Summary: Eli’s two sons were counted "worthless", and the fault can be traced to "the word of the Lord was rare in those days". Eli did not connect "church" and home for them. We must teach our children Biblical truth or face the consequences.
Nothing delights us any more than the birth of a new baby. Everybody gets sort of squishy and sentimental around a baby. And I suspect that it is not only because they are cute and cuddly and helpless and small, but also it is because they are full of promise. Babies are nothing more than a bundle of promise; what they might become, what they could be, it’s limitless. It’s boundless.
When you hold in your arms that tiny life, you do not know but what you are holding a future president of the United States or some kind of rocket scientist or someone who will discover a cure for cancer or whatever. You only know that this little life has infinite promise. This child may have the potential for greatness. Somehow we never think, I could be holding a future mass murderer in my arms! I could be cradling the next Charles Manson or Jim Jones, the next drug kingpin or compulsive wife-beater. We don’t think that way. We don’t like to imagine all those negative possibilities.
And yet, as someone has so eloquently put it, every baby is nothing more than a few pounds of flesh with an insatiable appetite at one end and total irresponsibility at the other!
Babies, children, have infinite possibilities for good, but also for evil. We don’t like to think about them becoming totally irresponsible, but it can happen. It has happened. And there are reasons why it happens.
In ancient Israel there lived a man who was called upon to carry out two sets of responsibilities. There were two kinds of demands placed on Eli. He was a priest and he was a father. And without question he was expected to discharge the responsibilities that go with both tasks.
The picture we get of Eli the priest is of a reasonably capable and conscientious man. So far as we know, he got the job done. He showed up every Sabbath and did what was expected of him. On the surface, anyway, Eli was a good churchman.
But the Bible is ruthless in its assessment of Eli the father. It minces no words at all in describing the character of Eli’s two sons: "The sons of Eli were worthless men; they had no regard for the Lord."
"Worthless men". How did they get to be that way? Hophni and Phinehas, once little bundles of joy held in the arms of their mother and father, but now grown into "worthless men." Once sweet little children, playing and delighting their parents with their charm, but now written off as "worthless”. How could it happen?
There is a significant clue in the scripture. I want to make the connection between two verses a chapter apart. And every one of us who is a parent, every one of us who teaches, every one of us who is in a position to provide for children, whether in the schools or in the community or in the church … every one of us who cares about how children grow up needs to make this connection.
As I have said, chapter two of I Samuel opens with the harsh judgment that the two sons of Eli the priest were "worthless men; they had no regard for the Lord." But at the beginning of the third chapter there is also a harsh judgment about the whole climate, the whole scene, in which they lived.