Writing the Bible Can Be Good for Your S0ul

September 17, 2008

While reading Deuteronomy 17 today, I came to the passage where God instructs future kings of Israel. In context he’s really telling the people, “If when you get to the Promised Land, you decide you want a king, make sure you get a good one. And here’s how to get a good one.” That’s a loose summary of verses 14-20. After laying out certain qualifications in verses 14-17, the Lord explains how the new king is to begin his reign:

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel (vv. 18-20).

I had never noticed the first part of that passage before. The king has a huge writing assignment. He is to write for himself (his servants can’t do it for him) “a copy of this law.” Most commentators think it means the book of Deuteronomy, but some think it refers to the entire Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Either way it’s a lot of writing.  Sort of like an Old Testament term paper.

And this was long before the days of personal computers.
Or typewriters (remember those?).
Or ballpoint pens.
Or Number 2 pencils.

Writing out the entire book of Deuteronomy would take days of work. Line by line, word by word, letter by letter, making sure he got it exactly right. And you can be sure the Levites would be double-checking his work.

Not an easy assignment. 

Writing it down meant the king was forced to think about the law of God he was sworn to uphold. He would go through every part of it, painstakingly writing it on a scroll, thinking about what it meant. That tedious exercise would tattoo the truth on his soul. We can see a clear progression here:


Maybe we can gain something from this today. Pick a verse and write it down word for word. Or pick a whole chapter and write it down—that will take a lot longer. But the very act is likely to make you think more carefully about what it says. And that’s the whole point. Writing slows us down, and slowing down is the first step in hearing what God is actually saying. 


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Ray Pritchard
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