Every believer has faults and shortcomings: the places and areas in our life that cause us to falter or draw our attention away from living rightly in the Spirit. This is the sphere of desire, where temptations for the natural life appeal to us in some way. This is the flesh-life that considers situations and relationships through the eyes of the natural. This is the flesh-life that wants to withdraw into ease to avoid the cross or to assert our own form of justification or validation to appear right or worthy to others. This is the flesh-life inclined to pleasing or promoting ourselves. When a believer leans toward the natural, it is called carnality, and when a believer adamantly withdraws into self, it is called backsliding, and when a believer refuses instruction or rejects correction, it is called rebellion.
Eli was a priest in the Times of the Judges, when there was no king in the land and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Eli lived in Shiloh and ministered at the Tabernacle each day. Here is the place he met Hannah, a childless woman in great anguish of heart. Her soul was troubled, and she was ridiculed and scorned by the wife of her husband. Through Hannah, the Lord God would bring forth Samuel, the prophet, priest, and judge who would speak to the nation and not one word would fall to the ground (1 Sa. 3:19).
Samuel would be Eli’s replacement as the Lord was bringing judgment upon Eli for his transgressions against the Lord. Eli’s lineage would be cut off from the priesthood and his sons would be killed. What was Eli’s great error that would cause the Lord’s wrath to fall on him and his descendants?
Was it because his sons, Hophni and Phinehas were wicked: who would forcefully take meat from the pots, meat that was being offered to the Lord? They were young men who served themselves instead of the Lord. Their actions caused the people of God to despise the offering; the people knew that these two young men took the best of the offerings for themselves. The people were not motivated to serve the Lord. Hophni and Phinehas also took the women for themselves and used the yearly assembly as an opportunity to satisfy and gratify themselves.
Was it that he was grossly overweight, thus an indication that he ate well and also partook of the fatty portions of meat that his sons grabbed for themselves?
Was it that he rebuked Hannah at the Tabernacle thinking she was drunk? His own two sons would lie with the women who came to the Tabernacle, thus preferring their own desires and gratifying their own desires, giving no honor to the Lord. When Eli saw Hannah moving her mouth while saying nothing, he assumed she was like these other women.
Was it because Eli never spoke to his sons about their wicked ways? Eli did speak to them and said, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the LORD’s people transgress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” (1 Sam. 2:23–25). No! Eli knew it was wrong and that his sons transgressed the ministry. Eli appealed to them and attempted to instruct them, but they would not listen. Their own desires came first.
Eli could tell everyone that he tried to teach them and show them the right way, but they wouldn’t listen to him. He could say, “I raised them to know what was right, but once they came of age, there was nothing I could do.” But Eli was certainly at fault!
So what was the great fault that would cut Eli, his sons, and his descendants from serving as priests before the Lord? This is the Lord’s charge: Eli preferred his sons and gave greater regard to them than to the Lord God. He did not act with zeal to correct the situation. Eli appealed to the sons but he did not take a stand for the Lord against them. He did not drive away their Canaanite behavior. Eli did not drive his sons from the Tabernacle and the priesthood and judge rightly, thus giving the utmost honor and regard to the Lord.
Eli should have decisively acted and sent a message to the people of God that the offering is to be honored above all, and serving the Lord is an honor, not to be used for selfish gain. Eli was old in age and knew better, but his zeal to do right fell short when it came to his own sons, apparently born later in his life, since they were called young men (1 Sam. 2:17). Since serving as priest begins at age 30, and they were called young, then Eli begot these two sons later in life. Many fall prey to the desire to give preference to their own children, especially those born later in life. But this did not excuse Eli’s lack. The Lord’s perspective must be employed in all that is decided, said, and done.
The Lord sent a prophet to Eli who said to him, “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?” (1 Sam. 2:29). Eli honored his sons more than the Lord, giving them place and regard instead of the Lord. Eli’s sons were full of fleshly ways, and Eli’s own weight issue proved his indulgent ways. Eli gave more value to his sons and their ways than to God and His ways. Thus, Eli’s weight was a visible sign of his indulgence.
Judgement was coming and it came in its own timing. Eli knew the truth but he did not execute the truth. There is always a cost when a believer gives regard to the natural ways. Eli would perish; his two sons would be killed, and Eli’s priestly lineage would be replaced. Oh my!
Beware, many in church today are doing this very thing. They are following the ways of Eli, giving regard and honor to their fleshly ways and the natural order, especially with their own children and those they deem friends.
Eli lived many years without receiving a rebuke. Judgment was suspended year after year, till Samuel came forth ready to hear the voice of the Lord and serve according to God’s word and His alone. Eli allowed his sons to act contrary to the Lord and did not drive away the rebellious spirit. The sons satisfied and gratified flesh for a time; then the time ended and their soul was required of them to give an account. Christ Jesus warned His disciples to serve the Lord and seek His Kingdom first and foremost (Matt. 6:33).
Modern Christians speak of the love, mercy, and grace of God while they prefer their natural relationships and fleshly ways. They give some regard to God but not when it comes to their particular desire; they find it so easy to regard by sight instead of faith, to love with affection rather than a faith grounded in truth. Modern Christians will speak of the truth but truth in the inward parts always lacks, thus it adversely affects all other aspects of the divine nature working in them; it becomes skewed as they prefer self’s definition of love, mercy, and grace.
Many today will boast of a Christian life, but their life does not cut away the fleshly desires, worldly ways, self-centered thinking, and human affections. To be a Christian is to walk in the Spirit, and this spiritual life mortifies one’s personal passions and desires (Gal. 5:24–25). Eli could say, “Boys, it is not good what you’re doing,” but he did not take up the sword of the Spirit and cut away the offense toward God. Eli so easily corrected Hannah and sought to set her straight, but he did not exercise the same rebuke for his defiant sons.
So, where are the sons this day? How did Eli’s pleasing and appeasing work out for them? Eli served the Lord and taught the boys the ministry of the tabernacle, but he faltered in the faith and honored them above God. Eli had idols in his heart; he loved his sons more than the Lord. He partook of the fatty offerings for himself, and he judged Hannah but demonstrated partiality with his own sons.
Eli was 98 years old when he fell off his stool and broke his neck after hearing that the Israelites suffered a loss to the Philistines, the Ark of the Covenant was taken captive, and his sons were killed. Such a shame to finish your life in such lack, in a state of feeble faith and leaving so much in ruin.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but it leads to death (Prov. 16:25). This word calls for all disciples to not lean on our own definitions of love, justice, mercy, grace, and holiness. The Lord allows a time for insolence or indulgence, but then He judges. Lord, that we would find ourselves this day on the right side of the Lord, where the sheep find a home with the shepherd.