I introduced the book of Samuel last week with a question: Is God King? Does He mean more to you than whatever it is you want from Him?
How can you tell? How do you know? Let’s continue reading in 1 Samuel 2:
12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.
In Hebrew, it says that these men were “sons of Belial”, which is possibly the name of a demon or another name for Satan. This is not a gracious description. The priests were God’s enemies, not God’s servants.
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.
In other words, they were taking more than God had already provided them. They were abusing their religious authority to be greedy.
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.”
Not only were these men stealing from the people, but they were also stealing from God. The fat was supposed to be burned as an offering – not eaten.
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.
I want to draw attention to the fact that God is clearly angry with what they were doing. It reminds me of John 2, when Jesus took a whip into the temple courtyard to clear out the money changers. In both cases, there were people ministering in the name of God who were taking advantage of their religious authority to be greedy. Do you think that still happens today? It most certainly does, and it still makes God angry.
18 Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. 19 And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20 Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home.
21 Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord.
The writer pauses to tell us about Samuel, and we are meant to compare him to the sons of Eli. Samuel is growing up in the presence of these wicked men, but he’s not like them. He is quietly, faithfully serving God in spite of the circumstances. Remember that, but let’s move on.
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.
This is especially wicked because the women serving the tabernacle were supposed to be virgins. And you would think the priests, above all men, would be concerned for their purity.
23 And Eli 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?”
Bob Newhart did a famous sketch on Mad TV where he plays a therapist. He charges $1 a minute and claims he can cure anyone in less than 5 minutes. The person comes in, explains their problem, and Bob’s solution is that he just tells them to “stop it”. That’s it. “Stop it”.
And that’s what Eli basically says to his sons. “Stop it.” Stop doing the bad stuff. And of course, it has no effect. There’s no real discipline… no consequences. And this was the result:
But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.
Read that sentence again and let it simmer. But they “would not” listen… to the voice of their father… why? Because it was the will of who? The Lord! To do what? To put them to death!
This is a difficult sentence. And just so you know I’m not using a weird translation, I’ll show you the same sentence in a few other translations.
(NIV) His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.
(NLT) But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the LORD was already planning to put them to death.
(NKJV) Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the LORD desired to kill them.
(CSB) But they would not listen to their father, since the LORD intended to kill them.
What we expect it to say is that his sons wouldn’t listen because they were evil, or hardheaded, or dumb. We don’t expect it to say what it says… they didn’t listen because God already planned to kill them.
Does that make you a little uncomfortable? It’s not the first time God did something like this…
He did it with Pharoah. Exodus 4:21 –
And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.
Exodus 9:12 –
But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.
The only good explanation of this is that God has the power to make people deaf to His Word. He can make people deaf to the call of repentance.
With Pharaoh, we don’t question it much because he was Egyptian – not an Israelite. But the sons of Eli? They were Israelite priests! Why would God harden their hearts? He must have a reason. Look at the next verse, verse 26.
26 Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.
Again, the writer pauses to tell us about Samuel. Do you remember the prayer of Hannah from last week? The Lord kills and brings to life. The Lord brings low and he exalts. That’s what we are seeing. God is planning to humble Eli and raise up Samuel.
At the end of the chapter, an unnamed prophet shows up and gives Eli the bad news.
34 And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. 35 And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.
And that’s the end of our text for today. Now, what do we do with it? What is God up to and why does it matter?
Let’s start with a parenting application. Eli was a bad father. He was soft on his kids. He had a responsibility as a priest and a father to remove them from the priesthood and he didn’t do it. It might even have saved their lives.
Parents, we cannot change the hearts of our children – but we can stop indulging their sin. I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone else. I sometimes convince myself that I’m loving my kids by going easy on them. I often choose the path of least resistance – all words and no consequences. “Stop it”. But that’s not love!
The difficult path, the right path, is to say – “because I love you, I cannot let you do that.” Because I love you, the answer is no. And there are consequences. I’m not going to be an accomplice to your rebellion. I’m not going to help you destroy your own life. That may sound extreme, but it’s not. Children who get whatever they want will grow up to be terrible employees and terrible spouses.
Parents, discipline your children. Failure to discipline is not love.
And that actually helps us understand the bigger picture of this story – the Fatherhood of God.
Look back at God’s definition of a faithful priest. He says here that a faithful priest is someone who will do what is in “my heart and in my mind”. In other words, a faithful priest is a servant leader. We don’t get to make up our own rules.
This is true of me as a pastor. It is true of your elders. It is true of us as shepherds of our homes and as parents. We don’t get to wing it because it’s not just about us.
Eli was not just a bad father. He was a bad representative of THE Father. And that’s why the judgment is so big.
God will shepherd His people. He will move bad under-shepherds out of the way. Why? Because His own reputation as a Father is at stake! If Eli won’t remove his sons, God will. And it had to be in a way that it was obvious God did it. Thus, He sent a prophet saying they would die on the same day. And they will. And no one will think it was a coincidence because God already said it would happen.
Didn’t I tell you that if you put your hand on the stove it would burn you? And what happened? This story is about God being a good Father by removing bad priests and replacing them with a faithful priest. In the short term, He’s probably talking about Samuel.
But there’s a much bigger plan at work. And we see a hint of that plan in an unlikely place. Go back to the words of Eli in verse 25.
25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?
How gracious of God to put the most Gospel-illuminating words in the chapter on the lips of Eli? But there it is. Our hope is not in Samuel or some other human mediator, because our sin is not against another human. Our sin is an offense against God. Animal sacrifices, good works, human solutions – none of it will fix the problem.
But God’s solution was a different kind of faithful priest – His own Son. The faithful priest is Jesus. And we know this because Jesus was absolutely obsessed with obeying His Father.
John 5:30 – I can do nothing on my own… I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
John 6:38 – For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Mark 14:36 – And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jesus wasn’t just a perfect man. Jesus is a faithful Son. He is an obedient Son. Willingly He obeyed and willingly He died. Our hope is not in our obedience, but in the obedience of Christ. And because Jesus was faithful, He has earned the promise of God – an eternal home… a family.
We are that family – sons and daughters in Christ – if our faith rests in Him.
Are you a friend of God or His enemy? How do you know? The enemy of God has a heart of stone. They see no need for change. The friend of God feels a need for repentance, initiated by the Holy Spirit. Can we be honest that we only wanted God for the benefits? We only wanted what He do for us? He is offering us a seat at the table in His kingdom – but not without the King. There is no kingdom without the King. Repent and receive the person and work of Jesus with empty hands.