Government corruption is a staggeringly huge problem. Every year, more than one trillion dollars is paid out in bribes around the globe. A recent study rated Somalia, North Korea, and Afghanistan as the most corrupt countries in the world. Corruption hampers economic development, cripples judicial systems, and deepens poverty. It also helps to facilitate organized crime and terrorism.
God’s covenant with Israel addressed the issue of human sinfulness in political leadership. Israel was a theocracy, so God was the head of the government and the human leaders had a special responsibility and accountability to Him.
Judges, for example, were not to use their power or position for personal gain. Such corruption has been common throughout history, but bribes defeat the purpose of the legal system and prevent wisdom from being used to address social problems (16:19). These leaders were instead instructed to “follow justice and justice alone” (16:20), a daunting imperative considering it was given by a perfectly just God. Priests would assist with difficult cases, directly consulting the Lord in order to ensure a correct decision.
Political leaders were responsible not only for governing but also for keeping the nation on track spiritually. With this in mind, Moses also gave instructions for any future king (17:14–20). He would be chosen by God, must be an Israelite, and was to be limited in horses, wives, and wealth.
This was countercultural to the normal practices of the day. The Lord didn’t want the leader’s trust to be in money, military strength, or alliances (the wives), and He knew that the latter would also make idolatry a stronger temptation. The king would not be above the Law, but would be subject to it like everyone else. In fact, he was instructed to write out his own copy and to make studying it a lifelong activity.