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The sons of Eli were wicked men. The narrator calls them “sons of Belial, who knew not God.” First he portrays their wickedness with respect to the sacrificial meal of the offering. The law specified (Leviticus 7:31-35) the portion of the sacrifice which the sons of Aaron should receive; namely, the breast and the right shoulder. But while the meat was in the pan, Eli’s sons took whatever flesh their hook could spear. The law required also that the fat and other choice portions should be burned on the altar as a sweet savor unto the Lord. (1 Sam. 3:3-5). But these sons appropriated, by force if necessary, the flesh in its raw state, as still attached to the fat. Thus they rebelled against the sacrifices as instituted by God in order that they might have their filthy lucre. As the sacrifices were symbols of the realities of the kingdom, definitely of Christ’s atonement, it was the very gospel of God that these sons of Eli corrupted and on this account caused the people to abhor. Besides, they had illicit intercourse with women at the sanctuary. Thus their sins were great. They were rebuked by Eli, their father. He said to them, “Why do ye such things? For I hear of your evil dealing with all this people. Nay, my sons, for it is not a good report that I bear: ye make the Lord’s people to transgress. If a main sin against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him.” He meant to say that these sons sinned directly against the Lord and that therefore there could be no intercessor to try their case, investigate the Lord’s charge, and according to his findings, pronounce them guilty or innocent. For the Lord is infallible God. There is no arguing with Him. All attempts to prove his accusations false must needs end in failure. And He in no wise clears the guilty. And He is mighty to execute His sentences. Thus there was no possibility of these sons escaping the penalty of their sins. For it Was God with whom they had to do. But Eli’s words had no effect on them. They would not be instructed, because the Lord would slay them, 1 Sam. 2:25. Sons of Belial, that’s what they were.

But we should not fail to observe that in slaying these sons for their wickedness, the Lord was punishing Eli and even providing him with a sign that more and much worse punishment was to follow. The curse of God would continue to pursue him in his generation forever. But was not Eli himself a God-fearing man? Doubtless he was. True, he had spoken harshly to Hannah, praying in the sanctuary. But he thought that she had been drunken. “How long wilt thou be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee.” His blunder can be explained. A drunken woman in the sacred precincts of the sanctuary was not a rarity in those days. The moment he perceived that he had made a terrible mistake, he made amends by blessing Hannah, “Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.” And when Hannah appeared at the sanctuary with her child, Eli took him under his custody and thereby cooperated with her in the performance of her vow. And he blessed Elkanah and Hannah, and said, “The Lord give the seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the Lord.” And they were blessed. For we read, “And the Lord visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters.” Also he rebuked his sons for their sins. What then was Eli’s great sin? In the language of the “man of God” he honored his sons above the Lord, 1 Sam. 2:29. And the Lord himself sets forth his sins in these words, “For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile—accursed, in the Hebrew—and he restrained them not.” Here the Hebrew text reads, “And he chided; that is, rebuked, reproved, admonished them not.” But how is this to be harmonized with the notice that he did rebuke them. The sacred narrator even incorporated in his story the words of censure that he spake to them—words that were just interpreted. There is no discrepancy here. It must be that Eli’s rebukes were far too mild to have any effect and that finally they ceased altogether. This being true, the Lord ignores his effort to restrain these sons in their wickedness. The effort was too feeble. This is indicated by the very form of the words of the one rebuke recorded. “Nay, my sons, for it is not a good report I hear.

This should have been rendered, “Nay, my sons, for it is not a good report that I am continually hearing. (In the Hebrew text the qal active participle is used). Observe the expression “not a good report”. This is mild language, considering the atrocious doings of these sons. Those reports were abominable. And what to think of his addressing these spiritual bastards, incarnations of wickedness, as “my sons”. The old priest could be stern when it concerned not his own flesh and blood. “How long wilt thou be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee.” Such were his words to Hannah, whom he mistook for one of those lewd women who came to the sanctuary. There was fire in his eyes and steel in his voice when he said that. But when it came to rebuking his own sons, he was very meek and soft spoken. And it is also a warranted conjecture to say that he would refrain from chiding his sons in the hearing of the people. He did not want to expose them, as they were his sons. And for the same reason he continued them in office instead of driving them from the sanctuary. So did he honor his sons more than God, says the sacred writer. He means that Eli honored his sons and God not at all. Those sons were wicked. Their guilt was great but not as great as that of their father. He was most to blame. It may be imagined that in the beginning of their public career they had behaved well enough, and that their deflection was gradual and by degrees. There was the first offence. One vigorous protest on the part of Eli would have prevented its repetition. But all they got from him is some mild scolding, which was now and then repeated when some Israelite would report to him their atrocities. By his failure to be firm with his sons at the outset of their careers, Eli encouraged them in the pursuance of their mad course. Truly he had greater blame. The responsibility was his, and the Lord held him accountable for all the abominations of his sons. This comes plainly out in the doleful message of the “man of God” to him. It is also proved by the fact that the message was delivered to him and not to his sons.

“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 he my priests, 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 mine offering, which I have commanded in mine habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourself fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?”

Let us observe the expression “Why kick ye at my sacrifices and make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings, . . .” The pronouns ye and yourselves are in the plural and in the first person and thus include also Eli. He, too, was here charged by the “man of God” with committing these sins. The sins became his through his unwillingness to oppose, in his capacity of high priest and custodian of God’s house, his sons in order that God’s house might be cleansed of the wicked, be purged from the corruptions of its worship.

The “man of God” who appeared to Eli was a true prophet of the Lord. This is plain. His words rang true. His message was stern and Eli was the highest official in the land. And the “man’s” predictions came to pass. By Eli’s father’s house is to be understood the family of Aaron from whom Eli descended through Ithamar. The other sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, and Eleazar. After the death of Aaron the high priestly office was filled by the last-named. Why the high priesthood was transferred from his family to that of Ithamar, in the person of Eli, the Scriptures do not reveal. The reason was not, that the male line in Eleazar’s house had failed; for in David’s time Zadok of the family of Eleazar was priest, along with Abiathar, of the family of Ithamar and Eli. The Lord first appeared to Aaron and his house when they were in Egypt. It was then that Aaron was called along with Moses to be God’s instrument for the deliverance of His people. Thereupon the Lord chose him and his house to be his priest out of all the tribes of Israel. Thus the priesthood—all the priests collectively—had its origin in God’s sovereign election and was the product of his wonder-working grace. It belonged therefore not to itself but exclusively to the Lord to offer upon God’s altar His offerings. “Wherefore then,” said the man of God to Eli, “kick ye at my sacrifices and at my offerings, which I have commanded in my habitations; and honourest my sons above me, to make yourself fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?” These were the sins that were being committed. The gospel was being trampled underfoot. Christ was being put to open shame. And cursed men were making themselves fat with Christ’s gospel. It means that they behaved as though all things—God’s people and the office of priest, God’s house, His altar and offerings—belonged not to God but to themselves for them to exploit as they chose. And why did they thus? The question was put to Eli by this man of God, “Why kick ye at my sacrifices? . . . And the only answer that would come to him is that the fault lay altogether with his sons. They were “sons of Belial”. Yet he did not restrain them. And therefore the sins of these sons were Eli’s sins because, being high priest and set over the house of God, he refused to purge God’s house of the accursed, they being his own offspring according to the flesh. He could not bring himself to crucify, for God’s sake, his corrupt paternal love of the wicked. Let the rulers—the pastors and shepherds—in God’s church be instructed. If they refuse to purge the church—God’s house—by properly admonishing the disorderly, and excommunicating out of the Christian church the wicked, they are held accountable. All the sins of the wicked in the church are accounted their sins, so that, in the sight of God, they are as guilty as they would be had they themselves committed those very sins. For in refusing to restrain the wicked, they go over to their side and are thus against Christ. It may be conceded that it was difficult for Eli to take action against Hophni and Phinehas, they being his own children. But he should have considered that,, in the words of Christ, if a man hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his very own life also, he cannot be Christ’s disciple.

These then were Eli’s sins; namely, his unwillingness as God’s high priest to rebuke his sons that the house of God might be purged of the wicked; and his honoring his sons more than God. The sins that were his through his neglect of duty were his kicking at the Lord’s sacrifices and his making himself fat with the chief of all the offerings. The Lord punished his sons by killing them both in one day. We must now attend to Eli’s punishment.

The Lord had said that Eli’s house and the house of his father, by which is meant the entire priesthood from Aaron down, should walk before Him forever. But this promise could go into fulfillment only with respect to those priests who honored God. The others—the reprobated—would be abased. “For them that honor me, I will honor, and they that despise me, shall be lightly esteemed.” Eli’s two sons had despised God through desecrating the symbols of Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection, thus through corrupting God’s gospel. Eli ought to have debased his sons as a zealous champion of the Lord’s honor. But he did not do this. He looked on, stood idly by while his sons abased God; and thus he became, as was explained, a partaker of their sins. Therefore the Lord will punish him in his generations. The Lord will cut off his arm, and the arm of his father’s house. Through the ages to come its strength will be broken, for none of its members shall reach an old age. They all will die in their prime. But the text does not say that Eli’s house will fail, altogether cease to exist. To the contrary, the text brings out that the existence of this house will be prolonged far into the future. This house may not fail, for through the untimely death of the multitude of its members, thus as a bearer of the divine curse, it must serve as a sign in Israel that they who despise God’s sacrifices will be abased. That the state of Eli’s house through the ages of the future will be one of continuous and unabated affliction is indicated by the sequel of this prophecy, “And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in, all the wealth that God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thy house forever”. The text here offers some difficulty. The rendering in our English Bible can be improved. The original text reads here (literally), “And thou shaft behold affliction of dwelling in all that in which it will be well to Israel.” The context makes it plain that the thought conveyed is that, in his generations, Eli shall see distress of dwelling in all that brings prosperity to Israel; that is, while the nation prospers materially, Eli’s house continually will be afflicted and as a result will be excluded from the national rejoicing. The whole course of thought suggests affliction for Eli’s house rather than for the tabernacle of God, also the last clause of this verse, which reads, “there shall not be an old man in thy house.” But this is not all. The man of God continues, “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.” We could also translate, “Yet I will not cut off every one to thee from my altar to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart.” This agrees better with the last part of this verse, “But the multitude of thine house shall die men; that is, in the flower of their age. Eli’s witnessing this would grieve him, and after his death it would grieve the survivors of his house who would be in the land of the living to behold that terrible phenomenon. But though the multitude of Eli’s house would die an untimely death, the Lord would not cut off every man. For a long time, for many ages to come, He would keep alive a small remnant for the bearing of the curse. Eli’s house was not immediately deposed from the priestly office, nor was it at all excluded from the priesthood, according to the text. Up to Solomon’s time, descendants of Eli were high priests, and according to tradition his family continued to exist, but always as afflicted of God. And this shall be a sign unto Eli, “that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them.” That would be a sign unto Eli for only a brief moment. For he died in the very moment that the tidings of the death of his two sons reached him. It was a sign unto all Israel and definitely unto the remnant of Eli’s house in ages to come; its purpose was to focus the mind of men upon the house of Eli, which it also was bound to do; for the calamity that befell Eli’s sons was foretold. It therefore formed the clear evidence that the* Lord had done it, and that it was He who was afflicting through the ages Eli’s house. So would the Lord “do a thing in Israel at which both ears of every one that heareth it will tingle,” 1 Sam. 3:11. And hearing everyone would know that God is not mocked.

But there is more to this prophecy of the “man of God” to Eli, “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 he shall walk before my anointed forever.” The priestly office, being a divine institution, abided, though those who filled it perished. The faithful priest must be understood in contrast to Eli and his sons together with their spiritual kin. Some maintain that the above description of the “Faithful priest” can be made to apply only to Samuel, that in him alone did this prophecy find fulfillment. It is maintained and correctly so that an essential element of the calling of the priest was instruction in the law. Deut. 33:10 expressly declares the duties of the priests as follows, “the priests’ lips shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law from his mouth, for he is a messenger from heaven.”; and so that prophecy of the “faithful priest” is fulfilled in Samuel, because the priesthood of his time had proved itself unworthy and unable to fulfill this calling. The further sacred priestly acts which Samuel performed and his mediating position between God and Israel as advocate characterize him as the faithful, approved priest announced in verses 35, 36. Yet it is doubtful whether the prophecy can be applied to Samuel, and this for the following reasons. 1) The Lord will establish this “faithful priest” a house, which is priestly; and Samuel founded no such house. 2) As was said, Eli’s house was not ejected from the high priesthood until Solomon’s day. 3) Samuel is nowhere called a priest. It is doubtful whether he sacrificed at all. If he did, his performance of the priestly service must be regarded as extraordinary like that of Gideon and Solomon. Yet it is true that Samuel was the embodiment of the spirit of the pure and faithful priest in contrast with the wickedness of Eli’s sons. But the first fulfillment of this prophecy was the deposition of Abiathar and the installation of Zadok, as sole high priest, I Kings 11:27, 35. This was the fulfillment of the judgment on Eli’s house, “So Solomon thrust out Abiathar from being priest unto the Lord; that he might fulfill the word of the Lord, which he spake concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.” The Zadokite family continued in an unbroken line to Christ. So did the Lord build him a house indeed. And in the main, Zadok and his descendants were men of personal godliness. But the final fulfillment of the prophecy under consideration was Christ. He did absolutely according to that which was in God’s heart and mind. Him God built a sure house—the church—which He purchased by His own blood. And He purges His church from all corruption and the wicked. He sanctifies and cleanses her “with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

The final prediction of the “man of God” to Eli, “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 priest’s offices, that I may eat a piece of bread.” Eli’s house will be impoverished through its deposition from the priestly office. It shall beg its bread and be wholly dependent on the Zadokite family for the means of supporting life. So was Eli in his generations punished in two ways. He was cut off as to the increase of his house and impoverished. He was brought low indeed, because he restrained not his sons.