The Sad Story of Eli and His Sons
By Fred Pruitt
I’ve been thinking about the priest Eli and his sons lately. It’s the story told in 1 Samuel chapters 2 — 4.
12) Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord….
17) Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord….
22) 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….
23) And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people.
24) Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord’s people to transgress….
27, 34) And a man of God came, and said, Thus saith the Lord, … 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….
31) 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.
35) 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.
Eli is the old High Priest who brought up Samuel in the tabernacle in the days when the Ark was in Shiloh. Being High Priest meant he was of the house of Aaron, since only Levites of the House of Aaron may perform sacrifices according to the laws of Moses.
As Eli grew weaker with age, he let his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, take over all the priestly duties. Only there was a problem with that. The scripture never minces words or pulls punches. They had rejected the God of Israel, and served Belial, the wicked one. Instead of serving the congregation’s spiritual needs, they were using their positions to scam the people! They were taking more than their share in the sacrifices, by force if necessary. The most heinous things they did involved having sex with some of the women “who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.” (Things haven’t changed much, have they?)
1 Sam 2:17 “Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.”
Eli heard about all they were doing, especially the abomination of seducing women who were coming to assemble with the congregation of the Lord, and he confronted them. It was to no avail. They were sons of Belial, the scripture had said earlier, and they scorned the counsel of their father.
What is interesting is why — (1 Sam 2:25b) “Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them.”
They could have turned and repented, and God would have withheld the destruction, but almost, one might say, “against” their will, they are held unrepentant by the will of God! Because God WOULD slay them! In other words, that was His expressed intent and purpose, in this instance. To slay Hophni and Phinehas.
That is something to come back to, but why I started talking about this in the first place is its effect on Eli. First the Lord sends a prophet to pronounce judgment on him. Because his sons are so bad, the Lord completely decimates the house of Eli, saying that from then on there would be no old man in his family forever, and as a sign that this was true both his sons would die on the same day.
Later on (chapter 3) the Lord repeats the same Word to Samuel, a judgment upon Eli and his posterity. It is also the first direct “opening” in Samuel of the Word of the Lord, who is still a young child. We can even see the new birth in the story because Samuel not only hears the Word but also comes as a Speaker of the Word. Even though He had heard the Lord previously, thinking it to be Eli’s voice, Samuel only knew natural understanding. That rational mind of man that cannot ever see or understand the things of God. The fact that Samuel, at an extremely young age, rises up and takes on the prophetic mantle, gives witness to the fact that he has entered the Life of the Spirit.
Only here through Samuel is added: (1 Sam 3:11-13) “11 And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. 12 In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. 13 For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. .”
There is a great deal more to consider in this little drama, indeed everything about Samuel is something to consider, because it is Christ and Adam again, with Samuel representative of the eternal kingdom of Christ and Eli as Aaron who has only an earthly priesthood, as does the fallen Adam, and cannot, as fallen Adam, fulfill the word of God.
It is obvious when the posterity of his house always dies in the flower of its age — never reaching the end of life — and he speaks of the coming priest that it is first Adam, last Adam, the Last Who shall be First.
But what struck me about this story is how Eli is judged for his sons turning evil and for failing to restrain them, when God’s sons did the same thing and God has not restrained them.
Is not Lucifer his son, and certainly Adam we know is his son? We can infer it with Lucifer and the Gospel of Luke outright says Adam is the son of God. And all of us are called offspring and children, if not sons.
So God’s sons went bad, too. And as far as “restraining them,” it might seem that he did the same as Eli — gave warnings and admonitions. But some of God’s sons didn’t listen just like Hophni and Phinehas.
Only Eli did not have the power to keep them sealed in their path until it brought their destruction. Only God can do that. Eli would most certainly have tried to keep them from it, and would have made them different, made them listen and repent, if he could have. Yet they hearkened not to their father, because the Lord would slay them. Held for that particular purpose of God!
Well then, once again I see it. When Samuel tells Eli what God told him in the night, a repetition of the judgment that had already been pronounced, Eli simply said, “It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth good.” And now Eli has gone in type from Adam to Christ. “Not my will, but thine be done.”
And he even accepts judgment and punishment for them. He goes the whole way with his sons. Even death. When his sons accompany the Ark of the Lord to the battle with the Philistines, instead of the great victory everybody expects because they brought the Ark, they are routed by the Philistines. Hophni and Phinehas are slain, and the Ark is stolen by the enemy. News of his sons’ deaths reaches him first, which he takes in stride. However, when the news reaches Eli the Ark is taken, it is too much for him. He keels over and dies on the spot. It isn’t the news of his son’s deaths so much as the news that the Ark of the Covenant had been taken by the enemy, that did him in. “O God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
(Read Hannah’s prayer in the beginning of the second chapter to see the setup for all this.)
The resurrection side of Eli’s story, is that Samuel now takes over. Who is Samuel? How did it come to happen and why, that Samuel, who was not a Levitical Priest, became judge, priest and prophet over all Israel? How is it he could perform sacrifices?
Samuel is the son of Elkanah from Mount Ephraim, which was occupied by the tribe of Ephraim. However, Elkanah’s lineage goes back further. Elkanah is “the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite.”
What’s that? Samuel’s father’s family originally comes from …..
“Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2).
Samuel is an Ephrathite, i.e. from Bethlehem-Judah, and being a Judah-ite, cannot even be a priest, much less High Priest. But there again, as plain as day, a sign so clear and a type so perfect how can we fail to see the transfer of the Priesthood from Levi and Aaron, to Judah and Jesus?
Then my questions about Samuel were answered. First, he was the down payment fulfillment of the prophecy that God would raise up another priest. Of course the ultimate fulfillment of that Word was Jesus of Nazareth, who would come about a thousand years later.
Meanwhile, Samuel operated outside the Mosaic system, though he was based in it. He sacrificed on hilltops, something spoken against by nearly every prophet that prophesied. Still, he did it, and his not-Mosaic priestly office prospered so that he went over all Israel and was known to all. His life reminds me of the oft quoted verse in Acts 10:38 “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.”
One of the main reasons I wanted to look into this is because I also have sons and a daughter. We have had our difficulties. I have been beat over the head in myself over this Eli story. Since I’ve had some troubles, the tendency is always to blame oneself, especially a father for his sons, but when I saw God was “guilty” of the same thing, his sons going “astray,” and in Eli, God takes on the judgment for it himself, as He does in Christ, I understood my own life.
The point of this story is not the destruction and judgment that fell upon the House of Eli, but the resurrection and new priesthood — which resides in us all. All HIS promises toward us – and to all those to whom He sends us – are Yea and Amen!
“Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.” (Acts 3:6-8).
Walking, and leaping, and praising God!