Sacrifices to God, capital punishment, turning to priests in judgment matters, and instructions regarding kings are some of the major themes of this section.

Unblemished sacrifices – “You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God a bull or sheep which has any blemish or defect, for that is an abomination to the LORD your God” (17:1). In the Israelites’ service to God, only their best was acceptable.

Death penalty matters – Hear this principle: “Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death . . .” (17:6). Concerning capital punishment, what additional instructions do we find in this context? If there was evidence that an Israelite transgressed God’s covenant by worshipping an idol, the sun, the moon, or any other host of heaven, then that person was to be put to death (17:2-4). The death penalty could be administered only when there were two or three witnesses (17:6). Such punishment was to be carried out by stoning (17:5), it was to be done for either a male or female transgressor (17:5), and the action was to be carried out in order to “put away the evil” from among the Israelite society (17:7).

Appeal to the priests in special cases – If there were judgment cases that involved matters too difficult to discern at the local level, then God wanted the Israelites to come to the priests, who would administer judgment “according to the sentence of the law” (17:8-11). How binding were the priests’ decisions in such judicial matters? Failing to comply with the priests’ judgments was another evil action that called for the death penalty: “Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die” (17:12). Such teaching from Jehovah reminds us that it is His will for His people to submit to those to whom He has delegated authority.

When Israel would have kings (17:14-20): God knew that there would come a time when Israel would cry out to have a king “like all the nations” (17:14; cf. 1 Samuel 8). God forbid Israel’s kings from multiplying for themselves horses, wives, silver, and gold (17:16-18) (You may recall that Solomon violated each of those restrictions). On the positive side, each king of Israel was supposed to write his own personal copy of the law of Moses. He was to keep that copy with him and read it all the days of his life, “that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law” (17:18,19). Such a king could be a great influence for good and a wonderful blessing to the nation.

— Roger D. Campbell