Relationships –Eli, his Sons, and Samuel

Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”
If the person said to him, “Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”
This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.
But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod. Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home. And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.
And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.
Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Did I not clearly reveal myself to your ancestor’s family when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh? I chose your ancestor out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your ancestor’s family all the food offerings presented by the Israelites. Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’
“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age, and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, no one in your family line will ever reach old age. Every one of you that I do not cut off from serving at my altar I will spare only to destroy your sight and sap your strength, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.
“‘And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always. Then everyone left in your family line will come and bow down before him for a piece of silver and a loaf of bread and plead, “Appoint me to some priestly office so I can have food to eat.”’”

  • 1 Samuel 2:12-36

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”
Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
“What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

  • 1 Samuel 3:1-21

That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry.
Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”
The man hurried over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”
Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”
The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”
When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.
His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. As she was dying, the women attending her said, “Don’t despair; you have given birth to a son.” But she did not respond or pay any attention.
She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel”—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

  • 1 Samuel 4:12-22

A Quote

[1 Samuel 3:10] The child Samuel was favored above all the family with whom he dwelt. The Lord did not speak at night to Eli or to any of Eli’s sons. In all that house, in all the rows of rooms that were around the tabernacle where the ark of the Lord was kept, Jehovah spoke to no one except Samuel. The fact that the Lord should choose to speak to a child out of all that household ought to be encouraging to us who think ourselves to be the least likely to be recognized by God. Are we so young? Yet we are not younger than Samuel was at this time. Do we seem to be insignificant? Yet we can hardly be more so than this child of Hannah’s love. Have we many troubles? We have not more than rested on young Samuel, for it must ; have been hard for him to part from his dear mother at such a young age, to be sent so early to do a servant’s work, even though it was in the house of the Lord. I have noticed how often God looks with eyes of special love on those in a family who seem least likely to be so regarded. It was on Joseph, whom his brothers hated that God’s electing love descended. Why should it not come on us? Perhaps, in the house where we live, we seem to be a stranger. Our opponents are in our own household. We have many sorrows, yet the Lord may have a special regard for us. We must come to Christ and put our soul’s trust in him, and then we will have to say, ‘He drew me to him with human cords, with ropes of love. He loved me with an everlasting love’ (see Hs 1 1:4; Jr 31:3).”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

What Do We Know about their Relationship?

Do we know anything about the relationship between Eli and his sons?  The story starts with the two sons “ministering” at the tabernacle, grown men.  When Eli hears what evil that they are doing, he tells them to stop, but the sons do not listen.  When the Christophany happens, God tells Eli that he is culpable also and Eli’s family line will suffer.  The Man of God prophesies that both sons will die on the same day.

Eli’s discipline is weak.  His son’s have hardened hearts toward God.  God is determined to make an example of Hophni and Phinehas.

When both sons did die on the same day, Eli hardly reacts.  He had already received the prophecy.  But when he is told that the Ark of the Covenant was captured, he falls over and dies.

Yet, 1 Samuel 3 is a wonderful story of God speaking to Samuel.  Eli takes a moment, but then understands what is happening.  He instructs Samuel wisely.  Note that Samuel was the son of Elkanah and Hannah.  Hannah had been barren.  She prayed to God for a son and promised to give that son to God.  Thus, Eli, by default, became a foster father.

What Can We Infer about their Relationship?

Was the soft, loving approach in parenting the only arrow in Eli’s parenting quiver?  Or did his sons react in a foolish manner?  Did they treat good with evil?  Were they the first examples of Preacher’s Kid syndrome?  Yes, Nadab and Abihu used the incense censors improperly and died, but they had not been raised in a priestly home where thousands of eyes gazed upon them to find fault that would reflect against their father’s weakness in discipline.  It might be a gap filler to say Hophni and Phinehas were exhibiting an evil PK behavior in rebellion due to a priest’s fishbowl existence.

Regardless, the two sons rebelled against God.  They found a way to profit from the station of priesthood.

Yet, Samuel received a message directly from God.  As Rev. Spurgeon said, God could have talked to any of the others, but He chose Samuel, because God knew Samuel’s heart, even in such a young boy.

In What Ways Can We Fill in the Gaps about their Relationship?

As mentioned above, the concept of bad PK behavior is more a gap filler than an inference.

Another gap filler could be used to refute Rev. Spurgeon’s quote above.  Is it possible, just not recorded in Scripture, that God spoke to Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas, but they brushed the voice aside, similar to Ebenezer Scrooge thinking he had eaten a bad potato?  In rejecting God’s personal message, the encounter would not be noteworthy.  The Scripture that we have in the canon has a purpose for being there.  There are plenty of examples of people rejecting God’s message.  Besides, without a face-to-face, there was the Scriptures, the Scriptures that the sons were supposed to be following, but they got greedy.

What Can We Learn from this Relationship?

Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas arose to the rank of priest due to a direct bloodline with Aaron.  Yet, God, at this point, changes the procedure so that those who honor God will be honored. Samuel was elected by God.  Samuel honored God.  This might be a chicken/egg argument, but God knew Samuel would remain faithful.  The relationship was established very early in life.

I have seen preachers abuse their station, take advantage of the secular concept that preachers only work one day each week.  But there is a difference in a preacher and a pastor.  A pastor’s work is never done.  I have heard pastors talk about scheduling “dates” so that they will have one evening each week that is reserved for the family.  Otherwise, they would be holding people’s hands at the hospital or at home in hospice care all the time.  At times, I have become irritated with the pastor for having his “day off” when as a layman, I work for God 24/7, but that is a myopic approach.  I take time off, a little each day, but I never have that call to counsel the folks with marital problems here and visit the sick there.  Maybe Eli was an absentee father, always doing God’s work and never actually parenting as the boys grew up.

Can we praise Eli for raising Samuel properly?  Or do we condemn him for not disciplining his own sons properly?  Or was it the individual’s choice and God’s election?  We only see two instances of Eli’s parenting.  He is gentle and wise with Samuel.  He is wise, but maybe too late, with his sons.  His words were not just weak, they were impotent.  A long running habitual lack of respect had been firmly established.  And sometimes, that is not the parents’ fault.  In this case, with the Man of God including Eli in the curse, Eli took some of the blame.

What Have We Learned thus far?

We have learned to:

  • Own our own mistakes and not blame others.
  • Be faithful to God, and worship properly, in the proper spirit.
  • Go to God in prayer, especially before any major decisions.
  • Do not show favoritism among family members, but always go to God.
  • Forgiveness is extremely important for none of us are perfect except for God.
  • Beyond physical love, there are other expressions of love, and respect is very important.
  • A relationship requires maintenance, nurturing, and an acceptance of the roles.
  • At times, we must be bold and trust God, and we must obey.
  • And to love, love, and love.
  • Be trustworthy.  Trust is required.
  • And don’t worry.  God has this situation, and He has us in the palm of His hand.
  • And remember to forgive others and confess our sins.
  • And never go against what God instructs us to do.

A Closing Prayer

We look to You for guidance.  Regardless of whether we have a call to be a priest or pastor, we need that “day of rest” to be with our family and attend to such things.  Even laymen can get laser focus and obsessed with one church project or another and ignore the children that are under their own roof.  Our first priority is with You, but even You wish for us to show and illustrate Your love when working in a parental role with our children.  But even then, it is the child’s choice.  Lord, please touch the hearts of my children and grandchildren so that they might know You personally.
In Thy Name we pray,

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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