|Vol. 12 No. 8 August 2010
One unique aspect of the Bible is that the inspired writers pointed out the weak characteristics as well as the strong in various individuals. It is revealed that Peter, a pillar of the early church, denied the Lord (Matthew 27:69-75). David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and had a man killed (2 Samuel 11:1-5, 14-21). Even the great man of faith, Abraham, spoke a falsehood regarding his wife Sarah (Genesis 12:13). Thus, it is not strange that the Holy Scriptures reveal to us the faults of Eli, a high priest of God, as well as his good points. Let us now consider the positive side and strengths of this great man.
First, Eli was a descendant of Aaron through Ithamar, the youngest of his sons (compare Leviticus 10:1, 2, 12 with 1 Kings 2:27; 2 Samuel 8:17 and 1 Chronicles 24:3). He was the first of the line of Ithamar who held the office of high priest. Besides being a high priest, he was also a judge. In this capacity he judged Israel for forty years (1 Samuel 4:18). He took a genuine interest in the training of the young boy Samuel. It was Eli who told Hannah that her petition for a male child had been granted by the Lord God (1 Samuel 1:17). His submissive attitude toward the judgment of God against him must also be noted. When informed by Samuel he simply stated, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him” (1 Samuel 3:18). In so many ways, Eli was a very good man; however, there was an area in which he was a failure and that was as a father.
The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, brought shame and ruin to their father and sin to a degenerate priesthood. They knew not the Lord (1 Samuel 2:12). Legally, they had the right to take a portion of meat from the people, but they went beyond this and even extracted meat that was to be offered as a sacrifice to God. (See Leviticus 7:31-35; 8:31; 2 Chronicles 35:13.) Their legal due as priests was the right shoulder and the wave breast, consecrated to God by the burning of fat upon the altar (Leviticus 3:5; 7:31, 34). Such action by these sons of Eli distressed the people. Their sin was flagrant and vile, calculated to awaken the intense disgust and abhorrence of every pure and reverent mind. They were the basest of sinners in that they, as priests, committed adultery with the women who served in the house of God (1 Samuel 2:22). In their sinful ways, they encouraged others to do the same (1 Samuel 2:24).
Eli was a failure as a father. The primary responsibility of rearing children in the way of the Lord is in the home. Actually, Paul places the duty on the shoulders of the father who is the head of the home (Ephesians 6:4). A great fault today is that many fathers do not fulfill this obligation. Children often associate with evil companions who influence them in a worldly and sinful manner (1 Corinthians 15:33). Eli’s sons were not strong enough to counteract the evil tendencies of the age, and their father erred in not taking precautions adequate to the occasion. Many children of good men sometimes become godless because of the absorption of parents in public affairs and business. Children learn more about Christianity from what they observe of their parents probably more than any other source. On the other hand, there is no greater encouragement for a child to despise Christianity than a discovery of insincerity and hypocrisy in the lives of his parents.
An outstanding weakness of Eli was that while knowing the sins of his sons, he did not restrain them (1 Samuel 3:13). A man may possess many amiable qualities and be on the whole a good man, and yet be mocked by some defect that mars his character, prevents his usefulness and makes him the unintentional cause of much mischief. Eli’s reproof was not administered in proper time. Early childhood is the time to teach and to train. A little plant may be easily rooted up, but when it has grown into a tree, it can only be removed by extraordinary efforts. Eli was weak, gentle and easygoing. He should have disciplined his sons before it became impossible to do so. It was said of Adonijah, the son of Haggith, that “his father had not rebuked him at any time by saying, ‘Why have you done so?’” (1 Kings 1:6). It would seem that the reproof Eli gave his sons was not given with sufficient earnestness. After learning of their terrible sins, 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’” (1 Samuel 2:23, 24). His reproof was not pointed enough and specific. It was too general and in indefinite terms, just those things he had heard that his sons had done. There seemed to be no real sufficient determination to correct the evil ways of Hophni and Phinehas. Someone has said, “Indulgence never produces gratitude or love in the heart of a child.”
Another observation of the reproof given by Eli was that it was not followed by adequate chastisement. It was specifically stated that his sons “did not heed the voice of their father.” (1 Samuel 2:25). The Law of Moses in the case of disobedient children was very severe (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Eli seemingly made no effort to prevent the continuance of their evil ways. Eli as a father, high priest and judge was guilty of disobedience (1 Samuel 3:13). Hophni and Phinehas were hardened in heart and rebellious in spirit. Solomon wrote, “Harsh discipline is for him who forsakes the way, And he who hates correction will die” (Proverbs 15:10).
The ultimate end for Eli and his sons is recorded in 1 Samuel 4:10-18. Hophni and Phinehas were killed in battle. Eli, being an old man, fell and broke his neck and died when he heard about their deaths. In addition, the ark of God was taken by the Philistines. There was shame, degradation and ruin for all. Eventually the priesthood was taken away from the house of Eli (1 Samuel 2:27-31; 1 Kings 2:27).
Parents can save themselves from many heartaches and sorrows in later life by following God’s instruction to bring up their children in the way of the Lord. May God abundantly and richly bless all those parents who are endeavoring to do this very thing in this crooked and perverse generation.