In chapter 1 we read of Hannah’s sorrow, because she was childless. But we also read how she prayed to the Lord and promised him that if he gave her a son, she would give her son to the Lord to serve him all the days of his life. And the Lord heard and answered her prayer so that she bore a son and named him Samuel. And whenever the boy was weaned, she took her young son and presented him to the Lord in Shiloh. Instead of living with his mother, he was to live in the house of the Lord, where he would serve the Lord. And at the beginning of chapter 2 we read Hannah’s prayer. She said her heart rejoices in the Lord, because the Lord heard and answered her prayer and he saved her from her misery.
But, do you remember, when we studied chapter 1 and when we studied Hannah’s prayer in chapter 2, I made the point that her story is part of a bigger story. Hannah’s personal misery reflected the misery of the people of Israel at that time, because at that time, Israel had no king to lead them or to rescue them from their enemies. And their enemies — the Philistines and other nations — kept attacking them and they made their lives miserable.
So, Hannah’s misery because she didn’t have a son reflected the misery of Israel because they didn’t have a king. But then, just as the Lord delivered Hannah from her misery by enabling her to have a son, so the Lord was at work to deliver the people of Israel from their misery, because her son — Samuel — was going to prepare the way for the coming of King David. And King David would rescue the people from their enemies; and he would enable them to live in peace and safety in the Promised Land of Canaan.
But I also said before that the story of Samuel and David foreshadows an even greater story, because Samuel foreshadows John the Baptist; and David foreshadows Christ the King. Just as Samuel prepared the way for the coming of David, so John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of Christ the King. And just as David rescued the people from their enemies and gave them peace, so Christ our King rescues us from sin and death, so that all who believe in him might live before the Lord Almighty in peace and safety in the new heavens and earth forever and forever.
So, what we’re reading here foreshadows and points to the good news of the gospel. And in today’s passage, the writer compares and contrasts Eli’s sons who are wicked with Samuel who grows in favour with God and man. But then, there’s also this mysterious man of God, a prophet, who came to Eli and spoke to him about the coming judgment which was going to fall on Eli’s family. But he also spoke to Eli about how the Lord would raise up for himself a faithful priest who will minister before God’s anointed king.
Verses 12 to 17
And so, turn with me to 1 Samuel 2 and verse 12 where we’re told that Eli’s sons were wicked men, who had no regard for the Lord. In fact, the Hebrew text calls them ‘sons of Belial’. The same expression is found in Judges 19:22 where it refers to the wicked men of Gibeah who raped and killed a Levite’s concubine. And so, an expression which was once used to describe rapists and murderers is applied to the sons of Eli the priest. And when it says they had no regard for the Lord, it really means that they did not know the Lord. So, these were priests of the Lord God, but they did not know the Lord God. They were meant to serve the Lord and offer sacrifices to him, but they were strangers to him. They were meant to pray to him, but they did not believe in him. In fact, back in Exodus 5 and verse 2, after Moses spoke in the name of the Lord to Pharaoh, the Pharaoh replied that he did not know the Lord. Fair enough. He was a pagan king. Why would he know or believe in the Lord? But Eli’s sons had been brought up in the house of the Lord. And yet, instead of honouring him, they dishonoured him by the terrible things they did.
What did they do? Well, the text tells us the kind of thing these wicked priests used to do. Firstly, let me explain what should have happened. Whenever the people brought a fellowship offering to the Lord, the law of the Lord made clear that part of the offering was to be burned on the altar; and part of it was to go to the priests for their food; and the remainder was for the people, who were to enjoy a fellowship meal together in the presence of the Lord to celebrate his kindness to them. However, according to 1 Samuel 2, while the worshippers were cooking their portion — which had been assigned to them by the Lord in his law — these greedy priests sent their servant to plunge a great big fork into the cooking pot and to pull out from the pot more meat for the priests. In other words, they were stealing from the people. But that’s not all they were doing. According to verse 15, even before the fat was burned — and the fat was burned on the altar as an offering to the Lord — even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priests would come and take some of the meat. So, not only were they stealing from the people, but they were stealing from the Lord. They took from the people’s portion and they took from the Lord’s portion.
And look at verse 16, where it makes clear that they were bullies who abused the people. If one of the worshipper protested at what they were doing, the servant would reply: ‘Hand it over now. If you don’t, I’ll take it by force.’ Imagine that? The people have come to the house of the Lord to worship him. They’re offering him a fellowship offering, which was also called a peace offering. And the purpose of the peace offering was to celebrate that there was peace between the Lord and his people, because instead of condemning the people — which is what they deserved for their sins — the Lord was willing to pardon them. So, they offered these sacrifices to celebrate the peace they had with God; and to rejoice in the fellowship they had with God and with one another. But then, these unbelieving priests send their servants to threaten the people with violence and to steal from them and from the Lord.
According to verse 17, this sin of the young men — the sons of Eli — was very great in the Lord’s sight. Well, we don’t really need the text to tell us that, because it’s obvious that they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt. They really were sons of Belial, wicked and worthless men who did not honour the Lord or give thanks to him.
Verses 18 to 21 and 26
But then the text switches from Eli’s wicked sons to Samuel. Whereas Eli’s sons did not know the Lord and treated his offerings with contempt, Samuel ministered before the Lord. At this stage Samuel was only a boy and we’re told he wore a linen ephod. A linen ephod was the uniform for a priest. Now Samuel wasn’t a priest. However, he presumably wore a priest’s uniform because he was helping the priests. In fact, the word ‘ministered’ in verse 18 is a word which describes the work of the priests. So, because he was helping the priests, Samuel wore what they wore and he did what they did.
And we read in verse 19 that each year his mother would come to the house of the Lord to offer sacrifices. And she would visit her son and bring him a new robe for him to wear. We’re told that Eli the priest blessed Elkanah and Hannah and the Lord was gracious to Hannah and enabled her to conceive and to bear three more sons and two daughters.
Meanwhile — we read at the end of verse 21 — the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord. In other words, while his mother and father lived in Ramah, Samuel lived in Shiloh in the house of the Lord. However, we’re probably meant to understand this expression about growing up in the presence of the Lord to mean that — unlike Eli’s sons who were far from the Lord — Samuel’s knowledge of the Lord and Samuel’s devotion to the Lord was growing all the time. In fact, jump down to verse 26 for a moment, because there we’re told that the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with men. So, as he grew up, he used to please the people and the Lord by the things he did and by the way he lived his life.
Verses 22 to 25
But let’s turn to verses 22 to 25, where the focus of the text returns to Eli and his wicked sons. We’re told that Eli — who was now very old — heard what his sons were doing. In verse 23 he says that he heard from all the people what they were doing. So, all the people are talking about it. What Eli’s sons were doing was not a secret, but they were openly contemptuous towards the Lord and everyone knew it. And their contempt was increasing, wasn’t it? Not only were they stealing from the people and from the Lord, but now we learn that they were sleeping with the women who served at the house of the Lord. It all sounds so familiar to us, doesn’t it? People in positions of power taking advantage of other people and using their power for their own benefit and pleasure.
Well, according to verse 23, Eli rebuked his sons. He said to them: ‘Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours?’ And so, he rebuked them for the wicked things they did. And he also warned them, didn’t he? He said: ‘If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?’ He’s referring to the way they used to steal from the Lord by taking his offerings; and they used to defile his house with the sexual immorality. They were sinning against the Lord; and the Lord will not forgive them so long as they continue in their sin without turning from it or confessing it.
So, Eli rebuked them and he warned them. But his sons did not listen to their father’s rebuke. And look at the end of verse 25 and to these words which one of the commentators describes as ‘chilling words’. His sons did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death. In other words, God was determined to punish them. He saw what they were like: that they were wicked men. He saw what they had done: stealing from the people, stealing from the Lord, defiling the house of the Lord with their immorality. And the Lord was now determined to punish them. And because the Lord was determined to punish them, he did not soften their hearts when their father rebuked them, but he let their hearts remain hard and cold. Instead of using Eli’s words to convict them, the Lord left them alone with their hard and rebellious hearts.
Of course, this happens all the time. The word of God is preached, the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed. The preacher stands and calls on men and women and children to turn from their sins and to turn to the Lord for forgiveness. And the Lord uses the preaching of his word to soften the hearts of some, so that they repent and call out to the Lord for forgiveness. But then, the Lord will also leave others alone with their hard and rebellious hearts. They hear the same message, but they do not repent and they do not call out to God for salvation. And the reason for the difference between those who believe and those who do not is not that some are better than others, or wiser than others, or the message was presented in a different way. The reason for the difference is that the Lord is sovereign. He’s sovereign in all things, including salvation. He determines who will believe and who will not; who will repent and who will not; who will be saved and who will not. He determines these things. And in the case of Eli’s two sons, the Lord was determined to punish them for their sins. And because he was so determined, he left them alone with their hard and rebellious hearts so that they did not listen to their father.
Well, if the Sovereign Lord has enabled you to repent and to call out to him for salvation, then you ought to give thanks to him, because you owe your salvation to him and to him alone, because he was the one who softened your hard and rebellious heart and enabled you to repent and believe.
And if you have not yet repented of your sins, and if you have not yet called out to the Lord for salvation, then you ought to go to him in prayer immediately, immediately, even now, while you’re sitting here today, and you must ask him to have mercy on you for your hard and rebellious heart. Plead with him to have mercy on you and not to treat you as your sins deserve and not to repay you according to your iniquity, but to pardon you for the sake of Christ the Saviour who gave up his life to save sinners. So, will you do that? Will you go to God in prayer and ask him to have mercy on you for the sake of Christ the Saviour? The Lord was determined to punish Eli’s two sons. But who knows? He might still have mercy on you.
Verses 27 to 36
Having compared and contrasted Eli’s two sons and Samuel, the text turns its focus to this mysterious man of God. I say ‘mysterious’ because we don’t know his name or anything about him. All we know is that he was a prophet, because that’s what the expression ‘man of God’ means. And this man of God, this prophet, came to Eli with the word of the Lord.
And first of all, the prophet confronted Eli with his shortcomings. He said that — in the past — God revealed himself to Eli’s father’s house or family when they were in Egypt. And God chose his father out of all the other tribes of Israel to be God’s priest. He’s referring to Aaron, of course, who was from the tribe of Levi. And God chose Aaron and his descendants — including Eli — to serve as his priests in the house of the Lord. And so, they were chosen to go up to the altar and to burn incense and to wear the priestly garments in the presence of the Lord. This was a great privilege which the Lord bestowed on them, because the people from all the other tribes were unable to come into the presence of the Lord in the tabernacle. Only the priest, and especially the high priest, could enter the presence of the Lord. And the prophet continued to say that God gave the priests all the offerings made by fire. So, he laid down in the law, what the priests should receive for their food. The Lord was good to them and generous.
But now the Lord wants to know: Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering? Why do you honour your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the best parts of every offering? Just as Eli rebuked his sons, so the Lord was now rebuking Eli. And he rebuked Eli because Eli should have done more to prevent his sons from stealing from the Lord and from the people. He should have disciplined his sons and removed them from the priesthood, instead of letting them continue in office. So, the Lord rebuked Eli.
And then, from verse 30, we have the Lord’s word of judgment on Eli. ‘Therefore’, the prophet said. ‘Therefore, this is what the Lord says….’ And in the following verses the man of God, this prophet, revealed that the time will come when Eli’s descendants will die and the only one who will be left will not be able to serve as a priest.
And God’s word to Eli was fulfilled because in 1 Samuel 22, we read how many of the priests who were descended from Eli were killed and only one was left. His name was Abiathar. But then, according to 1 King 2:27, Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood. He was the only one left from Eli’s family, but he was no longer allowed to serve at the Lord’s altar. And the priesthood passed from Eli’s family to another family descended from Aaron.
And the reason the Lord was determined to cut short Eli’s family is there in verse 30: ‘Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained.’ Eli’s two sons did not honour the Lord, because they treated his offerings with contempt; and they defiled the house of the Lord with their immorality. And Eli did not honour the Lord, because he did not remove his sons from the priesthood. And since they did not honour the Lord, then he would not honour them anymore; and Eli’s two sons would die on the same day as a sign to him that everything the Lord said about his family will come true.
But then, after the word of judgment on Eli and his family, there comes a message of hope in verses 35 and 36. God himself will raise up a faithful priest who will be obedient to the Lord. God will establish his house and he will minister before whom? He will minister before God’s anointed one. God’s anointed one is the king. And so, the Lord is promising to raise up not only a king, who will deliver his people from their enemies, but also a priest who will serve the Lord faithfully by offering the right sacrifices to the Lord.
In one sense, the Lord’s promise was fulfilled by David who was God’s anointed king; and by a man named Zadok who became priest after Abiathar. However, ultimately the Lord’s promise was fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both our Great King as well as our Great Priest. As the Great Priest, he offered himself on the cross as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for sins, so that all who believe in him may have the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of eternal life. He offered himself on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for sins to set his people free from the condemnation they deserve for their sins; and to cleanse them from all their guilt. And, then, as the Great King, he delivers his people from sin and Satan and he brings them into his kingdom which is an everlasting kingdom. And he promises to protect his people from all his enemies and to keep them in his kingdom forever.
And so, you ought to give thanks to the Lord for Jesus Christ, who is the Great Priest and the Great King. And you ought to trust in him alone for salvation, because he’s able to save completely all who come to God through him.