“And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house. And the child did minister unto the LORD before Eli the priest. 12 Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD. 13 And the priests’ custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand; 14 And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh unto all the Israelites that came thither. 15 Also before they burnt the fat, the priest’s servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw. 16 And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force. 17 Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD. 18 But Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. 19 Moreover his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20 And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The LORD give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the LORD. And they went unto their own home. 21 And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before the LORD. 22 Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. 23 And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. 24 Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the LORD’s people to transgress. 25 If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them. 26 And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the LORD, and also with men. 27 And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Did I plainly appear unto the house of thy father, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house? 28 And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer upon mine altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? And did I give unto the house of thy father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel? 29 Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people? 30 Wherefore the LORD God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the LORD saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed. 31 Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father’s house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house. 32 And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thine house for ever. 33 And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age. 34 And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them. 35 And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever. 36 And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left in thine house shall come and crouch to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and shall say, Put me, I pray thee, into one of the priests’ offices, that I may eat a piece of bread.” (1 Samuel 2:11-36)
There is no human moral problem which the Word of God has not anticipated and addressed. By way of principle, by way of direct precepts, God still speaks to the person who cares to listen. We may not like what the Bible teaches, but speak God does.
In the present passage a tale is told of two families. There is the family of Elkanah the father of Samuel and there is the family of Eli, high priest of Israel, and father of Hophni and Phinehas. Both fathers had much to commend them. They were Israelites according to the election of grace. They were both spiritually minded men. One worshiped God as a proper pious Jew, the other served God as high priest. Both had children.. and both trained the children, in religious duties. So far, so good.
But there was a fundamental difference between the two men as spiritual leaders in their home. One father gave his child completely to God, the other father was not so committed. When Hannah came home and told Elkanah that she had dedicated her baby to the Lord, Elkanah had to make a spiritual decision. Either he could honor the decision of his wife, or he could not. The decision was his, and it was an important decision to make.
The pattern still exists today. Every time worship services are held men must make a spiritual decision. A father says on Sunday, “This day we will worship. When the Church gathers we too will seek God.” Men, do not lead your family away from the Lord. Do not make a spiritual decision you will live to regret. No man has ever lived to regret being committed to Christ.
When Elkanah exercised his spiritual decision to give Samuel completely to God, the Bible says, “And the child did minister unto the Lord before Eli the priest.” It is not hard to see, with a sanctified imagination, young Samuel playing upon the cymbals, and making religious music before the Lord. He helped in lighting the lamps in the temple. He held a dish, and ran on errands. He opened and shut the temple doors. Samuel learned at an early age to serve the Lord.
Of course there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that merely providing a religious environment is a guarantee that a child’s heart will turn towards God. That is the mistake in the minds of countless Christian parents. They believe that merely attending religious services will secure the salvation of the children, and as a result they are constantly disappointed.
Eli made the same mistake. With his two sons Eli was pleased. Like any normal father he was proud of his boys, and he loved them dearly. Eli loved them so much, he became careless with their souls. Hophni and Phinehas grew up with a view to becoming high priests in Israel. Socially they were automatically regarded as religious giants, but morally they were spiritual pygmies.
They were carefully trained in the Law of the Lord, only to transgress that Law in latter years, and a lesson is learned: knowledge is not enough. Environment is not enough. These provisions are essential for spiritual development but there must be an extra dimension, which is a heart for God.
When parents tell of how badly their children are, and how innocent they are as parents, judgment day honesty inquires, “Did you really cultivate a positive love for God in your home, or was your religion more passive in nature?” Does Deut. 11:18-21 apply to your home? Listen to this: Humans have a natural instinct for being self protective, and worse yet, having selective memories. Parents are no exception. Parents are prone to dissociate themselves from the lives of their children, provided their children are rebelling against God. Now when the children walk with the Lord, memories improve. And many parents cry “helpless” when the sins become serious.
In verse 12 we read that the sons of Eli were the sons of Belial. This Old Testament phrase was used of those involved in idolatry (Deut. 13:13), drunkenness (1 Sam. 1:16), rebellion (1 Sam. 2:22), and sodomy (Judges 19:22). The sons of Eli gave new meaning to worthlessness, as they became greedy and self-centered (verses 13-16). When the Law provided for their meals, they wanted the best portion of the sacrifice. What the people gave to them in grace, the sons of Eli began to take by force. Their slipping slide towards hell quickened.
The mindset of Phinehas and Hophni was that of hostility to God (v. 17). They abhorred the offering of the Lord. What Samuel found precious, they found putrid. When Samuel wore the beautiful linen ephod, the sons of Belial belittled the holy garments. They hated the offering of the Lord, because they hated God Himself.
Hatred and hostility towards all that is decent and holy was manifested by the sons of Eli in the way they treated the women of the church. The Bible says that they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
From the time of Moses, women had dedicated themselves to ministering to the needs associated with the services of the tabernacle (Ex. 38:8). This practice was still going on in the time of Christ (Luke 2:37), and continues to the present hour. Hophni and Phinehas took advantage of their priestly powers and position to sexually seduce the holy women.
When Eli heard that the sins of his sons were open scandal, he finally spoke out, and whipped them with noodles. Listen to this mild rebuke. You can hear the pathetic parental pleading. “Nay my sons; for it is no good report that I hear; ye make the Lord’s people to transgress.” The response of the sons is given in verse 25. “Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their Father.”
Why should they? Hophri and Phinehas had no fear of God. Why should they listen to the pattering of a foolish old man, who by a freak of nature happened to be their parent?
I have to weep a little when I read this narrative of children who do not fear God, and have no respect for their parents. Perhaps though, the religion of mother and father is mocked because it is shallow. It is possible for people to be close to the church, and very far from Christ.
The question comes, “What could Eli do?” His sons were grown. Were they not responsible for their attitude and actions? What can a parent do in face of such blatant sin?”
Eli could have done more, and by the Law of God he should have done more, as per Deuteronomy 21:18-21. This provision seems harsh to the church in the New Testament, and yet a similar terrifying provision is made for ultimate discipline in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.
What would happen if God’s people honored God’s provisions in the matter of sin? Fear would come upon the saints, and purity would come to the Church. We think we love our children too much to be so harsh, yet Proverbs says that the parent who does not exercise harsh discipline really hates his child. James Dobson has a book entitled Love Must be Tough.
Can it be that the truth of the matter is that since parents will not deal with corruptions in their own lives, that they find it impossible to judge sin harshly in their children? Can it be that 20th century Christianity is too shallow to have a spiritual impact on our society, or even our homes?
Writing the foreword to the Puritan Classic by Matthew Mead, The Almost Christian Discovered, John MacArthur comments: “In fact, The Almost Christian Discovered provides sobering proof of how far the contemporary church has slipped from the moorings of her heritage. Twentieth century Christians conditioned to accept carnality, worldliness, and compromise as part of the normal Christian experience are certain to be shocked by Mead’s admonition. What happens to the church and home when men fail to uphold their responsibilities as spiritual leaders? Three things happen.
First, other people in the church become caught up in sin. “Ye make the Lord’s people to transgress.” The very Priests who should be guardians of the virtue of the women, cause them to sin. It happens. (Sin in the Sanctuary.)
Second, the sins of the children become the sins of the parents. Bible commentators are in agreement that Eli probably enjoyed some of the extra fresh meat that his sons received by pressure and greed from the peoples (v. 29). By so doing, Eli honored his family above God.
I have heard more than one man say, “My family comes first. My family is more important. I will not worship, I must see my family. I will not pray. I will be with my family,” as if somehow that justifies it all.”Eli, why do you honor sinning sons above me? Eli, your family does not pray. Eli, your family does not worship. Eli, your children are bringing your soul into their sin. Why do you honor them above me?”
I wish I could take a roll call of all the families identified with this church. Is this the sin of the fathers here? If the answer is yes, then weep, and beg God to forgive for the failure. Repent. Will the next generation see the children grow up to have no fear of God, show no respect for parents, and express unbridled lust? Will the next generation be so little committed?
It does no good to plead that we are fundamental in our faith. Hophni and Phinehas were orthodox too as the sons of the High Priests, still they sinned. No. Religion must be not only theologically sound; it must be personal, vital, and experienced.
There is a third thing that happens when a father fails to uphold his spiritual responsibility as a leader and that is the wrath of God is unleashed against all involved. Eli shall not escape a certain measure of accountability for his children turning away from God. While the children are responsible and shall be dealt with as such, God holds Eli accountable (v. 27): “And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said unto him.”
In 1989 a law was passed in one of the states that said parents are accountable for the actions of their children. A mother was arrested when her teenage son was charged with belonging to a local gang. The law makes both parent and child accountable. Long ago, God passed His own law,and said in effect, “Eli, I hold you accountable for your children’s attitude and actions.”
Then God took away from Eli the privilege of his family being High Priests in Israel. Moreover, Hophni and Phinehas died the sin unto death. Today, God is still holding men accountable for the spiritual decisions they make. Today, judgment is still being administered when there is sin. It may not be recognized as divine wrath, but the heavy hand of divine discipline is evident. How else do we explain the explosion of false cults?
How else can we understand the fragmentation of churches? Why does God allow churches to overextend themselves financially, by building buildings instead of building a relationship with God through prayer, worship, and the fellowship of the saints? Is it not because we are prone to honor programs, families, and projects over Him? These things are not pointed out to shame anyone, but to gently, but firmly, lead people back to the Lord. I plead with you. Where there is guilt let it be acknowledged. Where there is sin, let it be forsaken. If one generation fails, the next might be better.
We need the wisdom of those who have failed to say, “Do not do this. I did and was sorry.” Such is true grace. Hophni and Phinehas both died in one day as predicted. God will not be mocked. There are casualties as the result of careless religion. But the greater lesson for God’s people is that the next generation can be different, but only if we learn now to honor God more than anyone, or anything else.