How horrid and terrifying when a man who holds god-given authority wields that authority for his own gain! There are few things more damaging than a pastor caught embezzling funds or in an adulterous affair, than a husband abusing his wife, than a parent their child. Such intense betrayals not only destroy our trust in that person but can often shake our trust in the institution as a whole and make it difficult to trust anyone for fear of suffering betrayal again. In this passage of Scripture we will see such an instance, where the priests who were supposed to offer up sacrifices on behalf of the people were abusing their power and their father was in essence turning a blind eye. But in addition to seeing the sin of these men we will also see God promise that justice will be served and also pointed to the only one who dispenses justice perfectly.
Summary of the text:
The focus shifts from Hannah and Samuel to the priest, Eli, and his two “worthless” sons. His sons do not know the Lord and as a consequence are abusing their priestly authority, stealing for themselves the choice parts of the sacrifices and sleeping with some of the women who also served at the temple. Eli, hears of their sin, and protests but takes no further action against them. Eventually a man of God comes to Eli, and prophesies that because he has so dishonored the Lord by permitting his sons wickedness to continue, the Lord will take from him and his family the priestly authority that they have enjoyed since Egypt and in their place the Lord will raise up a new, faithful priest.
Eli’s sons were abusing their authority as priests; instead of offering up the sacrifices of their people as required, they were taking the best for themselves. Instead of protecting and serving the people, they were exploiting them, sleeping with some of the women. Even worse their sin was open and blatant, and the one man who had authority over them, Eli himself, appears to have limited himself to verbal admonishment of them, but took no further action.
And for that inaction he is held accountable. When the man of God comes and confronts Eli, he asks him, “why then do you scorn my sacrifices…” (verse 29, my emphasis). In other words it was not just Eli’s sons who were scorning God through their wickedness but also Eli himself who allowed them to continue “ministering.”
So if you are in a position of authority, a parent over a child, a pastor over a flock, a boss over employees, the first question is: do you know the Lord? The abuse of Eli’s sons sprung from their lack of fear of God (verse 12). They did not know him and as a result were concerned only with themselves and their own gain, and thus they were “worthless” in all their responsibilities. Likewise, Eli’s sin was he cared ultimately more about his own sons than he did the Lord’s honor when, paradoxically enough, the greatest way he could have loved his sons was by loving them less and loving God more. We cannot turn a blind eye to sin. We cannot lead in a way that serves those under us without first fearing the Lord—that is honoring and reverencing him in such a way that the Lord’s opinion is the only one that is of ultimate consequence to us.
And to those who have been abused or seen abuse by those in authority, take heart, because that abuse has not gone unseen by the Lord, and he will hold those abusers accountable. One of the temptations we can face is to see a pastor abuse his authority in the church and as a result walk away from church altogether, allowing it to play no part in our lives. As understandable as such a temptation is, it should be resisted. Eli’s son’s abuses were horrendous, and yet that did not prove any justification for the people to abolish the priesthood. And today pastor’s can abuse their authority and our response should not be to walk away from church altogether but to seek rather a Biblical church with pastors who have placed themselves under the authority of God and his word as they seek to love and serve the people whom God has entrusted to them. It should be said however, that the reality of a broken and sinful world is such that even in the case of even the most faithful pastors they will not live up to the highest expectations of their office. They are still men who deal with sin in their own hearts and thus will fail us and fall short.
We see God speak a message of hope into the brokenness of this situation in verse 35: “and I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” The Lord says that into the brokenness and betrayal that characterizes the “ministry” of Eli and his sons, he will raise up another priest, a better priest. Within the context of 1 Samuel we may think that who is in mind here is Samuel as the next chapter describes his call to ministry but this is not likely. Priests were to be of the line of Aaron which Samuel does not appear to be, and we see Samuel operating not as a priest throughout 1 Samuel but as a prophet and a judge. I had to do a little digging around here, but commentators seem to agree that who was likely prophesied of here was Zadok who becomes high priest under Solomon’s reign and whose descendants serve as priests up until the people are taken into exile. Zadok and his descendants served the Lord faithfully. Ezekiel 44:15 describes how they, “kept the charge of my sanctuary when the people went astray from me”
But the unfaithfulness of Eli’s sons points us to a deeper reality. That all men will ultimately fail us. That not even Zadok and his descendants were righteous enough to serve us as we need. Even their holiness was insufficient to permit them to approach the throne of God. But not so for Christ! He is the high priest, the only one who completely and fully does what is in the heart of God. He is the priest who faithfully and perfectly carries out his duties, offering up the sacrifice of his own body that our sins may be forgiven and interceding for us daily before the presence of God, that we too may boldly approach the throne of grace. And so when we see injustice and abuse of power, our hope was never in those men but in Christ who alone can bring us into the presence of God and so we are not given to despair or cynicism. The Father raised up Christ to do what Eli and his sons could not do, to do what Zadok and his descendants could do, and he has done it. On the cross, Christ did not take the choice portions of the sacrifice for himself but offered up his body as the sacrifice. Jesus did not abuse his authority to take us for his own pleasure like Eli’s sons did the women who served them but instead has raised us up to be his bride. On the cross, Christ took responsibility for the sins that were not his own, but ours, and bore the punishment we deserved.
And so may we, as we entrust ourselves to Christ submit ourselves to the authorities he has put in our life for our good, may we wield the authority that has been entrusted to us in a faithful way, seeking the good of those we lead, and may we follow after the example of our savior, doing what is the heart of God and not in ours, doing according to his mind and his will and not our own. All of this by the strength and power of our Savior and our Priest, who daily lives to make intercession for us.