Then Elkanah returned home to Ramah without Samuel. And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest. Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting. The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord ’s offerings with contempt. But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest. Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle. Eli said to them, “I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. If someone sins against another person, God can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people. One day a man of God came to Eli and gave him this message from the Lord: “I revealed myself to your ancestors when they were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. I chose your ancestor Aaron from among all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer sacrifices on my altar, to burn incense, and to wear the priestly vest as he served me. And I assigned the sacrificial offerings to you priests. So why do you scorn my sacrifices and offerings? Why do you give your sons more honor than you give me—for you and they have become fat from the best offerings of my people Israel! “Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me. The time is coming when I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will reach old age. You will watch with envy as I pour out prosperity on the people of Israel. But no members of your family will ever live out their days. The few not cut off from serving at my altar will survive, but only so their eyes can go blind and their hearts break, and their children will die a violent death. And to prove that what I have said will come true, I will cause your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, to die on the same day! “Then I will raise up a faithful priest who will serve me and do what I desire. I will establish his family, and they will be priests to my anointed kings forever. Then all of your surviving family will bow before him, begging for money and food. ‘Please,’ they will say, ‘give us jobs among the priests so we will have enough to eat.’”
1 Samuel 2:11-18,22-36
Dear God, Eli is one of those complicated people we come across in the Bible. He seems to genuinely love you, and he seems to be willing to admonish others he thinks are being inappropriate (see 1 Samuel 1:12-14 when he rebukes Hannah), but he is weak when it comes to leading his sons as his successors in the temple.
I wonder how much of this was the problem of nepotism and how much of it was Eli just not being strong with his sons. He does rebuke them at one point, but he doesn’t do anything about it. And apparently this weakness played out not only in his life and the lives of his two sons, but throughout his lineage.
One of the problems of nepotism is the respect that you lose from others around you. How did the people feel about going to the temple when they saw what Eli was allowing his sons to do? I’m sure they grumbled and gossiped about it. It was obviously a poor witness to everyone else involved, including young Samuel. I believe that’s why, in chapter 3, you showed up to warn Samuel that you saw what Eli and the boys were doing and you weren’t going to tolerate it. I think you were warning Samuel to not follow their example.
Father, give me the strength to stand up for you, care for those you have put around me for whom you need me to care, and not take the easier path for my own sake. Guide me in shrewdness and wisdom. Help me to be strong and yet as gentle as possible so that I might be a reflection of you and how you deal with us. And in the one situation that is particularly on my mind this morning, I ask that you will make my path straight and prepare the way for me. I could really use some divine intervention.
In Jesus’s name I pray,