Samuel was placed in the care of Eli, the High Priest since he was a child. Eli was grooming him to serve the Lord. The first time God called Samuel, Samuel thought it was Eli but Eli told him that it was God’s voice he was hearing and told him what to say the next time he heard it.
Unfortunately, the message God gave young Samuel was not good at all. It had to do with Eli and his family. God pronounced judgment upon them. He said, “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
When I read these words, I was astounded. God said that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever. This was a very serious situation. God is a holy God and could not stand by and allow men who were supposed to be priests to profane the offerings of His people.
Eli’s sons were worthless men who had no respect for the Lord or for their duties as priests. They didn’t give the people the chance to properly prepare their offerings to the Lord. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting. The person who was offering the sacrifice told the servant he could have as much as he wanted but begged him to wait until the fat was burned first but the servant refused, threatening to take the meat by force.
The sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight because they treated His offerings with contempt. And Eli knew about this. And he also knew that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle. He said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the LORD’s people transgress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons paid no heed to what he said because the Lord wanted to kill them.
Before Samuel’s prophecy, God had sent a man with a warning for Eli’s family. Through this man, God rebuked Eli with these words, “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?’” God said that Eli that Eli honored his sons more than he honored Him. This reminds me of what God said to Adam. “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’…” (Genesis 3:17).
God also warned Eli that “there shall not be an old man in your house forever. But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age. Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them.” Can you imagine? None of Eli’s descendants will live to an old age. Wow. God was clearly very upset with Eli and his family to the point that He wanted to kill Hophni and Phinehas.
Eli’s sons were the polar opposite of Samuel. Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli and he grew in stature, and in favor with both the LORD and men. On the flip side, Hophni and Phinehas were profaning the people’s sacrifices and exploiting the women when they should have been receiving the offerings of God’s people and to making good use of them.
It was hard for Samuel to tell Eli what the Lord said but Eli urged him, saying, “Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you.” Samuel had no choice but to tell the old priest everything and Eli acknowledged that God was a just God. “It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him.” Eli had to admit that God had passed fair judgment on him and his sons.
Eli was in charge. He was his sons’ boss. He should have expressed righteous anger over what they were doing like Jesus did when there were moneychangers in the Temple. Eli should have corrected his sons. He knew what they were doing. It was clear that this was going on for a while and he had done nothing about it. He said he heard about their evil doings from the people. Several people had gone to Eli and lodged complaints about his sons. Obviously they wanted him to do something about it because it seemed as if their actions continued for a while before he even said something to them and by then it was too late. Their fate had been sealed by God.
God’s judgment on Hophni and Phinehas came to pass when Israel faced the Philistines in battle. Israel was defeated and four thousand lives were lost. The people wondered why God had allowed the Philistines to defeat them. Then someone had the bright idea to bring the Ark of the Covenant, believing that it would save them from the Philistines. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t. They were badly defeated by the Philistines, this time the number of casualties exceeded the four thousand they had already lost. There was a very great slaughter, and thirty thousand of their foot soldiers died. Hopnni and Phinehas were among the slain. And the ark of God was captured. It fell into the hands of Israel’s enemies. I find it incredible that the people believed that the ark, not God would save them. They looked upon the ark as a good luck charm. Instead of humbly repenting and seeking God, they decided to place all of their trust in the ark. And it is a given that they would have met with defeat because it was prophesied that both Hophni and Phinehas would die on the same day.
It’s interesting that when Eli heard the news about his sons’ and the ark, it was the news of the ark that got some reaction from him. He had expected that his sons were be killed because the man of God had told him so but he didn’t expect to hear that the ark of God was captured. When he heard that, he fell off the seat backward by the side of the gate; and broke his neck because he was a heavy man. What a tragic end for this man whom God had chosen to be His priest.
The news of the ark of God had more tragic consequences for Eli’s family. His daughter-in-law went into labor when she heard about his and Phinehas’s death. 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. And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” Then, she too died. We don’t know what happened to Ichabod.
The sins of others can have tragic consequences on their families and future generations. As parents, friends, relatives and church members, we have a responsibility of speaking up when we see others sinning against God or others. Eli knew about his sons’ actions and did nothing. He allowed them to sin against God and the people. He was more afraid of offending them than offending God. We must always put God first. He should be honored more than our spouses, children, relatives, friends, neighbors, etc. Just as Jesus was zealous for God’s house, Eli should have been zealous for God’s sacrifice and offering which He commanded in His dwelling place.
Eli should have promptly removed his sons from the priesthood because they were worthless and abusing the sacrificial system and priestly ministry. He should have acted on the complaints of the people. God gave him opportunity after opportunity in the form of these complaints and bad reports of his sons. If Eli had done what God expected of him, only his sons would have perished.