Laws of Royal Succession
Beginning in Deut. 17:14, Moses turns his attention to Israel’s future kings and establishes the parameters by which they should rule the people.
14 When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,” 15 you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.
The first thing to note is that Israel was to have more than one type of government in its future. At first they were to be ruled by God directly from heaven, and each of the twelve princes of the tribes were responsible to know the will of God and be led by the Spirit. Yet Moses, knowing the prophecy of Gen. 49:10 that Judah was to receive the scepter, prophesied here that they would eventually be ruled by an earthly king.
The Delay of the King
Why did such a king not already rule Israel from the beginning? They were delayed by the Tamar affair that is recorded in Genesis 38. In that story, Judah unlawfully impregnated Tamar, his widowed daughter-in-law, who brought forth twins, Zerah and Pharez. The law in Deut. 23:2 said,
2 No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the Lord.
We will expound upon this further at the appropriate time, but for now we see that Pharez and his lineage after him were restricted to the tenth generation for the sin of their father, Judah. David was the tenth generation. This lineage from Judah is given in Ruth 4:18-22.
The fifth in the list is Nashon, who was the prince of Judah at the time the tabernacle of Moses was dedicated (Num. 7:12). He died in the wilderness, and his son Salmon entered the Promised Land with Joshua. The events of the book of Ruth took place in the following generation, featuring Boaz, the seventh from Judah.
Doubtless, Moses understood this law and knew that it applied in his time to the kings of Israel. We also know that the people demanded a king one generation too soon, and so God told Samuel to anoint Saul as their king. He was taken from the tribe of Benjamin, rather than of Judah, and so while his kingship was legitimate, his line was not meant to continue on the throne. Saul was crowned ten years before David was born, because when Saul’s reign came to an end after 40 years, we find that David was 30 years old (2 Sam. 5:4; Acts 13:21).
Thus, because Judah was not yet qualified to rule the assembly (church), his coronation was delayed for ten generations. They were only in their fifth and sixth generation in the time of Moses, and in the interim, God ruled Israel through the ruling council of elders made up of twelve princes (Deut. 31:28).
Israel’s Kings were Stewards
The second great principle established by Moses’ instructions was that Israel was not to have an absolute monarchy. An absolute monarch makes the laws and can dispose of those laws at will. He stands above the law and puts himself into the position as a god. He does as he wishes unrestricted, and no man is authorized to contradict his will. But Israel’s kings were expected to rule as stewards of God’s throne. Israel had a Constitutional Monarchy, where kings were bound by the law of God and were called to exercise God’s will, not their own.
We see from subsequent history that most of the kings of both Israel and Judah usurped the power of God and ruled as absolute monarchs. King Saul was the first to rebel against God and refuse to hear and obey His word, and this disqualified his descendants from continuing his dynasty (1 Sam. 15:23). David was different, for though he was not perfect, yet he was repentant when he erred, submitting to the word of God.
David’s greater son, Jesus Christ, was fully qualified to rule as the final Steward of the throne of David, for He did nothing but what He saw His Father do; and He said nothing but what He heard His Father say. Because He was raised from the dead into immortality, He cannot be replaced by any of His children. His throne will endure forever.
No Foreigners as Kings
Moses continues with another qualification of the Kings of Israel in Deut. 17:15,
15 You shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.
Men were given the right to choose their king, but yet they were to choose the one that God had chosen. In other words, the people were responsible to discern the will of God and ratify His choice. So we see that when the people demanded a king, they asked Samuel to determine the will of God in this matter. The will of God was that they should not have a king yet, for He recognized that the people had rejected God as king. When Samuel took it personally, we read in 1 Sam. 8:7,
7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.”
Yet God chose Saul, and Samuel ratified God’s choice on behalf of the people.
Saul was of Benjamin, not of Judah, yet he was not a foreigner. So in that sense he was qualified under the law above. This illustrates how there are layers of God’s will that complicate matters as we seek His will. God may direct us to do something that is His will, but yet it may not be what some have called His “perfect will.” When we refuse to hear and obey God’s perfect will, He will give us the best under the circumstances. This secondary will of God may serve us well for a time, but it will not endure beyond a certain point. Unless we are able to return to the original point of rebellion and make that correction, we will probably go through life blindly feeling blessed by the secondary will of God, and then wonder why it later turns to ashes.
When Moses forbids crowning a foreign king over Israel, he was no doubt looking at the Edomite model. The book of Jasher, chapter 57, tells how the Edomites fought against the people of Mount Seir, overcame them, and then displaced them. Thus, they became the inheritors of the land of Seir. Then they decided to establish a monarchy, not of their own kindred but from other nations:
38 And it came to pass in those days, that the children of Esau resolved to crown a king over them in the land of which they became possessed. And they said to each other, not so, for he shall reign over us in our land, and we shall be under his counsel and he shall fight our battles, against our enemies, and they did so. 39 And all the children of Esau swore, saying, that none of their brethren should ever reign over them, but a strange man who is not of their brethren, for the souls of all the children of Esau were embittered every man against his son, brother and friend, on account of the evil they sustained from their brethren when they fought with the children of Seir. 40 Therefore the sons of Esau swore, saying, from that day forward they would not choose a king from their brethren, but one from a strange land unto this day.
These “dukes” (KJV) are listed in Gen. 36:31-43, beginning with Bela the son of Beor. He was from Dinhaba, Edom’s main ally in the war against Seir. Their next king was Jobab, who was from Bozrah. The list of their kings was truly international, corresponding to the CEO’s of international corporate empires that rule the world today.
By way of contrast, Moses legislates against this practice, saying that Israel’s kings were to be chosen from among their brethren only. Moses carefully worded this law in general terms, so as not to exclude Saul in later years. Whether or not Moses did this intentionally out of prophetic foreknowledge of Saul and the later kings of Israel who ruled in Samaria, we cannot say. Whatever the case, he did not limit the kings to the tribe of Judah, though Judah had received the scepter.
If we look deeper into this divine prohibition, we can gain greater understanding of the mind of God that may be helpful when applying this law today.
Israel was divided into twelve tribes, or states, each being led by a tribal head, a direct descendant of Jacob-Israel. These positions were hereditary, normally the eldest son of the previous head. A younger child might have been chosen if the older son had disqualified himself by some serious sin (as in the case of Esau and Reuben). But even so, the heads of the tribes were direct descendants of Jacob, and there was only one man chosen to rule each tribe in his generation.
Not everyone who was part of a tribe was actually a direct descendant of Jacob, however. As early as the time of Abraham, he was able to field 318 warriors born in his house, who were not genetically related to Abraham himself (Genesis 14:14). They and their children after them became citizens and tribal members, but not heirs of the tribal birthright, and certainly not heirs of the throne over all the tribes. The rulers of tribes and the nation had to come from the loins of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Nonetheless, all citizens enjoyed the blessings of the Kingdom and the promises of God.
When the final Heir to the throne came in the Person of Jesus Christ, we find that His genealogy came from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David to fulfill the law. The genealogy of rightful rulers from each generation from Abraham to Christ are given in Matthew 1:1-16. The longer genealogy going back to Adam is given in Luke 3:23-38.
Who Rules under Christ?
Once the final Heir to the throne came—and because He came into immortality by means of resurrection—no further claims could be legitimate. The only positions in His government are left to His spiritual children, called “the sons of God,” for Jesus had no physical children. Jesus was the last of the genealogical line who could rule, but even He could only qualify by having God as His Father. His mother, Mary, provided the link to Judah and to King David to fulfill the prophecies given to them. But the seed of the Father in the virgin ensured that the curse of Adam was not passed down to Him.
Jesus’ claim to the throne has been disputed for the past 2,000 years, but once this dispute is settled by divine action, only those who are His children will be eligible to rule and reign with Christ (Rev. 20:6). These are the ones who qualify from every tongue and nation (Rev. 5:9, 10). In fact, the only ones qualified by law for positions of rulership will be His younger brethren who achieve Sonship status in the lawfully prescribed manner.
Christ had no physical children, contrary to the theories of some. Instead, the law makes provision for legal sons in such cases. The main law of Sonship is found in Deuteronomy 25, where we read that if a man dies childless, his younger brother was responsible to take the wife of his older brother and beget children who would be heirs of his older brother.
Jesus was not ashamed to call us brethren (Heb. 2:11), and since our older brother died childless, we are called to take His wife (the church) and to raise up seed unto our older brother, so that He does not lose His inheritance. The message of Sonship is rooted in this law, and the result is that the sons of God will rule with Christ. In fact, they are the only ones eligible by law to rule with Him in the Age to come.
We see then that the application of the law changes from the Old Covenant to the New. In that shift, the law is not set aside, but reapplied in accordance with the new situation. In this case, we see how Boaz took Ruth as his wife under this law and brought forth a son named Obed, saying in Ruth 4:17, “A son has been born to Naomi.” Biologically, Obed was the son of Boaz and Ruth, but legally, the son belonged to Naomi and her dead husband, Elimelech, whose sons had died (Ruth 1:5).
With Jesus dying childless, there is no way that we can obey this law in the carnal way that it was done in time past. To raise up seed to Christ is a spiritual process, and so the application of the law is different under the New Covenant. Nonetheless, the law still applies and is, in fact, the basis of the Sonship message in the New Testament.
The sons of God, then, fulfill the requirement of the law when applied to the Kingdom of God. When applied in lesser ways to current nations—even Christian nations—each nation ought to be ruled by one of its own. In other words, each nation should truly be independent, and not be vassals of foreign powers or multi-national corporations. It should also be kept in mind that the law of God was designed to rule every nation on earth and all of creation. Hence, the law applies to all nations equally, and any nation that recognizes Christ as King may be blessed by His righteous rule to the extent that nations are able to conform their society to His standard.