1 Samuel Chapters 1-8
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By Stephen Green: (First published in Christian Voice July 2004)
One of the saddest parts of the account of the young Samuel's ministry to the Lord in the Temple is the immediate intrusion of the corruption of Eli's two sons. As sons of the High Priest they had an elevated position, which they were abusing. Not only that, they were demeaning the Lord's sacrifice in the process, setting aside the specific regulations which God had given to Moses, and rending the sacrifices worthless. True, there would come a time when the ultimate sacrifice would be offered on a wooden cross on Calvary. The sacrifice of our Lord would put an end to the sacrifices in the temple, but until then, it was all to be done in order.
These two were taking what they wanted of meat intended for sacrifice, or roasting it when it should be boiled, or taking the fat which should be burnt, to the extent that men could not be bothered with the sacrifice any longer - they "abhorred the offering of the Lord" (1 Sam 2:17)
There was more. Hophni and Phineas - their names mean 'Pugilist' and 'Serpent's Mouth' - were sleeping with - and that expression is probably too dignified - the women hanging around the door of the tabernacle. (vs 22) The KJV says "the women that assembled ...", but the Hebrew says "assembled by troops ..." No wonder Eli complained that everyone was talking about them and that they were making the Lord's people to transgress. They were turning the daughters of Israel into an army of temple prostitutes, whether or not money changed hands, and that was expressly forbidden in the law, in terms which resound down the ages:
"Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore, lest the whole land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness." (Lev 19:29) and "There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel. Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God for any vow; for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God" (Deut 23:17-18)
ELI IS POWERLESS
Eli remonstrated: "Why do ye such things, for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay my sons, for it is no good report that I hear; ye make the Lord's people to transgress. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him? (1Sam 2:23-25)
But Hophni and Phineas would not listen to their father. They had gone too far and God had judged them already. In fact the Bible describes them as 'sons of Belial' - sons of worthlessness or wickedness. "They knew not the Lord." (vs 12) That is a shocking statement. Here are ministers of God's holy things who "knew not the Lord." They were not even going through the motions. At this point perhaps Eli should have disowned them, but the Bible says that he honoured them above the Lord (vs 29).
I have a picture of Eli as a good but weak man who failed from an early age to bring up his sons to do right, and to train them up, as we read in Proverbs, in the way they should go. By the time they were men, it was too late for training. Plainly Eli was so busy ministering in the Temple that he had little time for his sons. There is a popular idea that children need 'quality time', but in fact they just need time.
The American writer Robert Bly wrote that when a son spends time with his father, even if it is mending the car, fishing or going to a ball game, "something almost like food passes from the father to the son." Of course the best time a father can spend with his son is in teaching him the word of God, and it could be that Eli, whose duty it was to teach the people, had neglected to teach his sons, and was reduced to crying, "Why?"
In the absence of suitable and persistent teaching about how to behave, men put themselves before God, let alone before their fellow human beings, and take all they can get, precisely how Hophni and Phineas did. There is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 3:15) and those two young men would fit in well in Britain today, possibly in government if not in the church.
MANNERS MAKETH MAN
To the contrary of life on the take, a new book was published this month of July 2004, entitled: "Yes please, Thanks." Written by Penny Palmano, the idea is that children can be taught how to behave from an early age. (Now where did I hear that first?) The subtitle is: "The essential guide to teaching your child manners, respect and the social skills necessary to get ahead in life."
The process starts by introducing a rule that nothing is given without 'Please', and even that which is given is immediately taken away without 'Thank you.'
Butting in on adult conversation is banned. "Tell you child that anyone who wants to interrupt must wait for a pause and then say, 'Excuse me, please.'" Reviewer Winifred Robinson, writing in the Daily Mail, said her son grasped this principle straight away, and it took him just five days to lose the habit of shouting down grown-ups.
She writes, "Cultivating lovely children is as time-consuming as cultivating lovely plants. It isn't enough to want a polite child - you must regard good manners as important enough to work at, day in and day out.
"Many of us are too busy with other things to think very much about manners, our own included. It is part of what makes modern life so stressful, with adults jumping petrol queues and children running amok in restaurants" (Daily Mail 15th July 2004 p48)
SAMUEL'S SONS TURN ASIDE
Or running amok in church, one could add. Which brings me back to Eli's sons, and for me the saddest part of the story. I wept the first time I read 1 Samuel Chapter 8. Samuel had seen everything of the wickedness of Eli's sons, and their untimely end (1 Sam 4:11) He heard the prophet denounce Eli with those haunting words:
"For them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." (1 Sam 2:30) God even told Samuel what would happen to Eli and his sons, and that Eli's house would be cut off because "he restrained them not." (1 Sam 3:12-14)
You would think hearing such a judgment, and seeing its execution, what with Eli and his sons dying on the same day (1 Sam 4:14), that Samuel would take great care to bring up his own children properly. Samuel was one of the greatest judges and prophets of Israel. Surely, fearing the Lord, and knowing His power and His passion for His law-word, he would go out of his way not to follow in the footsteps of Eli. That is what you would think. But he didn't.
Samuel made his sons judges in his stead over Israel. There was nothing wrong with that as such, but these young men had not been brought up to be able to go about their father's business. They were not up to it and Samuel was blind to the fact. Joel and Abiah "walked not in his ways but turned aside after lucre and took bribes and perverted judgment." (1Sam 8:3) Eli's sons abused their position out of lust for food and women, and Samuel's sons abused theirs for the money. As a result, it was not just the sacrifice which was now held in contempt by the people, but the very administration of justice, and that is far worse in the eyes of God. (see Prov 21:3 and Hosea 6:6) How could such a thing happen?
NEGLECT OF FATHERLY DUTY
Simply by neglect of fatherly duty, that's how. "He restrained them not," it was said of Eli. Neither Eli nor Samuel brought up their sons in the fear and admonition of the Lord. They did not have time. They were too busy doing the Lord's work to have any energy left over for their family. How many fathers today are too busy with work to have time for their families? And how many others would love the opportunity of spending time with their children but find that is denied them? How many children are growing up today into lawless individuals because of the lack of a father, either physically, or emotionally - like the sons of Eli and Samuel.
Paul writes to Timothy that church officers must rule their own households well, having their children in subjection. (1 Tim 3:1-13) "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" he asks, rhetorically.
How sad that it often seems that it is the families of church ministers and elders that leave the most to be desired. If we followed Paul's advice, the ministry would probably be decimated. And not only has a minister the benefit of Paul's advice and Godly principle, but he has also not one but two examples in just the first few chapters of 1 Samuel, of what happens when Paul's advice is not followed. Those examples are not there by accident.
FATHERS CARRY THE CAN
We all know that Satan targets the families of ministers of the Christian faith above all, so we should be constantly aware of that. People should never stop praying for their pastors and eldership. And all Christians should not just pray for and with their families but take practical steps to teach and spend time with their children as well. It is no good our children's behaviour negating every thing we stand for ourselves. It is no good like Eli and Samuel ministering to the things of God to the extent that we forget that first, primary opportunity for evangelism and training - that of our own children. We only get one go at bringing up our children, and we can forget 'quality time' and similar expressions to make those who neglect their children feel less guilty. We should consider that with all the pressures and temptations which assault our children today, we have to put in even more effort to ensure they are walking right with God. That will involve constantly talking of the things of God, and of how God wishes us to behave, and it will involve restraining and correcting children.
The buck stops with Dad. The Children Act 1989 abolished our rule of common law that a father is the natural guardian of his legitimate child, but no politician can ever abolish the law of God. Although clearly father and mother should work together, according to Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 it is the father, as head of the family, who carries the can for bringing up his children. There is no short cut to making sure our children do not grow up as 'sons of Belial'. It is hard work, but I believe it is the most rewarding work any Christian parent can do:
"That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace." (Psalm 144:12)