"The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, "You must never return to Egypt.' The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord . And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself. -- Deuteronomy 17: 16-17 (NLT)
The Promised Land lay before the nation of Israel. God was going over the law; what Israel would need to do to ensure the blessings of God and avoid the curses. What they needed to do to ensure a happy and prosperous life. In the key verses we see something very interesting play out. God sees all time, so He knows that even though Israel was a theocracy at this point; that they would eventually demand a king to rule them. Sure enough, centuries later they would. Knowing this, the Lord gives them some brief instruction regarding the actions of the king they would select. These were designed to ensure that the king always kept God first and thus the people would as well.
It is the same way with us today. God reached down into the Egypt where we were slaves and delivered us. Egypt represents the world and the slavery of sin. God then brings us to the edge of our Promised Land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey and all the goodness God intends for us. Before we enter however, He has some guidance for us, just like He did for Israel in the Book of Deuteronomy. There is some modern day theology that continues to seek to bury the law from our sight and that is dangerous. There is a blurring of the lines between the issue of salvation and the issue of sanctification. We need to make sure we are clear. No one can keep the law. Christ came to save us from judgment based upon the law. It is only by the grace of God and the blood of Christ that we have eternal life. That said, Jesus Himself warned us that he did not come to abolish the law or replace it:
"Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God's laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. -- Matthew 5: 17-19 (NLT)
Christ is still calling for us to obey God's laws and to teach them -- not this new theology that ascribes everything to the cross by seeking to remove our own personal responsibility. Are we going to be successful in keeping the law? Of course not but that is why we are assured salvation by the work of Christ on the cross. But here is the truth we need to wrap our heads around. If we were able to keep the law 50% of the time we would have 50% less heartache and misery than someone who ignores it altogether. So let us look at the specific instructions God gives in the key verses for the eventual king and how they directly relate to what we need to follow as well.
The first instruction is that we must never return to Egypt, nor build up stables of horses from Egypt. Horses in this time were a sign of military strength and superiority. The country that had the most horses usually was the more powerful country. So what is God saying here? To the future king he is saying to not rely upon what you perceive as military strength -- rely upon me. Do not return to the very place that God saved Israel from. Do not return to the site where you were slaves for 400 years. Fast forward to King Solomon and we see that he did not follow this guidance:
Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his horses and chariots, and he had 12,000 horses. He stationed some of them in the chariot cities, and some near him in Jerusalem. He ruled over all the kings from the Euphrates River in the north to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt in the south. The king made silver as plentiful in Jerusalem as stone. And valuable cedar timber was as common as the sycamore-fig trees that grow in the foothills of Judah. Solomon's horses were imported from Egypt and many other countries. -- 2Chronicles 9: 25-28
This is where compromise starts. It starts with the small things. The seemingly inconsequential things. The things that can be easily rationalized with human wisdom. Solomon was the son of King David, surely he knew the Word. When he first started he asked God only for wisdom in ruling over His people. But somewhere along the way to his great success, he started to cut corners on the Word of God. What's the big deal if we import some horses? What's the big deal if we make peace with Egypt? It's not like it is the same Egypt from hundreds of years ago!
We do the same thing. God tells us when we are saved to not go back into the things of this world that He has saved us out from. Do not put our hope, faith, or plans in the things of this world. When we seek worldly solutions for our problems we are importing horses from Egypt even though God has said not to. When we compromise with the world and allow its leaven to infect our churches we are importing horses from Egypt even though God has warned us not to. This is where the slippery slope of compromise begins. This is where we start relying upon our own abilities and logic rather than what God has already instructed us to do and not do.
The second command is that the king must not take many wives because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. Realize it does not have to be wives per se, but things that distract us from God. In the case of Solomon it was actual wives:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh's daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, "You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.' Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord . -- 1Kings 11: 1-3 (NLT)
When we start down the road of compromise this is how it progresses. Sin begets more sin. David started by only lusting after Bathsheba but ended up a murderer. Solomon only started with some horses. Some minor disobedience to the Word of God but soon he was accumulating hundreds of wives from foreign countries including the daughter of Pharaoh! God specifically warned him what would happen but once you start relying upon your own logic, developing your own rationalizations, and compromising what God has specifically said -- there is always an end result contrary to what God intends for us:
In Solomon's old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord 's sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. On the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, he even built a pagan shrine for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moab, and another for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. Solomon built such shrines for all his foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods. -- 1Kings 11: 4-8 (NLT)
In the case of Molech the sacrifices were often children. Solomon had started out with the best of intentions but in the end his compromises built upon each other and soon he was completely out of the will of God. In our lives as well we need to be cautious of where the small compromises lead us. We may not end up with 700 wives but we certainly can continue to allow more and more of the world into our lives with very astute rationalizations and human wisdom while God gets less and less of our attention and worship. Solomon probably thought that he was doing the right thing by making peace with all of these countries and sealing the peace agreements by marrying the daughters of their kings but regardless of what we might think -- God has already instructed us! I have seen and heard some whopper rationalizations in my time in the church. Most of the modern church growth schemes are nothing more than compromises to the Word of God. A little bit here and a little bit there. Next thing you know we are constructing a building instead of building a kingdom.
Lastly, God says that the king should not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself. It is interesting that the three main warnings God makes are against power, lust and money. The allure of wealth has always been a dangerous one because it ties value to the temporal instead of the eternal. We start to value the things of this world more than the things of God. This world sells us on the notion that money brings happiness while the Bible says that fullness of joy is in His presence. The rich young ruler approached Jesus talking about the eternal but left clinging to what he truly valued -- money. It is not like God has not sufficiently warned us about this: