12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD (1 Sam. 2:12 NAS)
Eli was the High Priest during the years of the Judges. Samuel was not yet born. The Temple had not yet been built, but the tabernacle that Bezalel built in the wilderness was erected in Shiloh. This was where God met with his people. The sacrifices were offered; families ate the peace offerings together in fellowship with the Lord. The word of the Lord was taught.
But something was rotten.
Eli is an old man, and his sons are preparing to take over the priesthood during his retirement. But they are “worthless men” (lit, sons of Belial). Instead of simply saying that they were worthless, the sacred text tells us exactly what the problem was. It is heartbreaking.
First, they abused the families coming to fellowship with God. The families would bring a peace offering as their feast before the Lord. By the law of Moses, part of that offering was to go to the priests. But the sons of Eli demanded more. They threatened violence on those who sought to correct them.
16 And if the man said to him, “They must surely burn the fat first, and then take as much as you desire,” then he would say, “No, but you shall give it to me now; and if not, I will take it by force.” (1 Sam. 2:16 NAS)
The second problem was similar to the first. There were women who gathered at the tabernacle who served God is some capacity. They were “warrior women of Shiloh”
And the sons of Eli were raping them. The sacred text says, “They lay with them”, but the dynamic between the high priest and the women was such that rape is not too strong a word. What choice would they have had? Would these two wicked men, who threatened to take meat by force just stand back and ask politely when it came to the women there?
So that was the dynamic. These two men, who were in place to serve God in the highest position of honor – representing the mercy and love and justice and covenant faithfulness of God to the people of God – were worthless. They used their position for their own gratification. they enriched themselves and sated their own ruthless lusts with the bodies of God’s people.
They acted as if their ministry was their own personal playground, rather than the representation of Christ in Shiloh.
And God took pleasure in destroying them. That is what the sacred text says (1 Samuel 2:25). And it is a terrifying thought.
Why was Eli condemned? Eli did an investigation. He established the facts. He rebuked his sons. He rebuked his sons strongly.
But the law of Moses said that they were to be removed from office, taken outside the city, and stoned to death. They were to be reported to the proper authorities and were liable to civil penalties for the evil that they inflicted upon Israel. They were to be removed from office.
But Eli concluded his investigation. Rebuked his sons. Sealed the report. And they continued doing what they were doing.
And God told Eli
29 ‘Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?’ (1 Sam. 2:29).
Eli honored his ministry, his family, his tabernacle, more than he honored God. Think of the scandal! How could God’s name survive if it were publicly known what the sons are doing? No. They need to stop. My heart goes out to the victims. But we really have to keep this quiet – for the sake of the ministry.
And so God intervened, and it was hard. Hophni and Phinehas were both killed in battle. Eli hears the news and breaks his neck in a fall. The ark of the Lord is captured by the Philistines. God removed his presence from Israel because of the wickedness of the priests.
There are many similarities. Pastors continue to threaten and abuse. They make themselves fat through fraud, deceit and threats. Many who say, “Enough” are threatened with excommunication or driven out all-together.
Boys and girls continue to be abused by the thousands by leaders in every denomination. And the Elis of the world know about it.
The investigations are done. The leaders are rebuked. The reports are sealed. The abuse continues.
Because far too often we honor the ministry more than we honor God.
And God hates it.
Paul said that if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged (1 Cor. 11:31). If we do not cast out the sons of worthlessness from our midst, God does. And all who were complicit by their silence will also bear their judgment.
There are those whom God delights in destroying. That is a terrifying thought. It is also terrifying to think that far too often the people of God are standing with those whom God would delight in destroying.
Such a thing should not happen in the church.
For all of the families who have been threatened and cast out; for all of the women who have been molested in the “service of the Lord”, know this: God isn’t sealing and ignoring the report. He sees your tears and he hears your cry.
He has not yet acted because he is longsuffering and merciful. But he will act. He will come in judgment.
The Son of David, Jehovah himself, our Lord Jesus – both true and eternal God and the Son of David in one person – is the King we desire. He isn’t fooled. He doesn’t ignore the cries of the needy. He isn’t fooled by false words.
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 72, describing his reign.
2 He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.
3 The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.
4 He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
5 They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
7 In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. (Ps. 72:2-7 KJV)
Even now, although there is much that is not right, we see the Son at work exposing evil, bringing justice. And that work has just begun.
We will continue, as long as we have breath, to expose evil, reflecting God’s justice and righteousness as his image-bearers.
But ultimately, our hope is that the King is coming. He brings justice with his arm. He sees. He knows. He isn’t mocked. He isn’t fooled.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (Ps. 2:12 KJV)
He is longsuffering. But the offer of peace does not last forever.