The Presidential Bible: Leaders and Laws

It’s a tradition for the president of the United States to be sworn into office with a ceremonial Bible. The last three inaugurations incorporated Abraham Lincoln’s personal Bible. There’s something nostalgic, even transcendent, about connecting to a copy of Scriptures that ties a new leader to one from the past.

The Jewish kings of old, however, weren’t supposed to recycle copies of sacred texts from previous leaders, no matter how great their legacy may have been. In fact, the Jewish law says this, “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud” (Deut. 17:18-20).

The king, then, was commanded to copy, word for word, his own personal copy of the Bible. Consider this: whenever he reads the word of God, he’s reading them in his own handwriting. It wasn’t an abstract exercise, it was personal. Think of how long and tedious the process is, how painstaking the work of copying each verse would be. And when the process is done, he is to carry that scroll with him and read it daily. This process is designed to draw the leader closer to God and prevent him from being consumed by his own ego.

Sometimes this process was followed, but it seems rare. 2 Chronicles 23:11 tells us “Then Jehoiada and his sons brought out Joash, the king’s son, placed the crown on his head, and presented him with a copy of God’s laws. They anointed him and proclaimed him king, and everyone shouted, “Long live the king!” So yes, the king received his own Bible, he just didn’t write it.

Or consider this story from Jeremiah 36. The reigning king, Jehoiakim, is at odds with the nation’s leading prophet, Jeremiah. God prompts Jeremiah to send the king a scroll with a divine message, words we now consider part of the Bible. The king had a court official, Jehudi, read him the letter. “Each time Jehudi finished reading three or four columns, the king took a knife and cut off that section of the scroll. He then threw it into the fire, section by section, until the whole scroll was burned up” (v. 23).

It seems then, that leaders have three options: own the truth of God, borrow it from somebody else or burn it. Leaders who reject it outright do so at their peril; in time, they will be consumed by their own arrogance. It may not cost them their life, but it will cost them their kingdom. If you’re leading, at any level, get your own scroll, carry it with you, read it daily. It will protect you from yourself and equip you to serve others well.


Craig Custance