I started reading 1st Samuel today. Here are some scattered thoughts…
Reflections on the Corrupt Priesthood of 1 Samuel 1-3
I. The Priest Had Absolutely No Discernment: When Hanna was pouring her heart out to the Lord, Eli’s first inclination was to judge the woman’s external conduct. He thought she was drunk, when she was really in anguish. This is an embarrassing lack of judgment for the man who is supposed to be leading the people of God. He, like the men of acts 2:1-13 (specifically, v. 13), is blind to the Lord’s working in his midst, completely unable to sense that this woman is really in need of counsel and not rebuke. While Eli did not, like the men of Acts 2, mockingly think that Hanna was drunk, he was equally dismissive of her problems. What he wanted was conformity. That, and not true holiness and love for the Lord of Hosts, was what he wanted her to exhibit. Eli lacked love, for love “is kind…does not behave rudely…is not provoked…thinks no evil…believes all things [and] hopes all things…” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Eli’s concern was not the spiritual condition of Hannah, but his own belly. Hence, he lacked discernment. He accused the guiltless (Hanna), and justified the wicked (his unregenerate right hand men, his two sons).
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!!!
II. The Wicked Priests Misused Their Authority: It was the unregenerate sons of Eli who stood at the tabernacle’s door and (i.)broke the Law (by not following the directives of the Law of Moses) and (ii.)did so on the basis of their claim to authority. Did they possess authority? Yes. But did this authority allow them to abuse God’s people? Not at all! And God judged them for their sinful behavior. The Lord does not tolerate the wickedness of men whom He has placed in authority (either for their condemenation or the salvation of His people), who (i.)judge without a righteous judgment (cf. John 7:24), and (ii.)abuse their authority over the people of God in order to justify their breaking of God’s Law without impunity (or so they think).
III. The Contrast Between Eli and Samuel: The stark contrast between Eli and Samuel couldn’t be more pronounced. Eli is an old priest; Samuel is a young man. Eli is going blind; Samuel is in full health. Eli is being brought out of the priestly office; Samuel is being brought into the office of prophet and leader of Israel. Eli doesn’t preach against the sin of his own children; Samuel preaches against the sin of Eli and his sons. Eli has no discernment because he is, due to his sin of neglecting to deal with the sin of his own sons, spirituall dulled; Samuel lacks discernment because he is a child who is hearing God’s call for the first time in his life. Eli is disobedient to God’s call; Samuel is obedient to God’s call.
And this brings us to the obvious point, already touched upon briefly, that Samuel was as nothing in the matter of priestly affairs and the administration of the things of God, and yet God used him to speak to a man whose heart had grown fat with complacency. Eli surely outranked Samuel, but as we learn throughout this book: Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart. Yes, the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9), but one can distinguish between outward appearances and motives. We see this as early as 1:10-16, where Eli, blind to the sorrow and grief that Hannah was experiencing, judged Hannah to be drunk based on her outward appearance alone, when she was, in reality, communing deeply with her God. And so it is here. Eli was a man who had been in the priestly business for years now, well versed in all that was to be done in the tabernacle in order for it to run efficiently. He even confronted what he thought was sin. But his heart was far from God. He was blind, lacking in discernment and compassion, and for that he was preached to by a child, rebuked by the Word preached from one to whom he was supposed to teach. Samuel had nothing but a “little robe” that his mother had made for him and the Word of God, and he brought forth God’s judgment against Samuel. The Lord uses the foolish things of this world to confound those who are wise in their own eyes!
But Samuel wasn’t alone in bringing forth the truth of Eli’s condition. Hannah did this as well when she corrected the old man in 1:15-16. Not only this, but the Lord had spoken to Eli through a fellow “man of God,” who, although not a priest (as far as we can tell), brought the Word of God, a very sharp Word of judgment against Eli and his household in 2:27-36. So the appearance of a child, a small boy who had just for the first time heard the Word of the Lord, well, this was the icing on the cake, so to speak. What Eli did not listen to from a fellow minister in the service of the Lord, he had to listen to coming from the mouth of a child.
IV. The Allegiance We Should All Have: Lest we be too harsh on Eli, let’s imagine ourselves in this narrative. Who are we really? Are we the proud priest who has accused the innocent and justified the wicked, on the basis of their appearances? Are we the woman who must, in humility and gentleness, correct the spiritual sight of the priest set over us? Are we the sons of Eli who misuse the God ordained authority leased unto us in order to break the Law in a hundred other places? Are we the man of God who has no name, no lineage, no tribe association, no credentials, and no authority other than the Word of God, being commanded to preach against the blindness of the priest of God’s people? Are we the child, called to God, called by God, without credential, without any formal training, without years of practical experience in the Levitical order, being told to declare to the hard hearted priest the same Word that the nameless “man of God” had preached to him?
To determine this, I think, is simple. The question is: Where does one’s allegiance lie? Hannah’s allegiance was to the Lord God and His Word and His glory, as was the man of God’s and Samuel’s. But those who fall under the judgment of God are those who had the Word of God, who knew better, but who didn’t act on what they knew. Eli knew that his sons were wicked, but he tolerated their tyranny in the tabernacle because of his affection for them. He was an idolater who preferred the companionship of these authoritarian and reprobate priests, and cared little for God’s Word. Eli’s sons also knew the judgment of God that those who practice such things as they did would certainly fall under God’s judgment. But they were godless men who preferred their authoritarian control of the people of God, stealing their sacrifices and defiling the name of the Lord, and wanted to do nothing more than fill their bellies with the loot they gained at the entrance of the tabernacle, and sit in authority over the weak that came to the tabernacle in hopes of worshiping the Lord of Hosts.
Where does your allegiance lie?
May we be committed to Christ and His glory. And if we have fallen from grace, preferring ourselves, agendas, and human alliances above our alliance to the Lord Jesus Christ, may He grant us repentance.