Lessons From Eli

Sometimes good people become marked with the appearance of a single, yet significant deficiency. It is at times tragic, because that defect is not indicative of his character as a whole. Yet it is possible for that single problem to bring him much grief – sometimes irreversible grief.

  • David’s sin with Bathesheba was not representative of how he lived his life, but he paid enormously for that choice.
  • Moses’ rebellious reaction to the Israelites complaining, and his subesewuent disobedience to God’s command to speak to the rock cost him an entrance into Canaan.
  • And then there is Eli, the priest.

I. Eli, the Priest. Eli was a descendant of Ithamar, the youngest son of Aaron.   He held the office of high priest, and helped to raise Samuel. . He became judge at age 58, and judged Israel for 40 years .   The story about Eli is recorded in First Samuel, chapters 1-4. When first mentioned, he must have been around 70 years old His sons were children of his old age, for sometimes afterward   they were spoken of as young men.

A.   His story is connected with the birth of his replacement, Samuel. In chapter one we meet Hannah who desperately desiring to have a child. God hears her prayer, as well as the intercessory prayer of Eli in her behalf.

1. His Sons:  Ironically, it is through Hannah’s dedication of her child, Samuel, to God, that God reveals the serious failings of Eli.  1 Samuel 2:12-17 – 12 Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord. 13 And the priests’ custom with the people was that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling. 14 Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; and the priest would take for himself all that the fleshhook brought up. So they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. 15 Also, before they burned the fat, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who sacrificed, “Give meat for roasting to the priest, for he will not take boiled meat from you, but raw.”  16 And if the man said to him, “They should really burn the fat first; then you may take as much as your heart desires,” he would then answer him, “No, but you must give it now; and if not, I will take it by force.”  17 Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.

2.   The ASV uses the word worthless to describe Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas.  What a tragedy for a useful man such as Eli to have worthless children. It also says “ they did not know the Lord”. This is God’s declaration that these sons were not faithful to the Lord.

3.  These so-called priests were despising the commands of God.

  • They were taking much more food than they were authorized to take from the offerings.  They were simply using their position to extort from the people.  Vs. 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.”
  • They were immoral as well. We learn from vs. 22-25 that they were seducing and sleeping with the women who are volunteering their time to the tabernacle service.  God wants to kill these sons (2:25). They are worthy of death.  Eli found out about his sons’s flagrant sins and he rebuked them.

B.  Eli’s Rebuke of His sons: 1 Samuel 2:22-25 – 22 Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. 24 No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people transgress. 25 If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lord desired to kill them.

1.  Eli knows all about it (heard everything). How his heart must have ached. He also recognized that his sons’ actions were causing others to sin. He knew the seriousness of this. In fact, although he certainly desired to plead with God about his sons’ conduct, he knows their rebellion left no room for intercession. If we sin against another person, we can have God intercede for us. But to directly scorn God leaves no one to intercede.  If we accidentally sin against one another and we can go to God for forgiveness. But to sin knowingly leaves no room for mercy.

C.  His Children Did not Listen – (v. 25) This statement causes us to reexamine what Eli did with this rebuke. It seems to be an empty rebuke or a  powerless correction. The sons are not listening to the father. This happens often today. Parents may instruct or even rebuke their children, but it does no good because the children do not even pay attention to the words.

1.  Why were his words powerless? Notice God’s further rebuke of Eli in the vision to Samel. 1 Samuel 3:12-1412 In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 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. 14 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.” His words were ineffective because he did not restrain them earlier.

a.  Children should listen from the nature of the relationship itself. But Eli failed where many do. He had not sufficiently enforced his words and thus did not create an effective atmosphere for correction. (please note that these are not teenagers or little children; these sons are grown). The father’s words are powerless.

b.  This is not an easy task. It requires discretion and courage. When the child is young physical discipline is effective in establishing the authority of the parent and the consequences of disobedience. The child learns to “fear” the parent, or respect his/her authority.

  • Prov . 13:2424 He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.
  • Prov.  22:15 –  Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him.
  • Prov.  29:15The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

c.  But when the child gets older, physical punishment is less effective and the threat diminishes. If there is no relationship of love established, the parents words become useless.  Parents must treat children with affection and kindness, even as they execute discipline. So when the physical discipline is less effective, the relationship remains.

  • That is what God says – a parent who loves his children will discipline them, because it is only through discipline that he can nurture and cultivate love.

d.   We can fail in both directions:

  • We can be too authoritarian, and fail to express true affection, leaving us with little to effectively mold the child after the punishment is gone.
  • We can be too passive and also neglect to execute punishment, and thus leave ou words with no authority. There is no fear in the child, and he will rebel.  Notice how the apostles warns against this onesided approach to discipline.   Eph 6:4And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath (be too authoritarian) but bring them up in the training (discipline) and admonition (rebuke) of the Lord.
  • If your child does not listen to you, this is a big, big problem. It is a problem that brings God’s condemnation on Eli. If your child does not listen to you, you must do something now. All of the parents in this room who have grown children will quickly tell us that if they do not listen to you now, they will most certainly not listen to you when they are teenagers or when they are in college.

D.  He Honored His Children Above God  – 1 Samuel 2:29 – 29 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 condemns Eli for honoring his sons above him. The children were more important than God.  We show that our children come before God in a number of ways.

  1. We refuse to discipline them because we do not want them to be displeased. We need to accept God’s plan above all others.  “Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.”    (Proverbs 23:13–14; NLT)
  2. We allow our children to violate the laws of God without consequence. , Eli told his sons to stop,  but that was all he did. There was more he could have done, but he refused. The happiness of his children was more important than honoring God.
  3. We place our children’s activities above God.  We allow our children to decide matters that are our responsibility.  Teach them that the whole world revolves around them.
  • Physical punishment cleanses away evil; such discipline purifies the heart. (Proverbs 20:30; NLT)
  • Proverbs 19:18 – 18 Chasten your son while there is hope, And do not set your heart on his destruction.

Conclusion: We see the pain that Eli’s children brought to him.  He was held responsible for the misery he endured.  His concern and even rebuke were ineffective because he did not restrain his children.   What can we do?

  • Build a relationship. Be thinking to the future. What am I training my children to do and to be? Am I teaching them to love God? Am I teaching them that they need to be happy and the world revolves around them?
  • Restrain our children. It is the only way we can retain the effectiveness of our words later on when it really matters.
  • Be a loving authority like God. God is a loving authority. He displays His love through discipline and truth. He sacrifices for us.