Eli, a Priest Who Failed as a Father
NO HUMAN ever gets beyond the point where he needs discipline. Discipline trains one to act in the right, most beneficial way. As we face life, we constantly come across varying situations, some of them new to us, and not a few of them trialsome. Undergoing these experiences disciplines us.
Since this is the case even with adults, a child needs much more discipline. Every experience is new to him. Additionally, due to inheritance from imperfect parents, “foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy; the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him.”—Prov. 22:15.
For this reason God tells parents of the grave importance of teaching their children to be law-abiding, to keep morally clean and to have a love for God. If they do not learn these principles from the parents’ teaching by word of mouth, but are disobedient and lawless, some form of discipline must be applied. Laxity or failure to do this will result in children who, later, will pay no attention at all to the parents, and this may result in the greatest calamity to both children and parents.
LAXNESS IN DISCIPLINE BRINGS GRIEF
Eli was a father in ancient Israel. He was also a priest—the high priest for the nation. As such, he was well versed in the law of God. In his personal life, he may have carried out his priestly duties quite faithfully. He may even have thoroughly taught his sons God’s law. But evidently he was weak, lax, too indulgent with his sons, and did not follow through and administer the needed discipline, with the result that he incurred God’s displeasure and brought grief to himself. But Eli failed utterly in an even greater respect—he did not show himself zealous for the true, clean worship of God when his two sons became involved in breaking God’s law.
THE SINS OF ELI’S SONS
When Eli’s sons were grown up and married, and Eli was very old, the report of his sons’ shocking conduct kept coming to him. The record states: “Now the sons of Eli were good-for-nothing men; they did not acknowledge Jehovah. As for the due right of the priests from the people, whenever any man was offering a sacrifice, an attendant of the priest came with the three-pronged fork in his hand, just when the meat was boiling, and made a thrust into the basin or the two-handled cooking pot or the caldron or the one-handled cooking pot. Anything that the fork might bring up the priest would take for himself. That is the way they would do in Shiloh to all the Israelites coming there.”—1 Sam. 2:12-14.
The law provided for the sustenance of the priesthood in this manner: In the communion offering, when the worshiper presented his sacrifice from the herd or the flock, the priests were allowed the breast of the animal as their portion. The officiating priest received as his own portion the right leg. But Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s sons, would have their attendants take from the cooking pot whatever their large fork would bring up, thus disrespecting God by violating his arrangement and mistreating the Israelite who brought the sacrifice. Worse than this, they robbed God by taking their portion from the offering before the fat parts were offered on the altar—a violation of the law.—1 Sam. 2:15-17; Lev. 7:32-34; 3:3-5.
Adding to their sins, these wicked men committed acts of immorality with the women who served at the tabernacle, so that all Israel came to know about it. And the report of their terrible desecration of God’s sanctuary came to the ears of Eli.—1 Sam. 2:22.
Herein lay Eli’s greatest failure. As father of Hophni and Phinehas and, with great seriousness, as God’s anointed high priest of Israel, Eli should have taken immediate disciplinary action by removing those two men from their priestly offices and ejecting them from serving at the sanctuary. Moreover, they should have been punished according to the law for their crimes. Instead, Eli merely said to them:
“Why do you keep doing things like these? For the things I am hearing about you from all the people are bad. No, my sons, because the report is not good that I am hearing, that the people of Jehovah are causing to circulate. If a man should sin against a man, God will arbitrate for him; but if it is against Jehovah that a man should sin, who is there to pray for him?”—1 Sam. 2:23-25.
GOD’S JUDGMENT AGAINST ELI’S HOUSE
However, God was not asleep or unconcerned about the matter and had already judged these corrupt men. “Jehovah was now pleased to put them to death,” the Bible says, and in harmony with his judgment, he sent “a man of God” to Eli with a scathing message. (1 Sam. 2:25) The prophet told Eli:
“This is what Jehovah has said, ‘Did I not for a fact reveal myself to the house of your forefather [Aaron] while they happened to be in Egypt as slaves to the house of Pharaoh? And there was a choosing of him out of all the tribes of Israel for me, to act as priest and go up upon my altar to make sacrificial smoke billow up, to bear an ephod before me, that I might give to the house of your forefather all the offerings made by fire of the sons of Israel. Why do you men keep kicking at my sacrifice and at my offering that I have commanded in my dwelling, and you keep honoring your sons more than me by fattening yourselves from the best of every offering of Israel my people?
“‘That is why the utterance of Jehovah the God of Israel is: “I did indeed say, As for your house and the house of your forefather, they will walk before me to time indefinite.” But now the utterance of Jehovah is: “It is unthinkable, on my part, because those honoring me I shall honor, and those despising me will be of little account.” Look! Days are coming when I shall certainly chop off your arm and the arm of the house of your forefather, so that there will not come to be an old man in your house. And you will actually look upon an adversary in my dwelling amid all the good that is done to Israel; and never will there come to be an old man in your house. And yet there is a man of yours that I shall not cut off from being at my altar so as to cause your eyes to fail and to make your soul pine away; but the greater number of your house will all die by the sword of men. And this is the sign for you that will come to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: On one day both of them will die. And I shall certainly raise up for myself a faithful priest. In harmony with what is in my heart and in my soul he will do; and I shall certainly build for him a lasting house, and he will certainly walk before my anointed one always. And it must occur that anyone left over in your house will come and bow down to him for the payment of money and a round loaf of bread, and will certainly say: “Attach me, please, to one of the priestly offices to eat a piece of bread.”’”—1 Sam. 2:27-36.
This prophecy was partially fulfilled when, a short time later, Eli’s two sons were killed in battle with the Philistines, and the ark, which they had carried into battle, was captured. Eli, on hearing the report, fell backward off his seat by the gate and broke his neck.—1 Sam. 4:10, 11, 18.
Eli’s posterity did fill the high priestly office for years after that, but their eyes saw many calamities, such as the slaughter of the priests by the order of Saul. (1 Sam. 22:11, 16-18) A further part of the judgment came years later when King Solomon “drove out Abiathar [the high priest, a descendant of Eli] from serving as a priest of Jehovah, to fulfill Jehovah’s word that he had spoken against the house of Eli in Shiloh.” Solomon replaced Abiathar in office with one of the sons of Zadok. (1 Ki. 2:27, 35) Zadok was a descendant of the line of Aaron’s son Eleazar, whereas Eli was of the line of Ithamar, another son of Aaron. (1 Chron. 6:50-53; 24:1; 1 Sam. 14:3; 22:9) Even then God allowed some of Eli’s descendants to serve as underpriests. But they experienced the decline of worship at the temple during the reign of the kings, when the priesthood did not receive proper support from the people.—2 Chron. 29:3, 6; 33:7; 34:8-11.
The account about Eli strongly emphasizes these facts that we cannot ignore: We, as servants of God, should follow the Bible counsel to teach God’s Word to our children every day and, while showing them love and consideration, should ‘bring them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.’ (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:4-9) If parents condone wrongdoing in their children, they are bound to lose the children’s respect. Such parents will later find that they have destroyed the line of communication, and will sadly see their children lost to them in the ways of the world.
Even more vitally, the example of Eli’s sons impresses us with the fact that any use of our position as servants of God for selfish gain will bring upon us God’s adverse judgment. “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.”—1 Cor. 3:17.