1 Samuel 2:12–17
12 Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. 13 Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled 14 and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. 15 But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.” 16 If the person said to him, “Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.” 17 This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they[a] were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.
When we think of “sacrifice”, we usually think of giving something up, perhaps somehow buying forgiveness. That is so different from the role of sacrifices God gave his people in the Old Testament. Forgiveness was always based on his people humbling themselves, seeking him and turning away from sin (2 Chronicles 7:13-16). In most offerings, only the fat would be burnt on the altar. The family ate the meat with the priests and, above all, with God as a fellowship meal celebrating the restored relationship that God gives. It was a celebration of the wonderful love and generosity of their God (who, in the person of Jesus, really would pay for their sin and buy them back from slavery to it).
The problem with Eli’s sons starts in their hearts: they “had no respect for the Lord” (v12) and so they “treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt” (v17). They turned a celebration of God’s love and generosity into an exercise in selfishness. Instead of receiving a portion of the offering as a gift, they took it. They didn’t even take their part in making the offering (they sent their servants) they just took the best parts for themselves, including the parts that belonged to God.
This passage is included as a contrast to Samuel, who served the Lord (v 11 and 18), and to God’s generosity in his blessing of Samuel’s parents (v 21). So how should I be the opposite of Eli’s sons? At a personal level, I’m challenged to embrace God’s love and generosity, in my relationship with him, and to recognise and copy his love and generosity. But God wants that generosity to be celebrated with love and generosity for the people God has put around me. This is how people will recognise me as one of Jesus’ followers (John 13:35).
Written by David Cornell