Written by:  Leslie Cook
Edited by:   Pauline Paterson

The story of Eli and Samuel shows how God dealt with those in leadership positions, even when they were acting contrary to His Word.  As we read the scripture passages in 1st Samuel 1 thru 2, we see that Eli was not a perfect spiritual leader.  In fact leaders are never perfect.  My intent is to show that God will use leaders whom He calls, although they may not strictly obey His mandates for that position, and how He deals with them in His appointed time.

In the fifth verse of 1st Samuel 1, we read that ďGod had closed Hannahís womb.Ē  This was grievous to Hannah because Elkanahís other wife, Peninnah, who had borne him children, tormented her each year as they traveled together to the temple for worship and sacrifice.  As Hannah knelt in prayer weeping, Elkanah inquired, ďHannah, why weepest thou? And why eatest thou not? And why is thy heart grieved?  Am not I better to thee than ten sons?Ē 

Elkanah loved Hannah dearly, so he did not care that she bore him no sons.  Instead, he was distraught that he could not help her because it was God who had closed her womb.  Why would a good God inflict sorrow?  Based on our knowledge of Godís righteous character, we can assume God had a very good purpose for permitting Hannah to suffer this affliction in a culture and historical period when a womanís worth was measured by her ability to produce children, especially sons.  We should also keep in mind that a good God does not do evil things, so what man may view as a curse from God may be Godís permissive will for a specific season and reason.  Sin is the root cause of all curses. God merely holds back His mercy and grace to allow the just consequences of sin to occur.  Unfortunately, the sufferings and death that flow from rebellions against God quite often fall upon innocent people, as it did with Jesus, who being sinless himself suffered and died for all our sins, so that Godís greater purpose of salvation could be fulfilled.

As Hannahís situation unfolds, we learn that Godís good purpose for Hannah was to bring her to a point where she recognized that only God could deliver her from her trouble; and to a place of sacrificial giving that positioned her to receive abundant favor and blessings from God, which came in the form of many children and greater honor than she would have had otherwise.  We also learn that Godís greater kingdom purpose was to set in place a worthy successor for the priesthood, as Eli, the current Priest, was growing old and more negligent in performance of his duties.

But, because Hannahís knowledge of Godís plans is limited, she was so overcome with despair because of her barren womb that she resorted to bargaining with God, as many troubled Believers often do today[1].  When in despair, it is easy to forget that God is good all the time.  We do not have to persuade Him to be loving and merciful toward us, because God is love and God is merciful.  In Hannahís life and in our lives, it is God who strengthens us to press through afflictions to the point where we entrust everything to God.  At the point that she put her total faith in Him, God did for her that which even her loving husband could not do.  He broke the curse of sin and opened her womb, so that she could conceive a child with her husband.  And, along with blessing Hannah, God also provided a greater blessing for His peopleóSamuel, the child who would become Eliís successor as High Priest.

While Hannah is fervently praying for a child, the Priest misjudges the moving of her lips to be evidence of drunkenness, and says to her: ďHow long wilt thou be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee.Ē  But Eli is wrong about Hannah, because other people, even a Priest or Pastor, cannot judge the true condition of anyoneís heart and/or spirit.  So, Hannah shares with Eli her grief, and he agrees with her in prayer and pronounces a blessing over her, in accordance with the authority of his position as High Priest: ďGo in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of himĒ   (1 Sam. 1:12-17)

It is significant to note that Eli performs this function of the Priesthood because the authority of the Priesthood rested upon him, in spite of his failure to properly deal with his sonís unlawful behavior in the temple[2].  Both Hannah and Elkanah faithfully worshipped God with their yearly sacrifices; with Hannah giving due respect to Eli by calling him ďlordĒ (1 Sam. 2:26).  Only God, the one who appointed Eli to the Priesthood, could judge Eli at His appointed time, which draws nearer as Eli gets older.

Three years later, after Hannah has weaned her baby boy, she keeps her oath to God and returns him to the temple, with her husbandís support.  Elkanah says to Hannah: ďDo what seemeth thee good; only the LORD establish His word.Ē  Apparently, God not only acted upon Hannahís heart to give her only son back to God; but He also acted upon Elkanahís heart. Elkanahís willingness to give up his only son with the woman he truly loved, had to be the work of God, who inspires and strengthens all fathers to faithfully perform their duties to provide and protect the family He entrusts to their care.  Elkanah had been faithful in making the annual journey to the temple to offer sacrifices to God; and three years later he continues to be faithful by supporting his wifeís vow to return to God the son He had given them, after he mercifully delivered her from the affliction of her barrenness.  

            When Hannah and her little son, Samuel, encounters Eli in the Temple, she reminds him of the prayer and vow she made three years earlier.[3]  This arrangement would seem contradictory to the natural mind.  A mother and father are led by God to entrust their son to a priest, whose own two sons, Hophni and Phineas, are so rebellious that the community calls them ďchildren of Belial,Ē meaning utterly worthless.  But Godís plan passes natural understanding.  Eli, in his anointed office of High Priest, is empowered by God to mentor Samuel in ministry.  At the same time, Eli must exercise his own free will to make choices that either please or displease God.  As long as Eli is faithful in his duties toward Samuel, his authority over Samuel remains intact.  But, because Eli had neglected his duty to discipline his sons, his authority over them steadily diminished to the point that they were rebellious against his parental authority, as well as his priestly authority. 

How could such a contradictory situation be possible?  A trusted High Priest of 40 years[4] must have taught his own sons, who functioned as priests at the temple altar, the ways of the Lord.  So, why have they chosen to disparage Godís holy altar and exploit His people?  Perhaps the answer rests in the statement, ďThey knew not the LordĒ (1 Sam 2:12), which implies the absence of a personal consecration of their hearts to God. Because they had entered the priesthood by birth[5] into the tribe of Levi, these young men grew up naturally performing functions at the altar; but never seeking to know God for themselves.  This spiritual principle endures until today.  Merely being present at church and even serving at the altar is not sufficient for creating a personal relationship with God.  Every person must seek spiritual rebirth through faith in Jesus Christ in order to be consecrated to God and able to worship Him in spirit and in truth.  Eliís sons were physically active in the temple but not at all spiritually consecrated to the service of God.

The scriptures state that the servants of the two young priests were taking by force what did not belong to them, even taking that portion of the offering that should have remained on the altar, because it belonged to God Himself.  The rebellious behaviors of the priests and their servants caused the Israelites who worshipped at Shiloh to become disillusioned and diminish the sanctity of the offerings to the Lord, because Hophni and Phineas often had their servants ďtake by force all that they desired instead of what was proportioned to them by the LordĒ  (1 Sam. 2:13-16).[6] 

In Godís eyes, Eli shared the guilt of his sons because he had authority to reprimand them, remove them from their altar duties, or even sentence them to death for their abominations; but he chose to do nothing more than give them the following verbal warning for their many offenses against God. (1 Sam. 2:22-25)

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. 23 And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. 24 Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord's people to transgress. 25 If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them.

Finally, over an extended period of time, Godís Grace ran out signified by an unnamed man of God appearing on the scene to pronounce judgment upon Eli and his household.[7]  Because of Eliís leniency, and without suffering just consequences, his sonsí hearts became hardened so they could not be convicted to repent while there was still time.  Had this spiritual leader honored God more than man[8]; and observed the laws of God concerning His altar, temple, and the care of the people entrusted to him, a different outcome would have befallen Eli, his sons, and the whole nation.  But when leaders abhor God and nations rebel against His laws, they separate themselves from Godís Divine protection and make themselves vulnerable to all manner of evil.  For in the absence of good evil will prevail, just as in the absence of light darkness prevails.  Therefore, this Bible story shows us that in Godís appointed time disobedient leaders are dealt with appropriately as depicted in the 2nd chapter of 1 Samuel.

This principle of Godís sovereign authority over His appointed leaders is very important to all worshippers because we are all placed under the authority of leadership, within the church, on our jobs, and in our homes.  Itís important to understand that it is not pleasing to God for those under authority to judge those in authority over them.  God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that all human beings are imperfect and will at some point fall short of His glory.  The authority delegated to spiritual leaders flows from God; and is subordinate to natural or earthly authority. Nevertheless, every individual maintains free will to choose how to carry out Godís delegated authority.  Imagine what would happen if the credibility of Godís blessings on His people were dependent upon the holiness of His imperfect leaders.  They are merely Godís mouthpiece and should humble themselves to deliver as God instructs them.  Any departure from Godís revealed will is an infraction of that delegated authority, and only God has the right to deal with His appointed leaders in His appointed time.  Until He does, those under that authority figure must stay focused on God as their source and endeavor to seek His Face and His Truth with pure hearts.  The expectation of faith should always be in God for direction, healing, and comfort; even when God delivers them through an appointed vessel that may be negligent of his/her duties or even willfully condoning and/or living in sin.

            In summary, as we think about the lessons learned in this Scripture passage, it becomes rather obvious that there is nothing new under the sun,[9] because the same situations that occurred thousands of years ago in Hannahís life and in Eliís and his sonís lives are happening in our lives and in the ministry today.  As it happened with Eli, so it is happening today with appointed Pastors who dishonor their holy office by failing to discipline their own children; to remove corrupt ministers who misuse their positions; and take more than their just share, because they have succumbed to their carnal lusts for worldly wealth and fame.  The scriptures call them greedy dogs who can never have enough.[10]  But, when God has had enough, His righteous judgment falls. 



[1] 1 Samuel 1:11.

[2] Romans 11:29.  For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

[3] 1 Samuel 1:26-28. 

[4] The number 40, according to Scripture, means:  Number of probation, testing, ending in victory or defeat.  Interpreting the Symbols and Types by Kevin J. Conner, p. 55.

[5] The same for us; those who believe in Jesus Christ have to be born into His kingdom.

[6] Leviticus 3:3-5, 16.

[7] 1 Samuel 2:27-36.

[8] Matthew 10:37.

[9] Ecclesiastes 1:9.

[10] Isaiah 56:11.