An old priest named Eli and his two corrupt sons didn’t know the LORD. They wrecked the faith of their people and led the nation astray.
SETTING THE STAGE
In the city of Shiloh, there was an old priest named Eli. He was in charge of the LORD’s temple, and he had two sons.
The sons of Eli were wicked men. The Bible tells us “They didn’t know the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:12).
They didn’t have a relationship with God. They were not saved.
They stole from the laypeople’s sacred offerings to the LORD. They robbed the best part, keeping it for themselves.
If the layperson insisted that these two priests do the LORD’s sacrifice in the proper way, they refused.
In fact, they threatened their people with violence!
you shall give it to me now; and if not, I will take it by force (1 Samuel 2:16b).
The Bible says “The sin of the young men was very great before the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:17a).
A corrupt religious leader is a poison. He infects his whole congregation. His misdeeds wound his followers and cause them to go astray.
It was also a grave injustice to their people. They were causing people to turn away from the LORD God. They caused people to despise the LORD’s offering (1 Samuel 2:17).
For his part, Eli did NOT protect his congregation from his wicked sons. Instead, he turned a blind eye to what they were doing.
Why was that? Why did Eli turn a blind eye to the wicked deeds of his sons? Why didn’t he get his sons under control? Or why didn’t he forbid them from leading the worship and sacrifices of the people?
Eli reminds us of Catholic bishops who knew their priests were sexual abusers. But they turned a blind eye to the situation. Or they protected the priest.
Sure, there was that one time where he complained:
1 Samuel 2:24. No, my sons; for it is not a good report that I hear! You make the LORD’s people disobey.
But Eli might have said that tongue-in-cheek.
In any case, “they didn’t listen to the voice of their father” (1 Samuel 2:25b).
One day, a man of God came to Eli and delivered a message from the Most High God.
Speaking for God, the man of God spelled out Eli’s crimes in 1 Samuel 2:29:
- He kicks at the people’s sacrifices and offerings
- He honor his own sons above the LORD God
- He makes himself fat with the best of all the offerings
The corruption of Eli ran deeper than merely not stopping the crimes of his sons.
Rather, Eli was benefitting from what they did. He made himself fat with the best of all the offerings (1 Samuel 2:29).
He was not just a passive observer. Rather, he was in on it.
A moral theologian would call him a “material cooperator.”
This was even more corrupt than what his sons were doing, as Eli kept his crimes hidden.
To the people, he projected an an aura of righteousness, and he let his sons take the blame. But he was in on it.
The punishment for his crimes would extend beyond Eli himself. In one day, both of his corrupt sons Hophni and Phinehas would die. And he would die. And the priesthood of his family line would be lost forever.
THE ENTIRE NATION SUFFERS
One day, “Israel went out against the Philistines to battle” (1 Samuel 4:1). It was Israel who picked this fight. The Philistines did not.
Instigating this war was a stupid thing to do. In the first volley, they were “defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men of the army in the field” (1 Samuel 4:2).
Then the elders of Israel get the idea that they should go to Shiloh and get the Ark of the Covenant. They think it will save them “out of the hand of our enemies” (1 Samuel 4:3).
Their concept of the Ark is superstitious. They see it as a lucky charm.
If they had been familiar with the Scriptures or their faith or their history, they would not have misinterpreted the meaning of the Ark. They would not have been so superstitious.
It is sad that the leaders of the nation know so little about their faith or their history.
Why was that? Here are two likely reasons:
- Eli and his corrupt sons were not teaching people the Bible or their faith or their history.
- Nobody was reading the Bible.
When they brought the Ark onto the battlefield, “the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated” (1 Samuel 4:10).
The Israelites paid dearly for their superstitious misuse of the Ark; “thirty thousand footmen of Israel fell” (1 Samuel 4:10).
Worse, “God’s ark was taken” (1 Samuel 4:11).
All these terrible tragedies can be traced back to Eli and his two sons. They did not know the LORD, they were corrupt, and they alienated their people from the faith.
During the second battle with the Philistines, there was a bit of poetic justice: “the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain” (1 Samuel 4:10).
When Eli heard of this, “he fell from off his seat backward by the side of the gate; and his neck broke, and he died” (1 Samuel 4:18).
Now the prophecy was fulfilled. The lineage of Eli vanished, and his priesthood was lost forever.
The Bible concludes the story of Eli by telling us that “he was an old man, and heavy” (1 Samuel 4:18).
Why does the Bible mention this obesity of Eli? Perhaps to show us that he had fattened himself on the sacrificial offerings of his people.
The shepherd had fattened himself on his sheep.
The prophet Ezekiel has a very pertinent message for shepherds like Eli who fatten themselves and do not look after their sheep:
Ezekiel 34:2. Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and tell them, even the shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep?”
And so does the Lord Jesus:
Mark 9:42. Whoever will cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if he were thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around his neck.
How about your minister? Does your minister know the LORD God?
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.