1 Samuel 2:22-36
22 Eli was very old. He kept hearing about everything his sons were doing to all of the people of Israel. He also heard how they were having sex with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 23 So Eli said to his sons, “Why are you doing those things? All of the people are telling me about the evil things you are doing. 24 No, my sons. The report I hear isn’t good. And it’s spreading among the Lord’s people. 25 If a man sins against someone else, God can help that sinner. But if a man sins against the Lord, who can help him?” In spite of what their father Eli said, his sons didn’t pay any attention to his warning. That’s because the Lord had already decided to put them to death. 26 The boy Samuel continued to grow stronger. He also became more and more pleasing to the Lord and to people. 27 A man of God came to Eli. He told him, “The Lord says, ‘I made myself clearly known to your relatives who lived long ago. I did it when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh. 28 I chose your father Aaron to be my priest. I chose him out of all of the tribes of Israel. I told him to go up to my altar. I told him to burn incense. I chose him to wear a linen apron when he served me. I also gave his family all of the offerings that are made with fire by the people of Israel. 29 “‘Why do all of you laugh at my sacrifices and offerings? I require them to be brought to the house where I live. Why do you honor your sons more than me? Why do you fatten yourselves on the best parts of every offering that is made by my people Israel?’ 30 “The Lord is the God of Israel. He announced, ‘I promised that your family and the family of Aaron would serve me as priests forever.’ “But now the Lord announces, ‘I will not let that happen! I will honor those who honor me. But I will turn away from those who look down on me. 31 The time is coming when I will cut your life short. I will also cut short the lives of those in your family. No man in your family line will grow old. 32 “‘You will see nothing but trouble in the house where I live. Good things will still happen to Israel. But no man in your family line will ever grow old. 33 A member of your family will serve me at my altar. But what he does will bring tears to your eyes. Your heart will be sad. And the rest of the men in your family line will die while they are still young. 34 “‘Something is going to happen to your two sons Hophni and Phinehas. When it does, it will show you that what I am saying is true. They will both die on the same day. 35 “‘I will raise up for myself a faithful priest. He will do what my heart and mind want him to do. I will make his family line very secure. They will always serve as priests to my anointed king. 36 Everyone who is left in your family line will come and bow down to him. They will beg him for a piece of silver and a crust of bread. They will say, “Please give me a place to serve among the priests. Then I can have food to eat.”’”
Eli had delivered a belated rebuke to his sons (not until everyone was complaining about them), and warned them that God would punish them (but he would not). Now God gives a word of rebuke and judgement to Eli.
Why was Eli condemned for his sons’ behaviour?
Eli had become fat on the meat his son’s took from God’s worshipers. He knew it was wrong, but he ate it anyway. My guess is that he feared angering his sons more than he feared angering God, that he feared losing his relationship with his sons more than he feared losing his relationship with God. And so he went along with their making a mockery of the sacrifice in taking by force what was being freely offered.
And this rebuke comes with more than a warning. Eli will lose the sons he valued more than God, he will lose the honour that God gave him, but he did not give in return.
This story is full of sad ironies. The priests would normally be given a share of guilt or peace offerings. There was no need to seize it by force. Eli lost the sons he indulged because of his indulgence. Eli’s fatness that came from the seized meat ended up being the cause of his death, when he fell from his seat on hearing of his sons’ deaths.
Blessing comes from giving to God, not taking. Giving those we love to him, giving our needs to him, trusting him with our most precious things.
As a father, I sympathise with Eli. How should I deal with sometimes rebellious sons that I love dearly? Give them to God (who is a much better father to them than I am). Faithfully give them the truth about righteousness and a right relationship with God. And that may sometimes mean being unpopular.
Oh Father, give me the wisdom and courage to lead my boys in your
paths of righteousness.
Written by David Cornell