Haftarah: Korach: Prophet to King
Samuel I 11:14-12:22: The Children of Israel no longer wanted a prophet at their helm. The days of Moshe the prophet-king, Joshua the prophet-warrior, the instability of the era of the Judges, and Samuel the prophet of the people, were over. Samuel had led the people to greater spiritual awareness and demonstrated that the result of their heightened awareness was victory over their despised Philistine enemies. But the people did not want what Samuel had to offer. They did not want to live under a prophet who demanded spiritual awareness and integrity as a condition for victory and stability.
Samuel’s generation was the opposite of Korach. The latter understood and appreciated the demands and advantages of living with a Moshe, prophet-king. Korach and his followers thrived as they strove to meet the spiritual demands of their awesome leader. But can one human being, no matter how incredible, measure and direct the spiritual longings and growth of millions of people, many of whom were spiritual giants in their own right?
The generation led by Moses wanted more, they wanted too much, they reached too high, and they were swallowed up by the earth or burned by their own passion. The generation led by Samuel wanted no part in such an existence. They simply wanted to live “normal” lives. They understood that the king they demanded to replace Samuel had to be appointed by Samuel. They were not rejecting Samuel, but the demands his existence made on the generation.
The transition from Samuel to Saul, from Prophet to King, with even greater implications than a transition from Bush to Obama, had already begun. Samuel introduced Saul as the new king and some people were unhappy with the quiet, modest and uncharismatic Saul. How interesting that once they could demand a new type of leader they felt comfortable in insisting on approving the leader. (Samuel I 10:27) It certainly feels empowering to minimize the power of the prophets. The prophet speaks for God. It’s too risky to argue. The dissenters did not even realize that their half-hearted acceptance of Saul was a rejection of Samuel’s voice. The link between prophet and people was weakening, and it happened under the leadership of Samuel.
This Haftarah offers insight into Samuel’s feelings and reflections at this critical juncture in the political and spiritual lives of the Jewish people:
Moshe renewed the Covenant with God before he handed the reigns over to Joshua. He had no choice but to step aside for the new leader as he was dying. Joshua renewed the Covenant again before he died. (Joshua, Chapter 24)
Samuel felt old, but he was not dying. His leadership was rejected not personally, but in his role as a prophet. “Then Samuel said to the people, “Come and led us go to Gilgal, and let us renew the kingdom there.” (Samuel I 11:14) Samuel gathered the people in the very spot where Israel camped immediately after crossing the Jordan. As the people streamed into Gilgal from all over Israel they saw Joshua’s Twelve Stone Monument. The gift shop postcards all quoted Joshua; “When your children ask their fathers tomorrow, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ you should inform your children saying, “Israel crossed this Jordan on dry land. For God, your Lord, dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you crossed, as God, your Lord, did to the Sea of Reeds, which He dried up before us until we crossed.” (Joshua 4:21-24)
Samuel gathered the people in a spot reminiscent of another great transition, one that led to great achievements and new horizons. He was angry and disappointed. The prophet of God was concerned, but he did not deny the possibilities of the future they had chosen.
“Your choice of a king rather than a prophet is risky.” Samuel never took anything from anyone. A king will be able to confiscate property and draft soldiers and workers at will. A prophet will demand adherence to the Covenant with God. Now the people would be subject to the whims of their king. The prophet can change the course of nature to help or to rebuke the nation, as Samuel so powerfully demonstrates in this story. A king will only be able to change himself.
The Korachs of the world want to live defined by their spiritual accomplishments. Their souls and their hearts soar, often, as with Korach, too high. Samuel’s generation cannot bear to live with such spiritual awareness. They enjoy the benefits of prophecy but do not want a prophet at the helm demanding spiritual integrity.
Which of the two do we prefer?