Summary: In Eli's day, Israel was in a low spiritual state. When they lost a battle with the Philistines, Instead of repenting and reentering the battle with God's favor, they used the Ark of the Covenant as a magical box to defeat their enemy. Didn't work!!!
Richard Tow 4.21.18
Our story this morning begins with two children who grew up in a pastor’s home. These boys were born into a long line of preachers. They grew up hearing about the Lord every day of their lives. In fact, when they were grown they too went into full-time ministry. The great tragedy is that with all this privilege neither of them actually knew the Lord. They knew a lot about religious activity. They were even trained for ministry. Their father knew the Lord. Yet all the exposure to the things of God somehow never reached their hearts.
I’m talking about the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phineas. They were ministering in the highest priestly offices at the temple, yet they didn’t even know the Lord.1 That is a chilling thought. Just being around the things of God does not necessarily mean a person has opened his heart to the Lord. In fact, familiarity with the sacred is a dangerous thing. A person can begin to take it for granted and count it as a common thing since they live so close to it every day.2 People in ministry must remind themselves of the honor due God. They must not presume upon God’s grace. They must not lose their awe for the presence of God and the word of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom....”3 Hophni and Phineas learned the mechanics of ministry, but their hearts were far from God.
1 Sam. 2 describes some of the corruption of these young men.
They were not just taking the priests’ portion of the sacrifices made at the temple. They were basically taking what they wanted when they wanted it. And they would take it by force if necessary.4 When you’re dealing with the sacred things of God, always tread softly. We are accepted by the Father through our relationship with Jesus Christ. But there is an honor Jesus always gave the Father, and there is an honor we should always give to God. It is popular to be casual before God in church. We can enjoy a liberty because of our relationship with the Father, but that should always be tempered with a sincere reverence toward the Lord.5 It’s something that issues from the heart of a person who enjoys intimacy with God. You can speak openly and freely before the Lord because of His grace, but you never forget who He is. In fact, the deeper your intimacy the more awed you are by His majesty. Something in me is disturbed when I see the lack of respect some people show toward God. It let’s me know they don’t know Him very well. The more you know Him, the more you love and respect Him, the more defensive you are of His honor. Hophni and Phineas had none of that. They were greedy ministers. They abused their office. God had assigned plenty for them. There is an appropriate portion to be given those who serve in the ministry. Paul was saying that in 1 Cor. 9:9 and 1 Tim. 5:18 when he quoted Deut. 25:4, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” If a minister is faithfully doing his duty, he deserves reasonable compensation for that so he can continue. The oxen were to allowed to eat some of the grain while he did his service. But Hophni and Phineas got greedy and used their power to just take what they wanted without restraint.
Their indulgence went beyond that. They were also having sex with the women who served at the temple. It would be like the pastor having an affair with the secretary. But for Hophni and Phineas this was more widespread than even that. These sins would be egregious even if done outside the temple context. But it was particularly dishonoring to God when done in that context by men who were supposed to be representatives of the Lord. 1 Sam. 2:17 says their sin was “very great before the Lord....”6 We are all held to a standard of holiness before the Lord. But spiritual leaders are held to a higher standard and a stricter judgment.7
These young men were reportable to their father, Eli. Eli knew the Lord. He was genuinely called to ministry. But Eli was indulgent and undisciplined. His excess weight was one indication of that. He was also indulgent toward his sons. Eli heard about what they were doing. It was his responsibility to correct it. He made some effort to do that, but there was no consequence behind it. I suspect he had been permissive and indulgent toward these boys all their lives. That’s probably part of the reason they were so undisciplined and self-indulgent themselves. So, Eli goes to them and reasons with them about the problem. Again, this probably mirrors the way he had dealt with them in the past. They knew it was all talk. I can just see them rolling their eyes as their father gives them his lecture. What he said went in one ear and out the other. Eli’s little talk with them had no affect whatsoever on these two young men. Their sin continued, and Eli did nothing to stop it. Maybe he thought the talk was all God required of him. But God held Eli accountable for his sons’ sin along with them. He became a partaker in their sin by not standing against it and taking action against it. This is an indulgent parent making a weak, passive stand against the sins of his grown children. Yes, he had told them that he didn’t approve of their actions. But he should have thrown them out of the house as a bare minimum. He should have used what authority he had to actually correct the problem.8