Eli is an ambiguous character, but God rightly judges him and his sons for their sins – and ultimately sends Jesus so we might not die for our sin.
1 Samuel 2:22-26
22 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 24 No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. 25 If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.
26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.
Whenever I read the opening chapters of 1 Samuel, I always find my heart torn and conflicted over Eli. His story startles me – and sobers me. Along with Saul, who we’ll met later, Eli is one of the ambiguous characters that 1 Samuel presents to us.
He wasn’t wicked like his sons were wicked. Not in the same way. His sons were overtly, shockingly, unrepentantly evil; Eli wasn’t. He heard everything they were doing, and he disapproved. He recognises their wickedness and rebukes them for it. Yet, Eli is a failure in other ways. It’s interesting that he heard all these things about his sons from the people… Surely Eli should have been on the very frontlines of dealing with his sons – the priests of Israel. And he fails to actually remove them from their priestly office. This isn’t good.
Eli’s sins are sins of omission. Sins of not seeing, not acting decisively enough, and in doing so, tolerating intolerable evil against God’s people. Priests were supposed to be the ones who interceded for the people – his sons were doing the opposite… and despite rebuking them, Eli doesn’t stop them.
In the characters of Eli (and Saul, later on), God’s word startles me, and challenges my heart. I feel sorry for Eli – but later in this chapter, God judges him. Strongly. Our God is just and true, and sees according to his heart, which is perfect and holy and full of grace. I need to submit myself to God’s judgment of Eli, not my own flawed perceptions of how relatively wicked (or not) I think he is.
And it sobers me, because Eli shows me how little I deserve to be saved. Like Eli, I commit sins of omission. Like Eli, I don’t always do enough to stop evil happening. It’s my prayer that through God’s sanctifying grace, I will be made more and more into Christ’s image – including turning from sin, and rising to good works – including fighting for justice, and to expose and stand against evil, whenever it’s in my power. But, until that day when I will stand before God’s throne, complete in Christ, I will continue to need to repent of sins and live by faith in Christ – depending upon the sheer grace of God. Depending upon my God who is utterly holy, and cannot stand evil – and yet purchased me, a rotten sinner, by the blood of his own Son.
It was God’s will to put Eli’s sons to death. And apart from the grace and generosity of God, it would be his will to put me, and to put you, to death… justly – for our sin. But it was also God’s will to put his own Son to death, in our place. Jesus Christ, the Son, prayed to his Father, “Your will be done.” And because of Jesus, the faithful Son who listened to his Father and did his will, we need not face the judgment that Eli, and his sons, faced.
Head: What do you think is the significance of hearing about Samuel, after hearing that God is going to put Eli’s wicked sons to death? (Compare verse 26 with Luke 2:52).
Heart: How do you feel in your heart towards Eli? His sons? To the hope of the growing boy, Samuel? Why?
Hands: In the various parts of your life (including online), where do you see evidence of injustice, wickedness, or exploitation of others? What could you do to pray, and to protect the vulnerable – even on a small scale?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you that you gave your only Son to forgive the sins of wretched people like me – so that I might not die for our sins, as I deserve to do. Grant me eyes to see and delight in your holiness and grace, revealed in your Word, and how all of Scripture points to Jesus, my Saviour and my Lord. Amen.
A song to listen to: Mercy Mercy
Bloss Wilson – Creek Road Presbyterian Church- Springfield