nations, and let us exalt the Scriptures to their rightful place in our land!
Grace and Peace, Tim Smith