Praise be God who gives wisdom to those who believe in him. We pray that each one who comes to Christ desires to please the Lord God by walking in true wisdom and integrity. May the Holy Spirit reveal to us everything and everyone that we can correct in our lives. Amen
Eli the priest at Shiloh was a priest of the Lord God. He had done some remarkably good deeds such as praying that the barren Hannah gives birth a child and also that the child Samuel comes to know of his prophetic calling for God. Despite all this he didn’t have a happy ending. This is quite a tragedy considering he was a devout man of God in most of his actions except one.
Eli and the boy Samuel
So what went wrong for him?
I answer that by pointing to what the Lord God revealed to the child Samuel which is nothing less than the judgment against Eli’s family. Let’s read the following verses (1 Samuel 3: 8-14) to get the true picture:
8 And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
You might want to read 1 Samuel 3: 8-14 mentioned above once again that the seriousness of the judgment of God against Eli’s family sinks in really well. Just imagine, how would a child react if receives his first ever prophecy and he is told that his mentor’s family is going to be punished because of blasphemy against God. Now, the Lord God didn’t want to keep this child clueless as to why it was going to happen. It was clearly mentioned that Eli was forewarned about the highly immoral behavior of his sons in the house of worship of the Lord God.
Abuse of the offerings at Shiloh
So what exactly were Eli’s sons misdeeds?
12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. 13 The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, 14 and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. 15 Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” 16 And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” 17 Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt. (1 Samuel 2: 12-17)
What was Eli’s reaction to the crimes of his sons?
22 Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death. (1 Samuel 2: 22-25)
Well Eli did rebuke them but that’s it. The Lord God expected Eli to restrain his sons but then Eli didn’t stop them from continuing in their evil. Though he knew his sons had immoral affairs with women he didn’t really do anything that would have made an effective stop to their wickedness.
Was Samuel the only one who received the prophecy of judgment against Eli’s family?
Samuel was never the only one in this matter. There’s another prophet mentioned in 1 Samuel 2:27-36 who is not identified by name but only as a man of God. He declared by the Lord God that Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas shall both die on the same day as a sign to Eli for their wickedness.
What happened to Eli and his family after receiving the prophecy from Samuel?
On reading 1 Samuel 4
firstly we note that the Israelites and the Philistines
were at war in which the latter inflicted a large number of casualties on the former. Then the elders of Israel instead of seeking the Lord God made an unwise choice to take the Ark of the Covenant of God into war with the Philistines. It must be clear that Eli was not the only one aware of the sins of Hopni and Phinehas, yet the elders didn’t think about repentance for their sin. Instead, the made Eli’s sons accompany the Ark into the battle. This was highly presumptuous of them.
Now this caused the army of the Philistines to attack even stronger and they ended killing Hopni and Phinehas in the process. Besides, lots of soldiers of Israel died and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines.
10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. (1 Samuel 4:10-11)
Eli falls backwards to his death
When Eli asked the man of Benjamin who ran from the battle with the Philistines, he was already in great fear about the Ark. On hearing of the capture of the Ark of God, Eli the priest fell backward and died.
17 He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years. (1 Samuel 4: 17-18)
The wife of Phinehas and their little baby son then had much grief to bear. In fact she lost the happiness of the birth of their child and named the baby with such a name which only reflected sorrow due to departure of the glory of God.
19 Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. 21 And she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”
What is the main lesson we can learn here?
Correct others before they cause your downfall especially if they are associated with you by way of authority, ministry, family, friendship, mentoring or any other way in which you might be directly accountable for their actions. Do what is right first instead of focusing on methodology. Remember that though you are to be nice and polite, you can’t let your goodness turn a blind eye to those who are being oppressed because you don’t want to take decisive action. I will give you some examples of how this works so that there’s nothing too ambiguous in this regard.
- Suppose you are a manager at work and your deputy misuses his powers and demands bribes from his colleagues to not be a roadblock to their careers and you decided to not stop him despite being aware of this. By stop him, I mean not a mere rebuke but actually stopping him from taking bribes or just removing him. So because you don’t stop him, the matter goes out to the police who then arrest you along with your subordinate as they find it hard to believe that you didn’t try to stop him. This makes the police assume you too were the partner in crime.
- Another example, you are a leader to a team of preachers. One of your preachers is preaching heresy instead of the true Gospel but he gets in a lot of offerings every time he preaches. You feel it’s not good to tell him anything as it may ‘offend’ him. Besides you assume that next time you shall preach another sermon which counters his heresy to the congregation maybe a month later and you secretly hope that the people didn’t actually believe his falsehood. Then goes a complaint to the main overseeing authority in your country and all hell breaks loose. The corrupt preacher is sacked, named and shamed. His heresy is exposed. But so are you in trouble too. You asked to either resign from your church ministry office or face an inquiry which will surely defame you so badly that you won’t stand a chance to fight back.
- A woman loves her daughter a lot and takes it to the extreme by deciding to let her daughter do anything and everything with no questions asked. While her daughter is into immoral relations with a married man, her mother does nothing to stop her. Things go out in public and the married man’s wife now decides to file a lawsuit against her husband. She ends up dragging the girl’s mom into court as well and ends up ruining their reputations too.
What else can we understand in this regard?
- Rebuking and restraining don’t always mean the same thing.
- In regards to ministry there’s no compromise allowed about the things of God.
- Do not permit sexual immorality anywhere that you can stop it legally.
- Prophetic warnings are not to be taken lightly.
- Children can receive prophecy but their claims too need to be examined.
- You are responsible for those under your authority.
- Family members don’t just need right example from you, they too need to act right.
- Do not be presumptuous of yourself nor others.
- Never let your emotions make the facts look muddied.
- When good works and bad works mix, the bad works stand out unless there’s repentance.
- God won’t give you a prophecy without an explanation or justification.
- Never think any object is greater than the word of God to give you victory.