Messy Lives of the Bible

Eli the Priest (1 Samuel 1-4)

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I am planning to break up the Luke series with a series called The Messy Lives of the Bible. This will allow for a change of pace as we move through the book of Luke. We will probably examine one messy life in the scriptures once a month in 2010. In this lesson we are going to look at the life of a priest named Eli. The story about Eli is recorded in First Samuel, chapters 1-4. The first chapter tells us about a faithful woman named Hannah who desperately desired a child and her prayer life to God. Eli the priest also prays for her. The next few chapters describe will describe the failings of the life of Eli.

Worthless Children (2:12-17, 22-25)

The scriptures describe Eli’s sons as “worthless men.” Not a statement that any of us would want God to say about our children. They were worthless. Not only this, they did not know the Lord. This is God’s declaration that these sons were not faithful to the Lord. First Samuel 2:12-17 reveals that these sons were despising God and his commands in how they were handling their priestly duties. They were taking much more food than they were authorized to take from the offerings. The directions concerning the priestly food were clearly given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. They were not to plunge a fork into the pot, taking and eating whatever the fork brought up. This offense was worthy of death as these priests, the sons of Eli, were in open rebellion to God. The words recorded in verse 17 are quite sharp: “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.” Slowly move back over those words — “The sin of the young men was very great.” These are worthless men who are deliberately violating God’s law. They do not care about God’s law and their sin is very great before God.

If this were not bad enough, there are more sins the sons of Eli are committing. In verse 22 we find out that his sons are seducing and sleeping with the women who are volunteering their time to the tabernacle service. Their sins are so great between sleeping with the women and showing contempt for God’s offerings that God wants to kill these sons (2:25). God is going to kill these boys. How did a priest of God raise such despicable children? What did Eli do wrong? Let’s look at what the text reveals to us, because God holds Eli accountable for these sins.

Children Did Not Listen (2:22-25)

Eli gathers his two sons and tells them that what they were doing is wrong. Eli even tells them that their sins are very serious. If we sin against another person, we can have God intercede for us. But to directly scorn God by their mistreatment of the sacrifices and despicable behavior at the tabernacle with the women leaves no room for intercession or forgiveness. If we accidentally sin against one another and we can go to God for forgiveness. But to essentially spit in the face of God by knowingly saying that we will not obey him and we will violate his laws, there is not going to be any mercy. Verse 25 tells us that the sons would not listen to their father.

This seems like a good rebuke of his children. However, we are going to read God’s condemnation of how Eli dealt with his children. This causes us to reexamine what Eli did with this rebuke. It is an empty rebuke. It is powerless correction. The sons are not listening to the father. I think we see this happen a lot in our society. A parent tells the child not to do something, but the child does it anyway. Or the parent tells the child to stop doing something, but the child continues doing what they were doing. Parents are failing at creating relationships with their children so that the children will listen. This appears to be the first failing of Eli with his children. He did not parent in such a way that the children would listen to what he would say. They are not obedient to him (please note that these are not teenagers or little children; these sons are grown). The sons are acting improperly and sinfully and the rebuke of the father has no impact on these children.

Application: Getting our children to listen.

This is not easy to accomplish as a parent and requires walking a fine line. In the beginning of our children’s early years, our children need to listen and obey because we are the authority. They will do what we say because we are in charge and there will be consequences for disobedience. But that cannot continue in perpetuity. As children get older, the threat of punishment diminishes and there must be a relationship that exists so that the child listens to the parent. Many children hated the way their parents raised them because the only relationship they had is one of fear. I will be punished for doing wrong but there was not relationship with the parent. So we have today millions of parents rejecting discipline because they want a relationship with the child. Unfortunately, this is a mistake. In the first few years the parent cannot reason with the child. The only way to communicate authority is through discipline. While that authority as a parent never disappears, the nature of parenting must change. Now I must develop a loving relationship with my child so that my child will listen to me. The threat of punishment diminishes, so I must express a loving relationship so that they will value the advice and instructions of the parent. They must learn that the rules are there out of love, not out of punishment.

We see how easy it is to make mistakes. We can be too authoritarian. Authoritarian is very important in the first five years. But as children grow up we must transition to a relationship that the child will seek and listen to the parent. We can be too hands off also. We just try to develop a relationship but never establish with the child that we are the authority. The children act rebellious because there are no rules and there is no discipline.

If your child does not listen to you, this is a big, big problem. It is a problem that brings God’s condemnation on Eli. If your child does not listen to you, you must do something now. All of the parents in this room who have grown children will quickly tell us that if they do not listen to you now, they will most certainly not listen to you when they are teenagers or when they are in college. We will examine some more practical steps as we go through this lesson.

Honoring Children Above God (2:29)

Notice that God condemns Eli for honoring his sons above him. The second failing of Eli was that he placed his children above God. The children were more important than God. I called this problem a couple of weeks ago “the worshiping our children.” We show that our children come before God in a number of ways.

  1. We do not follow God’s instructions of raising our children. We are honoring our children above God when we reject the method that God has given parents for raising children and using our own plan or Dr. Spock’s plan, Dr. Phil’s plan, or any other plan.
  2. Placing our children’s happiness above God. When we allow our children to violate the laws of God without consequence, we are worshiping our children. Eli did this. He did not do anything about the sins of his sons. He told them to stop but that was all he did. There was more he could have done, but he refused. The happiness of his children was more important than honoring God.
  3. When we place our children’s activities above God, we are honoring our children above God. When we do not show that God is first in all we do, then we are showing that they are number one and the world revolves around them.

Did Not Restrain The Children (3:12-14)

Chapter 3 further condemns Eli for not restraining his sons. They were blaspheming God by their rebellious acts. The indication is that Eli was passive. We currently live in a time where popular parenting is to be passive. “Let your children express themselves.” “Do not discipline.” But God condemns Eli for this. Just as much as having a heavy hand can lead our children to rebellion and provokes them to wrath, so being passive also leads to rebellion. Listen to the wise instructions of the Lord.

The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother. (Proverbs 29:15; NASB)

Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them. (Proverbs 13:24; NLT)

Physical punishment cleanses away evil; such discipline purifies the heart. (Proverbs 20:30; NLT)

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15; NKJV)

Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives. (Proverbs 19:18; NLT)

Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.  (Proverbs 23:13–14; NLT)

Do not withhold discipline from a child; even if you strike him with the rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will deliver him from death. (Proverbs 23:13-14; NET)

All of these instructions speak to restraining our children. They must be taught to show respect. They need correction. Children require loving discipline. The passive plan will bring failure. I think this is our tendency. We want to be too lax. We are to be teaching our children and building a relationship with them on the basis that we are the parents. We have authority and we are acting in their best interests.

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind and will make your heart glad. (Proverbs 29:17; NLT) We see the pain that Eli’s children brought to him. His children would not listen to him. They were breaking the laws of God. They were defiling the sacrifices. They were sleeping with the women who came to the tabernacle. God was going to kill his children and the priest line was going to end with them because of their sins. God says teach and train your children so that you can have peace and gladness. No one wants their children to be lawbreakers. No one wants their children to be godless. But that is the direction we are pointing them if we do not create relationships with our children so they will listen to us. When we honor our children above God and his parenting directions, we are pointing our children down the path of destruction.


  • Build a relationship. Be thinking to the future. What am I training my children to do and to be? Am I teaching them to love God? Am I teaching them that they need to be happy and the world revolves around them?
  • Restrain our children. Our children need to be taught the proper direction. If we cannot restrain our children now, then we have big problems looming in the future. If our children will not listen to us now, then we have big problems coming down the road. Rules need to have reason, even if the reason cannot be explained yet. God’s rules have a purpose for us. Our rules must not be senseless or selfish. Rules must have a reason.
  • Be a loving authority like God. God is a loving authority. We know he loves us because he has repeatedly shown us. However, God has rules that must not be broken. Obedience is still required. Punishment comes for disobedience. We need to also find that center line as parents. We cannot be passive. Nor can we be tyrannical. We need to be a loving authority.

The ultimate goal is to develop the heart of the child to love God. Focus on the goal, not on the present. I must do things that I do not enjoy as a parent. But the discipline and instruction must come from the parent so that we will train a heart to love God. Eli failed at this. His life example teaches us not to follow in his footsteps.

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