Andrew McFarland Campbell  

Eli, his sons, and Samuel

These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.

I am continuing my series of exhortations on the book of Samuel today, and I want to consider the demise of Eli and his sons, and the rise of Samuel. First Samuel chapter two, verse 12:

Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.

“Sons of Belial”–does that remind you of anything? Calling someone a son of Belial is like calling them a “good for nothing” (See “World Biblical Commentary 10: 1 Samuel, Ralph W.Klein, p 25). This is exactly what Eli mistook Hannah for in the previous chapter. When he saw her praying, he thought she was drunk. Hannah actually said to him “Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial”(1 Sam 1:16). How sad for Eli; his sons were good for nothing, an attribute he himself unjustly applied to others. What was it that the sons of Eli did? For one thing, they abhorred the sacrifices to God. Verses 12 to 17:

And the priest’s 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; 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. 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. 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. Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.

As we know, different parts of the animal sacrifices were allocated to the priests: the breast and the right thigh are mentioned in Leviticus 7:28 to 36, and Deuteronomy 18:3 specifies the shoulder, the jowls and the stomach of an ox or sheep that was sacrificed. The fat of the offering was not to go to the priests, but to be burnt on the altar, it was to be given to God, and it was after the fat was burned that the priests received their portion.

This isn’t what happened at Shiloh. The priests took what they wanted, and they took it before the fat was offered. The people objected–they wanted the fat to be given to God–and the priests threatened to use force to get what they wanted.

Think about the seriousness of this sin. God had made it clear in the Law of Moses how he wanted the priests to be fed from the sacrifice. The priests, the sons of Eli, weren’t happy with that and they took what they wanted. The people wanted to worship God in the way that he had specified, and the priests were stopping them. It is almost as bad as the opposition Christ faced from the Jewish establishment. The very people you would expect to uphold the standards of the Law were in fact the first to break them.

At verse 18, the focus changes from Eli and his sons, back to Samuel. 1 Samuel 18, verses 18 to 21:

But Samuel ministered before the LORD, being a child, girded with a linen ephod. 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. 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. And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before the LORD.

The child grew, and he grew before the LORD. What a terrible environment he was growing up in. It was not a centre of worship and holiness, but a place of blasphemy and intimidation. It would have been so easy for Samuel to be corrupted by what was around him, but he was not. He grew before the LORD. Perhaps he learned from Eli, perhaps he learned from his parents, perhaps he learned on his own. But however he did it he grew before the LORD. I wonder how Hannah felt? She saw her son growing up surrounded by corrupt men, yet he remained untainted by them.

In verses 21 to 25 we are back to Eli’s sons:

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. And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the LORD’s people to transgress. 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.

Eli rebukes his sons, eventually. He was fast enough to rebuke the innocent Hannah, but he didn’t rebuke his own evil sons until he was very old. What was the primary thing he rebuked them about? Was it the corrupt way they fed themselves from the sacrifices? Was it the way they threatened the people? No. It was something much less important. He rebuked them for their sexual promiscuity. I’m not going to say that it was right for them to lie with the women at the door, because it was most certainly wrong. I am saying that it is very surprising that Eli didn’t seem to do anything about their abohorration of the offerings to the LORD.

Divorce and remarriage is wrong. None of us disagree with that. Divorce and remarriage is not blasphemy against the holy spirit, which means that it is forgivable. Yet in the Christadelphian community we have people who are, dare I say it, obsessed with this issue. And when they put their energies into rooting out this sin, ignoring more serious problems, are they not behaving as Eli was? Certainly those Christadelphians who would have the whole world conform to our moral standards, perhaps through legislation, but seem less concerned about how those in the world have rejected God are doing exactly what Eli did.

Before Eli is told that his house will come to an end, we have another verse about Samuel. Verse 26: “And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the LORD, and also with men.” Samuel, the child Samuel, grew in favour with God and men. He was taking the position that Eli’s sons should have done.

And what was to become of Eli’s sons? Verses 27 to the end of the chapter:

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? 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? 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? 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

You couldn’t possibly doubt what was going to happen. I always have mixed feelings about Eli when I read this passage. “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?” Eli had been wicked, and he was being punished. This was the beginning of the end of Eli’s line, and it was his fault. Poor Eli. He was weak and he failed. Wicked Eli. He had kicked at God’s sacrifice. He honoured his sons above God.

The effects of this prophecy, against Eli and his house, surface several times under the Monarchy. Eli sees it’s initial fulfilment when his two sons die on the same day. Saul massacres Eli’s descendants, the priests at Nob, and only Abathiar escapes. The faithful priest that gets raised up is, not Samuel, but Zadok.

Where is the exhortation in this, brothers and sisters? Where in this sad story of failure and blasphemy can we find strength and courage? The answer to that lies in the fulfilment of the prophecy. When we read of the massacre at Nob, or the rise of Zadok, we can see the power of prophecy. We can see that God controls the world. We can see that God works in the Kingdom of Men, giving it to whomsoever he will.

First Corinthians chapter 11, verses 23 to 26:

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

We can look forward to the return of Christ with confidence, with certainty that it will happen, because in the pages of the Bible we have many other prophecies, such as the fall of the house of Eli, which have been fulfilled.

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