“But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the LORD your God was your king.” — 1 Samuel 12:12
The Torah portion for this week is Korach, which means “Korah,” from Numbers 16:1–18:32, and the Haftorah is from 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22.
In this week’s Haftorah reading, the prophet Samuel gave his farewell address to the nation of Israel. In that context, he mentioned that he had left the people with a king to rule over them. Yet, the statement doesn’t sound very positive: “ . . . when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the LORD your God was your king.” In fact, Samuel’s statement sounds like downright criticism.
The problem is that the Bible actually commanded that the people of Israel appoint a king to rule over them. In Deuteronomy 17:15, we read, “be sure to appoint over you a king . . .” If this was what God directed, then why did Samuel judge the people so harshly for doing the very thing that God asked them to do?
The answer can be found in 1 Samuel 8:7 when the people first asked for a king. God told Samuel, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” As Samuel had suspected, the people’s request for a king was totally different from God’s intention when He directed them to appoint a king. God’s intention was that the king would be a representative and extension of Himself, carrying out His will and guiding the people on a path of justice and righteousness. However, when the people asked for a king, God saw straight into their hearts. They didn’t want an extension of God; they wanted a replacement.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the ancient Israelites for a moment to understand what led them to choose a man of flesh and blood over an omnipotent God. God is awesome and powerful, kind and loving, but we can neither see Him nor outwardly sense Him. The Israelites sought reassurance that someone was ruling over them, someone who they could see and touch. A human being, flawed and all, seemed more accessible and reliable.
However, in retrospect, we know that it’s all an illusion. Scripture warns us many times not to put our faith in humans, but to trust solely in God. As a friend of mine once put it, those who don’t believe in the “Big G” — God — will put their trust in the “little g” — government. And they are always sorely disappointed.
Let’s remember in this time of instability that it’s not the leaders of this world on whom we can rely. They are merely pawns in God’s hand. Let’s put our trust fully in God, our one and only true King and Redeemer.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President