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
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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?
hearkened not unto the voice of
their father, because the Lord would slay them.
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.
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;
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.
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,
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.
But, when God has had enough, His righteous judgment falls.