Question for Biblical/Military history folks among us...


January 15, 2006, 01:58 PM
In Sunday School today, this was presented as one of the old requirements for the king of the Israelites, if and when one should be called for:

But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, "You shall not return that way again."
(Deuteronomy 17)

So here's my question (and how it relates to RKBA L&P ;) )

Is this strictly a prohibition on the gathering of wealth by a king, or is it a forerunner of the "a standing professional army is Not Good" that we had in our early days? I do recall the Egyptians had quite a thing for fighting with horsedrawn chariots, and it seems to me a herd of horses has quite a bit of military application in that day and time.

So... am I reading too much into that line, or not?

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January 15, 2006, 03:05 PM
My layman's interpretation of that instruction is to prevent kings from relying on their own power instead of the Lord's. The kings should not trust solely in military power or strong allies to defeat their enemies (Isaiah 31:1,3). More to your point, they also shouldn't attempt to forcibly keep themselves in power or create dynasties (Deuteronomy 17:20).

I'm sure someone with a formal education in such things will be along shortly to correct any blatant errors in my explanation. :)

January 15, 2006, 06:07 PM
Strelok is close enough.

The Israelite kingship was not a "regular" monarchy, but rather was more of a contract between the king and the people. The king rules the people as a more direct representation of God (although there were no religious overtones attached to the position, the understanding was that the king was to obey and was answerable to God Himself). The king had no "divine right" for him or his descendants to rule (God granted that position and could revoke it). Witness what happened with Rehoboam and the northern tribes- they didn't like him and bailed.

Because of this, the king and the nation were to trust in God. A standing army did not help in this. The king was also to consider himself as equal to, and not above, his countrymen (hence the prohibitions against the multiplication of wealth, women and horses).

They didn't follow the guidelines, and downhill went the nation.

This can also be seen as a historical lesson about what happens when the rulers begin thinking that they are answerable to noone- not the people, not God, not even each other.

January 15, 2006, 11:11 PM
Admonition to trust in the Lord as opposed to military power.
A recurring theme. ie: Judges 7


January 15, 2006, 11:21 PM
I believe 1 Chronicles chapter 21 talks of all the treasures King David had procured during his time. But instead of keeping it as his own wealth, he presented it to the Lord as a gift. In this gift was the armor of Golieth. King David gave these gifts to the Lord because he knew it was because of the Lord that he had been able to get these riches. King David has been the greatest King for the Isrealites so far.....FYI, King David is the one person mentioned more in the Bible than anyone else. A study of his life, faults, successes, and failures will make an interesting read for anyone interested.

BUT, back to the subject, I think (per David's example) that the King is supposed to give his wealth to the Lord instead of keep it for himself. He was building treasures in heaven where they are eternal instead of on earth where they are worthless once physically dead.

Just my 2 cents.

January 16, 2006, 12:25 AM
An interesting question. I don't know the answer, but I believe the Israelite army of the time consisted of all men capable of fighting, and was what we think of as a militia in that the vast majority of the men were farmers, tradesmen etc, who answered the call to battle when their nation, or locality was threatened. My reading of OT history suggests that this wasn't true only for Israel but the entire area of the time. I believe you can see a not entirely dissimilar type of society in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan today.

The giant empires of the day (like Egypt) probably kept large standing armies.

January 16, 2006, 12:25 AM
Gotta disagree with the assessment that it refers to standing armies.

Chariots and horses were the tools of an offensive army in the employ of an expansive state. Israel's military focus was to be limited to a specifically defined geography. As such Israel had no need for an offensive and expansive army. Israel would eventually be given a king (Saul) which would satisfy the people of Israel's demand of God that they become like all the other nations. A check on the inevitable expansion of power the kings would engage in would be to limit the capability of the army. Another limit would be a prohibition against conducting a census which is what David eventually did and both he and Israel paid a frightful price. Again, a census was a common measure of statecraft for the purpose of determining the size of an army a country could field. War was viewed as inevitable and a consequence of human nature. What was prohibited was offensive and expansive warfare.

Some would say Israel was to be a pacifist country. Again, not so based on the biblical historical data. Israel was directed to utterly destroy specific, listed nations. No pity, no mercy, no survivors, no loot, no nothing. Just utter destruction of specific nations. Specific rules of combat were issued with respect to combat against other nations not on the list of banned nations. The rules specifically demanded the chance be given for a peaceful surrender among other provisions.

Interesting question with lots of interesting answers.

1911 guy
January 16, 2006, 08:36 AM
Also to be taken into account would be the symbolism involved in taking/using something gotten from a place they served as slaves. Also think about the history involved in putting them in that position (slavery). Very good reasons for a command to not return to Egypt for any reason.

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