When a king 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. 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 brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left.
Here in Scripture is an epochal moment in the history of the world and the history of political thought: a king is not a law unto himself, but is himself subject to the law of God! Keep in mind that today’s Scripture text comes 1,000 years before there was a semblance of democracy in Athens, and over 2,600 years before any reigning in of kingly power by the Magna Carta. High atop Mount Sinai the divine lawgiver decrees kings and rulers must bow before God’s moral law. They must be the protector of people’s God-given rights.
Imagine how this scene was to play out in ancient Israel. A king’s first official act after coronation was to “write for himself” a copy of divine law handed down on Sinai. Then the king was compelled to keep that law with him to study it “all the days of his life” so that “he does not consider himself better”, or turn from the ways of justice. Thus the maxim has come down to us of lex rex, the law is king. It is not rex lex that the king is law. The state’s sovereign must bow before the law of God.
This is one of the things that make the United States of America exceptional and unique in the modern world. This is the only nation founded on the principal that God’s law trumps all human law. Our Declaration of Independence from King George begins with an appeal to the higher law of “self-evident truths” about “certain inalienable rights” granted by our “Creator” and “Nature’s God”. This carefully reasoned argument, based on the laws of God, runs throughout the Declaration; the argument concludes by “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World” and “firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence”. The founders acted with overriding awareness that all will be called to give account before the Supreme Judge of the World. It is God’s law that is king.
It is remarkable and noteworthy that the document most often quoted by our nation’s founders was the Bible. The book of the Bible they most often quoted was Deuteronomy, from which today’s Scripture text is drawn. They pored over the sacred text for insight as to how a just and virtuous nation is established. They pondered self-evident truths available to all people about inalienable rights granted by the Creator. They knew that God’s moral law had been written across all human hearts, just as the Apostle Paul had written about to the Romans (Romans 2:14).
What then are today’s leaders to do when God’s moral law is ruled irrelevant in public discourse, and the Bible and Ten Commandments are removed from the public square! All that is left for a secularized America to do is to surrender to Washington, state assemblies, and opinion polls an authority that belongs to God alone.
James Madison, “the Father of the Constitution” and our nation’s fourth president, wrote in a letter to the provost of the University of Pennsylvania: “The belief in a God All Powerful wise & good is so essential to the moral order of the World & the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources.”
I know we are told not to discuss religion or politics, but isn’t that just what we need to be talking about at this critical hour! It’s time for us, like the founders, to unashamedly and politely talk of a “God All Powerful and wise & good” before whom we will be summoned. If we do not, then we will continue to watch Madison’s “moral order” crumble before our eyes! Heaven help us! Yes, heaven help us! Amen.
For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our ruler,
the LORD is our king; he will save us.”
Grace and peace,
photo by wallyg