Though the Lord was the leader of the Israelites, He predicted a time when His people would desire to have a human king to rule over them. He both predicted and permitted this, commanding, “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses” (Deuteronomy 17:14).
In the verses following Deuteronomy 17:14, we find several insights that can provide wisdom for the selection of leaders today. First, God tells His people to make sure they are following His will when crowning a king. The Bible makes it clear that leaders are chosen by the Lord (see Romans 13:1). In situations where we have a choice in who our leaders are, we must consult with God regarding our vote.
Second, leaders are often best selected from among the people they will lead. In the case of Israel’s kings, the Lord commanded, “He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite” (Deuteronomy 17:15).
Third, a godly leader must not focus on amassing personal wealth. Deuteronomy 17:16–17 warns, “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them. . . . He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” Great wealth has a way of turning a person’s heart from the Lord (see Matthew 19:23), and a leader of people should not allow himself to be distracted by riches.
Fourth, a good leader must be content with his family situation. Verse 17 warns, “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.” A multitude of wives will turn a leader’s heart from the Lord. This is exactly what happened in the reign of King Solomon, who had 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3). Despite Solomon’s great wisdom, his heart turned from the Lord to honor his wives’ deities.
Fifth, a good leader must be committed to God’s Word. Verses 18–19 add, “When he 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 Levitical priests. 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.” There is no record of an Israelite king actually writing out the entire Law of the Lord, but King David serves as an example of a leader who was committed to the Law and was blessed as a result. Other kings of Israel who did not adhere to God’s laws did not enjoy the same leadership quality.
Sixth, a godly leader serves in humility. The Israelite king was told “not [to] consider himself better than his fellow Israelites” (verse 20). Even though he sits on a throne, a king is still God’s servant.
The benefit to Israelite kings who followed these commands was a long reign and an established dynasty: “He and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel” (verse 20). The people under a godly king also benefited. It is important that leaders in any nation, in any era, seek to be godly. “When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan” (Proverbs 29:2, NLT).