22 Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (1Sa 2:22 KJV)
Eli’s failings are well-known, but perhaps little understood. If we grasp the significance of what is written in this passage, perhaps we would not be so foolish when it comes to sexual abuse in our churches.
Eli is the high priest of Israel. He is old now, and the leadership is about to pass to his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. But they are excessively wicked. In fact, they are so wicked that the Bible says that the Lord would delight in their destruction (2:25).
The heart of their wickedness is given in the verse I printed above. They “lay with the women that assembled at the door.”
That translation, unfortunately, doesn’t quite capture the horror of what took place. First of all, the tabernacle of meeting was the tabernacle that Moses and Bezalel built in the wilderness, where God met with his people, and the Ark of the Covenant resided. It was the place of sacrifice and blessing, a house of prayer, where God met with is people, his flock, his children.
The “women that assembled” is an interesting phrase. The word used is the feminine plural participle of “tsava’” , which means to wage war. If we would translate that word literally, it would be “women warriors”. The word also indicates organization or structure, which is why the KJV translated it “assembled”; but it misses the idea of warring which is inherent in the verb.
At any rate, this practice, whatever it was, is lost to history. But what we do know from scripture is that there were a group of women who were serving in an orderly and organized fashion in the worship of the tabernacle, and that they were called the “women warriors”. They were the “uppity women” of Shiloh, to use my dear friend’s phrase.
The same phrase is used in the law to describe a group of ministering women who donated the materials to make to laver of the tabernacle:
He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting. (Exo 38:8 ESV)
This was an official ministry of the women of the congregation of Israel. Perhaps they were descendants of Levi, since only Levites could serve the tabernacle.
Whoever they were, they were part of the important ministry of the service of God in the tabernacle of the Most High.
And Hophni and Phineas were molesting them.
The problem with Eli was not that he failed to rebuke them. He rebuked them strong enough. The problem was that he didn’t remove them from office and turn them over to be executed by the state.
Perhaps they were “sorry”. Abusers know all the right words to say. Perhaps it would have “damaged Eli’s reputation and ministry”. The Bible doesn’t give any excuses or reasons. It simply says that Eli didn’t stop them, because he honored his sons more than he honored God (2:30).
Eventually God hardened the hearts of the sons because he “would kill them”. This word “would” doesn’t have the same punch as it does in the Hebrew. What the text says is that God would take pleasure in killing them!
Oh that we would have the same hatred of sin that God has! These women warriors of Shiloh were betrayed by everyone that were supposed to be honoring them. Instead of honor, they were being abused at the door of the tabernacle of God! The tabernacle was supposed to be a place of safety, where God promised rest. And instead of safety and rest, the ministry was used as a vehicle to satisfy the lusts of the powerful and influential priests. The priests were given authority in order to protect and shepherd the weak. Instead, they preyed upon the weak, viewing the sheep of God as a meal to satisfy their own lusts! How dreadful it would be to be among those whom God would “delight to kill”!
My prayer for the church is that we would learn the fear of the Lord before it is too late.