I was recently asked to work on a rather strange project – a web site dedicated to teaching the Bible through limericks. Yes, limericks – commonly known to be the lowest form of poetry. While I was certainly glad to work on the project and to help the poet bring his ministry to a wider audience, I secretly doubted that anyone could really learn anything from a limerick.
I was wrong. As I was inputting a limerick the other day I learned something. It was something that fascinated me too. This particular poem was about King Solomon and reflected on whether he really understood the law of God.
The passage the poet pointed to in his explanation was Deuteronomy 17:18. Allow me to share a few verses from that chapter:
“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. 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, 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.”
Imagine that. When a new king was appointed, one of his first tasks was to transcribe for himself a copy of the law. A search through various commentaries has revealed disagreement as to whether this included only the book of Deuteronomy or whether it included all of the books of Moses. Those who believe it was only Deuteronomy point to the fact that this book serves as an abstract of the moral and judicial law and this would have been of greater importance to the king than the books of Leviticus and Numbers which were concerned chiefly with the ceremonial law. On the other hand, those who believe that he had to transcribe the whole of the Pentateuch show correctly that these books provide a foundation for the entire system of beliefs. I don’t suppose we will ever know with any sense of certainty. But that matters little for the purpose of this decree is abundantly clear.
It is not as if the king did not already have access to the law. Certainly he would have had many copies he could have turned to. There would have been copies available from the priests as well as the copies previously transcribed by his forefathers. So he did not have to write the law due to necessity, as if this is the only way he could have access to the words of God. It is also important to note that he would have had full access to scribes who could have done the writing for him. As king he would have had any number of options for having the law made available to him.
That the king had to engage in this laborious and time-consuming task, which surely would have taken many months of work, shows the emphasis of God upon obedience to His Word. While the affairs of the kingdom would have been pressing against the new king, God commanded that he dedicate the first portion of his time to writing the words of the law. Before he could commence his work as leader, he had to dedicate himself to knowing and understanding the law of God.
How often do we, who have far less responsibility than the king of a nation, prioritize worldly concerns over the study of Scripture? Do we dedicate ourselves to knowing and understanding Scripture in the same way God commanded these kings? God does not command us to transcribe the Bible (thankfully, as there is much more of it now than there was when Moses wrote Deuteronomy), but perhaps it would be of great benefit to us if He did.
Recently my friend Bill has been journaling his way through Psalm 119, transcribing the biblical words and then rewriting them in his own words. You can see an example here. Bill will undoubtedly soon have a deep and lasting understanding of this Psalm as a reward for his diligence. Imagine the benefit to the king of Israel in transcribing whole books!
Let’s return to our passage. It continues, “And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life.” The king was not to merely put away his document to serve as a memorial to his hard work – a trophy to stand as a way of legitimizing his reign. Far from it. God commanded that he continue to read this version of the law for the rest of his life. As long as he was king, he was to continually return to the law, lest he forget the commands of God.
There are not many homes in North America that do not have at least one Bible in them. But it is not enough to have a Bible. Unless it is being diligently read and studied, it is of no benefit. Many years ago I watched the movie Without A Clue, a spoof on Sherlock Holmes. At one point a woman visited Holmes’ apartment and asked if he had a Bible. He said that he did, and that he always kept it as his bedside. He then ran to his room to fetch the Bible where it was serving to prop up the short leg of his bed. Many people have little more respect than this for the Word of God. Unless it is continually circulating in the heart of the Christian, the Word is of little effect.
The passage concludes with God’s reasoning behind requiring the king to continually read the law. “…That he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them.” By immersing himself in the law of God, the king would be empowered by God to keep and do the laws, thus bringing honor to the Lord. The law of God stirs the heart to fear God. The fear of the Lord is not a terror brought about by distrust of God’s character or purposes, but is an understanding of His awesome perfection, grace and holiness that manifests itself in a life of praise, thanksgiving and worship. We cannot have any of this if we do not know Him.
The application of these verses to our lives is clear. Know the Word of God. Do not merely read it, but diligently study it, allowing it to penetrate deeply within your heart. In that way you can have assurance that you will learn to fear the Lord, to keep the words of His laws and statutes, and to do them.