Precepts Concerning Kingships Foreseeing the fallen nature of the Israelite nation, forsaking God's rule over them, Moses laid down some precepts every king should follow.(1 Samuel 8) Most of us are aware that a King was not to (1) be a foreigner, stranger to Israel,(2) not accumulate horses (war horses), (3) not multiply wives, especially women practicing idolatry, and (4) not greatly store up gold and silver.

But we seldom hear about the (5) precept requiring each successive king to write out a copy of the Law, and keep it with him throughout his reign:

And it shall be when he sit upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this Law in a book out of that which is before the Levite priests.
And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this Law and these statutes, to do them.
So that his heart be not lifted up above his brothers, and that he turn not aside from the Commandment, to the right, or to the left, to the end that he may prolong his days in the kingdom, and his children, in the midst of Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)

But is there Recorded any time in the history of the Israelite kingship an occurrence where a king actually obeyed this precept? Did any king take time and sit down and actually copy it? Let alone, daily read out of it?

We know that a copy of the Law was found during the remodeling of the Temple by King Josiah. Upon reading it, he was shocked at how far Israel has strayed, and immediately instituted reforms! (2 Kings 22, he rent his clothes) This event underscored the important reason for Moses's precept...but as far as Israel's destiny, this revival was too late.

Has any research uncovered an incident where another King interacted with the Law, as should have been done all along? After the Exile, does the interaction of the High Priests with the Maccabees exhibit a return to the Law? (perhaps inspiring the rise of the Pharisee sect?)

[We here do not care to argue whether this precept involved copying the whole Torah, or just the book of Deuteronomy.]

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    The law being neglected then that precept would be virtually unknown and its own propagation would be prevented. No wonder Josiah was shocked when it was found, at last. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 21 at 3:11

2 Answers 2


Ellicott suggests this about the direction for the king to copy Deuteronomy and keep it with him:

(18) There are traces of this direction (1) in the coronation of Joash (2Chronicles 23:11, “they gave him the testimony;” (2) in the reign of Jehoshaphat, who had the Book of the Law taught to his people (2Chronicles 17:9); and (3) in the delivery of the book when discovered in the Temple to Josiah (2Chronicles 34:18), and in the effect of the perusal of it upon that king. But it is singular that we do not hear of the Book of the Law in connection with David and Solomon. Possibly, as David was a prophet himself, and not only a king, it may be thought unnecessary to make special mention of his study of the law. In many things he acted upon the direct commands of God to himself or to his seers.

More than this we cannot say.

  • @ Dottard - Thanks for the input! Perhaps if Solomon saw David reading the Law as an exemplary father, Solomon would have taken up he practice himself and come across the passage forbidding horses, women, and silver! (Deut. 17:15-17) History could have been more positive in outcome. Eh? But alas.
    – ray grant
    Commented Apr 20 at 23:23
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    @raygrant - agreed
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 20 at 23:29

I've never found a clear scriptural indication that any king explicitly complied with the copy mandate; however, 1 Kings 2:3 may allude to such, as it does present an emphasis at the time of dynastic succession on knowing and keeping the law (cf. Deut. 17:19) and an affirmation that this will result in the continuation of the dynasty--compare 1 Kings 2:4 with Deuteronomy 17:20.1 Given that David himself was so fond of the law, per the Psalms, it seems reasonable that he had this mandate in view at the time.

1 Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 263–264.

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