The Lazy Priest Who Wouldn’t Stand Up for God
The year was approximately 1,000 B.C. and Eli was the High Priest over all of Israel. All the Israelites came to Eli to bring their offerings and sacrifices to God. Many years earlier God had revealed Himself to Eli’s forefather, Aaron, when God had chosen Aaron and his offspring to be His priests. (1 Samuel 2:28)
So, Eli had inherited his high priestly position by being born into the family God had chosen to be His priests. God gave Aaron and his children special spiritual blessings and instructions as to how priests were to come before His presence. And how they were to bring the offerings and sacrifices to God. There were careful instructions as to how the sacrifices should be offered to God. It would be a sign of disrespect if God’s commands were to be ignored. God called His people and priests to honor Him always.
God had given this responsibility of the priesthood to Eli and his offspring, along with His Spirit to guide and bless their work. And God had spoken: “They shall walk before Me forever.” (I Samuel 2:30) But, “walking before God” is not only a great honor, it is also a condition of the promise. They had to choose to “walk before God”.
In other words, “they shall have the honor of the priesthood, “IF” they choose to faithfully do the service.” God chose Aaron’s family to walk before Him always as priests, but Aaron’s children also had to choose to “walk before God always”. Their relationship before God was a two-way street – as is ours. God has His part, but then we choose to have our part too. God doesn’t force us to love or serve Him.
We hear about Eli’s life from the Scriptures after he has become an old man. He had been a judge and a high priest of Israel for forty years, but he had had little spiritual influence over his people, Israel. Eli neglects his responsibility of preaching Gods’ Truth to his people and they are left spiritually confused and depressed.
Eli allows his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas to take his place and do the work of priests. His sons take the offerings and sacrifices from the people, but they use Gods’ offerings for their own personal gain. Scripture tells us that they did not respect God or follow God’s commands concerning how to bring the meat offerings to Him. They did their own thing! They took the best parts of the meat for themselves. They robbed God and the people coming with their meat offerings by seizing for themselves some of part of the meats that were to be offered to God. They treated Gods’ offerings with contempt and used God for their own gain. (1 Samuel 2:12-17,22) Eli’s sons also sexually seduced many of the women who were coming to worship. (1 Samuel 2: 22)
God gives a stern message to the young boy, Samuel, to give to Eli. (1 Samuel 3) God message to Eli is that He is angry. I believe that God wants Eli to do something about his son’s rebellion. Eli is the high priest and he is responsible for his son’s actions. The Lord says that He will overthrow Eli’s house and raise up faithful priests for Himself. (1 Samuel 2:27-36) God also sends one of His prophets to bring a second message to Eli emphasizing again the seriousness of ignoring His commands. (1 Samuel 2:27-36) But amazingly, Eli shrugged off all of God’s warnings!
It seems like nothing can upset Eli! He fails to do his job and get involved in cleaning up the problem. He continues to look the other way while his sons continue profaning God’s offerings. Even after he receives these angry warnings from God, his bland answer is: “Let the Lord do whatever He wants to do.” He seems to value his relationship with his sons more than he values his relationship with God. He tells his sons that he has heard about their bad behavior. But he doesn’t stand up for God and make his sons stop sinning or remove them if they refuse.
As high priest, God had given Eli great spiritual power for the job of spiritually leading and influencing Israel. But Eli turns his back on all that he has been given and he doesn’t do anything about preaching God’s truth to his people. If Eli had repented and used his God given power as high priest, if he had stopped his sons from sinning against God, perhaps history would have been different for ancient Israel. Scripture says: “Without a vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
The Philistines were a powerful military people and they were neighbors of the Israelites. They were a great threat to the Israelites during the time when Eli was High Priest. Shortly after Eli ignored God’s messages and neglected the problems he could have taken care of, the Philistines came to fight with Israel. The Israelites went out to fight them but lost the battle. They quarreled with God for not helping them win.
. So, the Israelites took the ark of the covenant with them for their next battle with the Philistines. Eli went along with this idea as he went along with anything that was popular. He gave the ark to the people without a word. His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas went off carrying the ark into battle. No need to obey God or listen to His warnings, when they had the ark there to save them in battle. Scripture says that: The Israelites were living as they pleased yet believing God would bless them anyway. (1 Samuel 2:30)
Alas, it was a sad day for the Israelites. The Philistines won the battle that day and many Israelite soldiers were killed in battle. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed and the ark of the covenant was taken away by the Philistines. Some of the Israelites felt like God had abandoned them. (1 Samuel 4:19-20) If only they had had a spiritual leader to lead them to God.
What can we learn from this Old Testament Bible story from so long ago? God has given each of us a responsibility in this life. There are people in each of our lives who trust us, people who we influence, people God can bless through our lives. God can use us to reach these people. Let’s not let them down. What can we learn from Eli’s life? Perhaps we can learn what not to do when we read about Eli’s life. When we read about his lukewarm faith and his lack of concern in following Gods’ commands.
First of all, we can try not to be “lukewarm” in our faith as Eli was. God hates the “lukewarm” faith offered to Him by believers. (Revelations 3:16) We can ask God to help us be “hot” and give our whole lives to God, love Him with all our hearts and go all the way, as He has called us to do. We can strive to be a faithful steward of the resources God has entrusted to us. Give up the control and destination of our lives to God. Get involved in the lives of others. Walk in faith even when it is difficult. Don’t give in to what is popular for the moment but stick to what God has revealed is His will in Scripture. Repent of our sins and spend time in prayer and Bible study. Let’s always be ready to stand up for God.
All this sounds like a tall order, but God will open doors and make a way for us to be a great blessing to others, if we are willing. Are you willing?