When Sin Presides

1 Samuel 2:22-26
22Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death. 26Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.

Juxtaposed to the story of Samuel and his parents, specifically Hannah, we find the story of Eli and his two sons. In the verses previous to these, the actions of Hophni and Phineas are exposed, leaving their sinful and ungodly lives bare for all to see. Along with taking the meat that has been sacrificed to the Lord for themselves, they are also guilty of sexual sin with the woman who served in the “tent of meeting.” Not only does God see their sin, but so too do the people. They have become an object of scorn, ridicule, and gossip. Everyone knows who they are and how they live. God is not represented in a fitting manner.

The person who fails the most here is Eli. He is the High Priest and the father to these two men. While he has strong words for them, they are not strong enough and he takes no action against them for their public sins. In this, he fails both his sons and the people he serves. In his defense, the text does say that “Eli was very old” and it is highly likely his sons merely laughed at a powerless old man. Hophni and Phineas could have been well into their 40’s by this time. Clearly, they have spent their lives this way and are not likely to make any changes. Eli did hold it in his power to take them out of the place of service in the temple, at least removing the stain from the public eye. But there wasn’t much he was going to be able to do about their hard hearts.

Samuel, in the meantime, continues to serve the Lord, growing in the favor of the Lord and of the people. The power in the temple is shifting from Eli’s family to Samuel. I wonder what Hophni and Phineas thought of little Samuel. They probably barely even knew he was alive, considering him just a little boy of no importance. What they were overlooking was that Samuel had the hand of God all over him. They wouldn’t have recognized that fact because they didn’t know God at all.