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Warnings and prophecies to Eli
Eli's inability to take the situation in hand and bring it to an end resulted in God sending a prophet to him and we read that a man of God (I Samuel 2:27) approached him with a prophetic message that began with a review of the Lord's historic dealings with Israel. In later times, we know that God sent His prophets to rebuke kings but here he is sent to rebuke the High Priest because, under the Theocratic system, the high priest was the religious leader and as such he was the one who effectively carried the responsibility of ensuring that the utmost respect and attitude of holiness towards God was maintained. He was answerable to God but had become evil like the ungodly kings who would come later, and God sent a nameless prophet to rebuke him and this he did, spelling out Eli's sins (v291) and accusing him because he "honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people."
Three times in verses 27 and 28 God says through His prophet, "Did I not . . . ?". God chose Aaron and appointed his house to serve Him as priests and gave them their "portion" of the sacrifices to sustain them in their ministry. The priesthood is "of God" in that God created it, established it, and set down the rules and regulations governing it. Consequently, God speaks of "My sacrifice," "My offering," "My dwelling," "My people," and, by inference, "My honour" - the honour due Him by the priests because of all He has done regarding their priesthood.
Thus we can see the depth of Eli's sin - he honours his sons more than he honours God (v29) and appears to be afraid to confront his sons and deal with them decisively because they might dislike him, or even despise him. The nature of his sons is such that they might even kill him and Eli is clearly more afraid of his sons than of his God. He probably also wants his sons' approval and affection more than he wants God's approval and affection.. How can this be? The end of verse 291 suggests why Eli is so silent and passive regarding his sons' sins: "making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?" The words indicate that Eli, as well as his sons, was implicated in the unlawful taking of the fat meat. The prophet suggested they were a bunch of evil, obese, licentious men, operating the tabernacle in ungodly fashion for personal lust and gain, and imitating the priests of Baal in the tabernacle of God. The warning of judgment is very similar to the prophecy Elijah proclaimed to Ahab centuries later (I Kings 21:20-21). The prophet said to Eli (v31-351):
Behold, the days come. . . . that there shall not be an old man in thine house; ... and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age. And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them. And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed forever.
Again we see the concept that no one can sin with impunity. God can and will by-pass His own established organization if it becomes wicked to the point that it cannot be used. Although verse 35 is eschatological and refers eventually to our High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, God did by-pass the organization and chose an unusual character, Samuel to become a judge, a prophet and a priest in this transitional period.
At the time of the visit of the unnamed prophet, several years had probably gone by since Samuel had been taken to live at Shiloh. We know from I Samuel 2:19 that his mother visited him "from year to year," bringing him a new coat each time. So, when the prophet came, Samuel was probably about ten years old and this would have been about 1090 B.C.. Apparently Eli paid no attention to the warnings of the unnamed prophet so, in a final effort to reach Eli, God graciously used young Samuel to give him a second warning.
Chapter 3 opens with God's call to Samuel and records that: "the word of the Lord was precious (or rare) in those days, there was no open vision." We are not surprised to learn this when we recognise that the religious system headed by Eli and his two sons was so debased and wicked. The Lord told Samuel (v12-141) that what He was going to do would make everyone's ears tingle:
In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth: because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.
When Samuel heard God's message we are not surprised to learn that he was afraid for he was a ten-year-old boy receiving a terrible message of the judgment of God and he knew he had to tell Eli. When Eli asked him what God had told Samuel he faithfully delivered the entire message to the High Priest and Bible-believing Christians should be amazed that Eli heard the message and then spoke as he did. The message seems to be a personal one addressed to Eli. It is somewhat like the prophecy God reveals to Eli in 2:27-36, except that the prophet is identified. In fact, the prophet will be Eli's replacement, functioning as a prophet, a priest, and a judge. The message given to Samuel focuses on Eli's sin more than on the sins of his sons. More specifically, God indicates that He is bringing about judgment on Eli and his house because Eli knows of the sins of his sons and does nothing to hinder them. Instead of falling on his face in repentance in dust and ashes before God, and then taking his sons before the people so that they could be stoned to death he said (3v18): "It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good. " What a spineless jellyfish! It is disturbing to see the response of Eli to the prophecy. Eli is clearly informed that judgment is coming - and this time God's judgment cannot be avoided, but Eli can at least repent of his own sins of neglect. Instead, Eli speaks words which have a religious ring and appear to be an evidence of his submission to the sovereign will of God, but which are really an expression of Eli's willingness to continue on in his sin. What we read is not an expression of faith in God's sovereignty, but more an expression of fatalism couched in religious terms. If we see evil in our house God wants us to stand up against it! Sadly, we see similar God-dishonouring, evil and immoral, sexual behaviour by men calling themselves priests and pastors in British churches and fellowships today.
We may think that the conduct of Eli and his sons as priests has little to do with us as contemporary Christians, but we must be reminded that we too are priests:
5 You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:54).
We are also be reminded that while Eli and his sons (and Samuel) minister in the "temple of God" (1 Samuel 3:3), the "dwelling place of God" (1 Samuel 2:29), we are "the temple of God," His "dwelling place," and when we do harm to His "dwelling place," God takes it most seriously:
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-224).
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are (1 Corinthians 3:16-174).
No wonder the conduct of the Christians at Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 5 and 6), and especially their conduct in the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17ff.), is taken so seriously by God.
We, like Eli, must bring our children up in the "discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). We must not only verbally instruct and rebuke our children, we must correct them. This includes the use of the "rod" of Proverbs 13v24. If we refuse to discipline, like Eli, then our failure to correct is itself sin. All too many Christians choose, like Eli, to turn a blind eye and hope the problem will go away but it will not go away and will only get bigger. Our culpability only grows with the time we allow to pass without acting in obedience to God's Word.
Eli's sin is exposed and explained. The blessings of the priesthood come from God and He is the one whom Eli must honour. Eli's sons must be rebuked but, because of the "perks" Eli enjoys from the sins of his sons (and which he fears he will lose), he refuses to deal with the sin of his sons as he should and God's judgment therefore comes not only upon Eli, but upon his "house," a judgment spelled out in verses 30-34:
30 "Therefore the Lord God of Israel declares, 'I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever'; but now the Lord declares, 'Far be it from Me - for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed'" (1 Samuel 2:304).
To those who accuse God of breaking His promise we must point out that God's promise is a covenant Eli and his sons break by virtue of their sins. In this sense, God keeps His covenant and the text shows that God does not take the priesthood away entirely from Eli's house, for He says that some of his "house" will die: specifically, Hophni and Phinehas, and on the same day (verse 34). But God does not cut off every one of Eli's descendants (I Samuel 2v334):
33 "'Yet I will not cut off every man of yours from My altar that your eyes may fail from weeping and your soul grieve, and all the increase of your house will die in the prime of life'"
Eli and his sons who have "made themselves fat" with the sacrifices and the "prime cuts" will now see a change:
36 "'And it shall come about that everyone who is left in your house shall come and bow down to him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread, and say, "Please assign me to one of the priest's offices so that I may eat a piece of bread."'"
Although God will impoverish Eli's "house" they will still serve as priests, but God will take away their "strength" and make them "weak" (verse 31). It will be painful to all Israel, but they will see that God will not allow His priesthood to be defiled indefinitely.
Verses 35 and 36 speak of the blessing God will bring about for Israel through the raising up of a "faithful priest" and an "enduring house" of priests (verse 35). If Eli's "house" is to receive any blessings, it will be only by their submission to this "faithful priest" (verse 36). We are to look for this "faithful priest" and this "enduring house" of priests and we find that the words of verse 35 sound similar to those in 2 Samuel 74, known by many as "the Davidic Covenant:"
10 "I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, 11 even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you. 12 "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My loving-kindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 "And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever." '" 17 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David (2 Samuel 7:10-17, emphasis added).
The "house" of Eli is something like the "house" of King Saul except that, while Eli's house continues in decline, Saul's house ends in regard to kingship. But while Eli's descendants will still serve as priests, they will do so in subjection to a better priest. Who is this better priest and why is God making a covenant so that this one will have an "enduring house"? The answer is two-fold with a nearer fulfilment and a more distant, eternal fulfilment to this priesthood covenant which God makes here. First, God will provide His people with a better "house" of priests than Eli and sons, and this will take place in Israel's not too distant future (from Eli's perspective). The Levitical priesthood was given through the line of Aaron, a descendant of Levi (cf. Exodus 2:1ff.). When Aaron was made the high priest his two sons, Nadab and Abihu served under him until they were killed because of the "strange fire" they offered and Aaron's other two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were appointed in the place of their brothers (Leviticus 10). The priestly line of Aaron then descended through these two surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar and, originally, the high priest descended from Eleazar, but Eli, who served as the high priest, was a descendant of Ithamar. The prophecy of this unnamed prophet seems to be initially fulfilled when Samuel becomes priest in Eli's place then, later on, in the reign of David, Zadoc, a descendant of Eleazar, will be made high priest (1 Kings 1:7-8; 1 Chronicles 16:4-40). In the Millennial Kingdom, the "sons of Zadoc" will serve as priests (Ezekiel 44:15; 48:11).
The ultimate fulfilment to this prophecy is our Lord Jesus Christ, just as the ultimate fulfilment of our Lord's covenant with David is the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel's history shows that no merely human king of Israel is worthy of an eternal kingdom, of an endless reign. No one is worthy, not David or Solomon, nor anyone except the "King of the Jews," our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to "sit on the throne of His father, David." He is the full and final fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant of the text. There was never a priest in Israel's history worthy to serve as priest eternally, certainly not Eli, and not even Samuel. While God is about to give Israel better priests than Eli and his sons He will, in a future day, give His people the Lord Jesus Christ, the Perfect Prophet, Priest, and King.
If this took place in the year 1090 B.C., God gave Eli fifteen years to straighten out his house but we know that fifteen years went by and nothing happened. We do not know details of all that Samuel did as he grew up in this evil regime, but we know that he was 100% percent accurate with his prophecies (and thus fulfils one of the iron-clad tests for a prophet given in Deuteronomy 18:20-22) for we read (I Samuel 3:19-204):
19 Thus Samuel grew and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fail. 20 And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord.
How different this is to the so-called prophets of today, such as Rick Joyner who manages to write a book on prophecy7 which is full of self-contradictions and never even mentions this passage from Deuteronomy because the author claims that true prophets can make mistakes and personally predicted that communism would triumph over the West - while God instead brought down the Berlin Wall! While all Israel from Dan to Beersheba (a literary way of saying from the north to the south) "knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord," thousands of Christians today are duped by false teachers and prophets. We must ask: "Is there anything new under the sun?" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
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