Eli, a faithful servant of God, failed to be a proper father to his sons. If we look at chapter 2 we will read, Now Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they paid no heed to the Lord. JSB The Tabernacle was set up in Shiloh, and Eli’s sons took a portion of the sacrifices every day for their use. Then they began to demand raw meat before the sacrifices were made.
In contrast, Samuel was engaged in the service of the Lord as an attendant….Young Samuel meanwhile grew up in the service of the Lord. JSB
In chapter 2:22, Eli tried to get his sons to stop. He failed, and we are told, the Lord was resolved that they should die. Young Samuel, meanwhile, grew in esteem and favor both with God and with men. JSB
It is important to understand this story in the whole. Eli’s sons ignored God while Samuel loved and served God. The key to understanding is the importance of remaining faithful to God, not the notion that God decided he did not like Eli’s sons.
Why did God resolve that the boys should die? They turned away from God. There can be no life apart from God. We are born into a dying world. We are under attack mentally, emotionally, and physically from conception to death. We have no chance—zero—of not dying. The only question is: will we die with God or without Him? The boys chose the latter way.
In today’s reading, Samuel has grown to teen years, if not adulthood. Eli has Samuel sleep with him in the Tabernacle. (The Bible calls it the Temple, but it was the tent.) We are told, In those days the word of the Lord was rare; prophecy was not widespread. JSB Even Eli took some time to figure out that God was speaking.
Why three times? It is a number of perfection, often found in the scriptures. It is important to note two things about the calls. Only Samuel heard the voice, and he responded at once. The first two times, never having heard God before, he assumed it was Eli. Please don’t imagine that God was upset by that. It was just part of the process. There was certainly no blame on Samuel. It was Eli who was a little slow.
Notice something else. Eli responded to God even though he did not hear the call. God’s only problem with Eli was how he treated his sons. In fact, when Eli forced Samuel to tell him the message from God, Eli said, He is the Lord; He will do what He deems right. JSB
Moving into the next chapter, we read that the Philistines defeated Israel in battle and Eli’s two sons took the Ark of the Covenant to the battlefield. That filled the hearts of Israel and put fear into the hearts of the Philistines. The next battle left 10,000 Israelites dead, and the army routed.
Two reasons. God did not order the Ark to be moved; Eli’s sons moved it anyway. The Philistines killed the sons and captured the Ark. Israel without God cannot win.
One more point. The message God gave Samuel came to pass. I declare to him that I sentence his house to endless punishment for the iniquity he knew about. JSB The endless punishment did not take long; both sons died. The curse appears to have ended, for the wife of Phinehas gave birth to a son, Ichabod, when hearing of the defeat. She then died as well, but Phinehas seems to have lived, though he is not mentioned again.
The language of the Old Testament often seems harsh, but it is simply stating God’s position in the harshest language possible. Eli lived a short time suffering the loss of sons he might have saved.
What does that say about how we should do our parenting? Some would say we must be hard on kids, beat them senseless if need be. But look at how God disciplined Eli, who was the child in this case. The two sons were incidental to the whole story. They chose to live without God and received the reward for that choice.
The story is about Eli. God did not kill him, beat him, throw him out, write him out of the will. God still spoke to Eli, still reminded him of his duties, and punished him for his failure.
Most importantly, He did not give up on Eli.
As long as a child has breath, don’t give up. Stay close. Continue to show love, even as you enforce harsh penalties.
Be righteous and do good.