What God Said It Would Take To Be A Good King

This post is not about the presidential election. While I’d love a president who sought God in these ways, America is not Israel, and comparing that theocracy with this democracy would take a longer blog post (and probably greater acumen) than I have in me today.

This post is about leadership. Specifically, it’s about the expectations God gave through Moses the first time He broached the subject of appointing a king. He starts by saying that He will choose the person, and that the appointee will be one of them, not someone from the outside. He goes on to describe two external signs of internal qualities that a godly king would require. The first is:

Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

-Deuteronomy 17:16-17

The second is:

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.

-Deuteronomy 17:18-20

The first: He must not acquire many horses or wives or silver or gold. The second: He must copy and consider God’s Word. The reasons: “since the Lord has said…lest his heart turn away…that he may learn to fear the Lord…that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment…that he may continue long in his kingdom.”

Now, these aren’t the only things God tells kings to do in the Bible; in fact, He doesn’t even specify that they’re the most important. However, He does single them out early on, and they certainly are important for any king who wants to succeed, and success includes (starts and ends with!) honoring God.

These same aims can help any leader to succeed: Do what the Lord has said, keep your heart fixed on Him, fear the Lord, avoid arrogance, keep the commandments. In fact, these things are success; success starts and ends here. Like the kings, we too have an opportunity to foster these internal qualities by these external practices: Keep your possessions simple. Keep meditating on God’s Word.

To say that this passage “means” that parents, business owners, coaches, teachers, managers, etc. should lead this way would probably to say more than the passage says. Nonetheless, God’s wisdom shines from this commandment about kings, and we would do well to lead in light of it.

One Thing That Happens In The Lord’s Supper

For thousands of years, Christians have argued about The Lord’s Supper (that is, Communion, The Eucharist, whatever your congregation calls it). What did Jesus mean by “this is my body”? How important is it in the Christian life? How often should we practice it? Who can serve it? Who can receive it? Questions abound, many of which are legitimately difficult to disentangle.

Here’s one of the things we do know:

The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this is remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

-1 Corinthians 11:23-25

One of the things we know is that when we drink the cup, we are taking part in “the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.” We’re saying “I’m in” to something unfathomable but specific. We’re saying, “Yes, I want to be, I’m glad to be, I’m grateful to be part of this“:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,”
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.

-Hebrews 8:10-12, quoting Jeremiah 31:33-34

There’s a lot going on in The Lord’s Supper, probably more than we fully understand. Nonetheless, next time you take it, don’t miss the opportunity to recognize that in taking it you’re saying “I’m in,” and that through Jesus Christ, God is saying, “Yes, yes you are.”

Two Things You Might Not Know About Tithing

If you’re familiar with the concept of tithing but haven’t read this passage lately, you might find it a bit shocking (as I did when I first came upon it):

You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.

At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.

-Deuteronomy 14:22-29

Isn’t a “tithe” what you put in the plate? Why does God command them to eat it? Why does God seem to command them to enjoy it?

Here’s another interesting thing about “tithing” in the Old Testament. The word “tithe” comes from “tenth,” which is what the Hebrew word literally means. They would take a tenth of their crops or herds and share it in this way. Oftentimes, we take this to mean that today, as Christians, we should give 10% of our income to the church. Yet, if you read through the Old Testament and look at the all the types of tithes and offerings and gleanings that the Israelites were supposed to give or offer or donate, they were actually supposed to give around 25% of what their work yielded. Here’s a final twist to further complicate that number: In many eras, they probably didn’t pay other taxes for the upkeep of society, so it’s hard to make a 1-to-1 comparison between then and now.

That last part is important: It’s hard to make a 1-to-1 comparison between then and now. We must not be too hasty to assume we know what this passage “means for today.” It probably doesn’t mean that we should stop giving to the church budget and just throw parties. It probably doesn’t mean that we should start putting exactly 25% in the plate or stop paying taxes or stop putting anything in the plate if our taxes amount to 25%. It probably doesn’t mean that we need to become farmers or meet some Levites or take our tithes to Jerusalem.

However, this God is our God, and the passage does tell us this: God’s commandments are not arbitrary. It’s easy to construe tithing (“giving” might be a more fitting term the money we give not being Israelites) as the driest part of following God, not to mention the most transactional. Yet, this passage reminds us that God commanded tithing because He knows and wants what’s best for us. Through tithing, he provided a priesthood. Through tithing, he cared for the poor. Through tithing, he taught his people to make decisions with their possessions that were not ruled by their own desires. He had His reasons, and His reasons are good.

So it is today. God commands Christian giving because He uses Christian giving to provide spiritual leaders, care for the poor, and train the givers to live selfless, satisfying lives. Giving is more than a regulation; it’s an invitation to participate in a different way of life. Likewise our God is more than a rule-giver; He is the great Shepherd of the sheep, who “equips us with everything good that we may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).