18 And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 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 hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 (ESV)
In 1550, the Ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor reported from England that the young King Edward VI took great delight in the most enthusiastic Protestant preachers. Edward not only encouraged longer sermons, he increased their frequency, while requiring all members of the royal court to attend. He was determined that his own life, and that of the court around him, would be shaped by the Word of God.
The integrity called for in this passage from Deuteronomy is a beautiful harmony between head and actions, between convictions and policies. The Israelite king is both to learn and do. As God’s Word works in him, God will work through him. As the text makes clear (v. 20) leadership is not simply about external appearances and public image: it is a concern of the heart. The success of the king depends on his commitment and response to God’s Word. Thus tempered by the Lord, he has no taste for arrogance or the cult of celebrity; his heart is “not lifted up above his brothers” (v. 20).
Ungodly leadership is a devastating cancer at the heart of any society—ancient or modern. Leaders who submit to God will bring the blessings of Josiah (2 Kings 22-23); the rebellious will bring down the curse of Jeroboam (1 Kings 13-14). Political theorists tend to focus on the type of government. The Scriptures are much more concerned with its character. Where godly character is sidelined, God’s laws are neglected, and the nation declines. Government should be in the hands of men whose hearts are in the hands of God.
Pastors have the great privilege of modeling devotion to the Word of God. As they rejoice in the fear of the Lord, and do the things that God commands, they blaze a trail for Christian political leaders to follow. It is the height of wisdom to appreciate the value of a good example. As leaders in the Church live and proclaim that which is true, they can hope to lead the nation, as well as the Church, in paths of righteousness.