So you wanna be a King?
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו הִנֵּה אַתָּה זָקַנְתָּ וּבָנֶיךָ לֹא הָלְכוּ בִּדְרָכֶיךָ עַתָּה שִׂימָה־לָּנוּ מֶלֶךְ לְשָׁפְטֵנוּ כְּכָל־הַגּוֹיִם׃ and they said to him, “You have grown old, and your sons have not followed your ways. Therefore appoint a king for us, to govern us like all other nations.”
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו הִנֵּה אַתָּה זָקַנְתָּ וּבָנֶיךָ לֹא הָלְכוּ בִּדְרָכֶיךָ עַתָּה שִׂימָה־לָּנוּ מֶלֶךְ לְשָׁפְטֵנוּ כְּכָל־הַגּוֹיִם׃
and they said to him, “You have grown old, and your sons have not followed your ways. Therefore appoint a king for us, to govern us like all other nations.”
When Samuel the prophet, the judge and spiritual leader of all the tribes of Israel, grew old, he appointed his two sons to be judges. Unfortunately they were corrupt, and the elders of Israel feared for the future of the people.
Out of this fear, the elders approached Samuel and said, “You have become old, your sons have not followed your ways, therefore appoint a king to judge us, like all of the nations.”
Then the Bible says that this request was “evil” in Samuel’s eyes.
God Himself commanded the people of Israel to appoint a king in the book of Deuteronomy:
If, after you have entered the land that Hashem your God has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, “I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me,” you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by Hashem your God (Deuteronomy 17:14-15)
If God commanded the People of Israel to appoint a king, why was the Elders’ request of a king evil in Samuel’s eyes? What did the people do wrong?
To answer the question, we have to ask another question: What is the purpose of an Israelite king? Like all rulers, an Israelite king must protect the nation from its enemies and ensure order and justice are preserved. But more is expected from the kings of Israel. Israelite kings are also responsible for leading the people to God! His ultimate purpose is to guide the Jewish people to fulfill their mission of revealing God’s presence in this world.
Samuel the Prophet became upset when he saw that the people wanted a king like the other nations. In the days of the Bible, all of the other nations in the world were unabashed idolaters. Their level of morality was extremely low, and they had no interest in forming a relationship with the one and only God.
When the holy children of Israel requested a king so that they could be like all the other nations, this was a great tragedy. It was a rejection of their chosenness and unique mission! The job of the people of Israel is to cleanse the world from paganism – not to imitate the pagans!
God has called the people of Israel to do great things – to appoint a holy king to do God’s will. Sadly, the people wanted to take the easy way out and become a nation like all the others. Only later, when David and Solomon were the kings of Israel, did the people fully accept their God-given mission to be a light unto the nations.
This is a lesson here for all of us: God put each of us here to change the world for the better and to serve Him. Don’t lower your expectations of yourself. Don’t settle for less because it’s easier.
Each of us is destined to do great things. Let us strive to achieve that greatness!
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