Our passage today is a dreadful passage, because it’s full of sin. Not just any sin, it’s full of ministerial sin. During Samuel’s young teenage years, the priests in Shiloh were unconverted men leading an unconverted ministry, mocking God and treating sin lightly. This passage could’ve been written about our time concerning similar unconverted phonies within the Church. Today we’ll see how God reacts to ministers like this. In spite of such a dreadful text full of dreadful sin, we see hope in that God is quietly growing a new leader for His people in young Samuel. Let’s turn to our text, 1 Samuel 2:11-26, where we see how these things play out.
v11 brings the previous section to a close. After Hannah had weaned Samuel she brought him up to the Lord at Shiloh, gave him to Eli the priest, and rejoiced in God. After this Hannah went back home with her husband Elkanah and for the first time in a while she didn’t have her son with her. He remained at the temple in Shiloh and v11 says Samuel was ministering to the Lord, in the presence of Eli the priest. Young Samuel is now under the tutelage of Eli learning how to serve in the sanctuary. We don’t learn much about Samuel here in v11 except that he is exactly where he is supposed to be, learning and growing in the ways and knowledge of God.
When we move into the next section of this passage another set of sons come into view, the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. Up until this point they have only been mentioned in 1:3 but they now become the focal point and as soon as we meet them in the text the author gives a comment of their deplorable condition. v12 says, ‘Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.’ The word ‘worthless’ there literally means ‘sons of belial’ which is a Hebrew phrase used in 2 Cor. 6:15 to refer to Satan himself. The phrase ‘did not know’ means they had no regard, concern, desire, or love for God. They were wicked men, and you may not think that’s a big deal but it is a huge deal because they were the priests in Shiloh. Men who were to be known for their devotion and heart for the Lord. To a degree this shouldn’t surprise us. Eli had falsely accused Hannah of drunkenness in 1:16, and now we find that his sons are false and wicked. In v13-17 we find an illustration of their worthlessness, but before we get there let me explain something about priests.
Leviticus 3 and a few other passages state that when a man brings his family to the temple to sacrifice he is to give some of the animal sacrifice to God and some of it to the priest. The fat, which is the best part of the animal, was reserved to be offered to God. The shoulder, stomach, the breast, the right thigh, and the two cheeks of the animal were to be given to the priest who made the sacrifice. This was God’s law for His priests, and through it God adequately provided all the priests would need. Now that you know this, look at v13-17 and see what Eli’s sons were doing. v13-14 say when sacrifices were being offered Hophni and Phinehas had a custom where they would send a servant out with a three-pronged fork in his hand. This servant, while the meat was boiling, would plunge his fork into the pot and whatever came out on the fork he would keep for Hophni and Phinehas. They didn’t stop there. v15-16 make it clear that this servant would intimidate the people, making them give him raw meat before the fatty portions were removed. If the people refused to give this meat to the servant or reminded the servant that the fat portion is reserved for God and forbidden for human consumption, the servant would then turn thug and take what he wanted by force.
Clearly dissatisfied with the food God had given them, Eli’s sons took matters into their own hands, disrupting the worship of God’s people. This is why v17 ends the paragraph with another comment of their deplorable condition saying, ‘Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.’ Their actions revealed they hated the Lord, despised his Word, and had no qualms about doing whatever they wanted to do despite what troubles it brought onto the people. Do not forget, the reason Eli’s sons did this goes back to v12, ‘…they did not know the Lord.’ If they had known God, they would have had a fearful reverence for God, but they didn’t, so their wickedness continued. It’s shameful to admit that most of us know of examples of people in positions of spiritual leadership who, because of the appetites of their own ego, abuse their power and deeply hurt the people they have led. Hophni and Phinehas serve as a warning to all of us pastors and elders and to all who want to go into pastoral ministry one. Great wickedness can exist among ministers. We are not given a free pass because of this calling, we must deeply and affectionately embrace the Savior we call our people to deeply and affectionately embrace. We must not only model the Christian life, we must model repentance when we go astray.
When we come into v18-21 we enter another small section about Samuel. These few verses serve as a contrast to v12-17. We know this because of v17 and v18. Look again at what they say, ‘Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt. Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod.’ Against the pitch black sin of Eli’s son stands Hannah’s young son, who isn’t hindering the worship of God’s people but is rather worshiping and serving the Lord.’ While Eli’s sons are growing worse, Samuel is growing in holiness. From v19-21 we get a last look at Samuel’s family. We learn that Hannah used to bring her growing boy a new robe every year when they visited Shiloh during the yearly sacrifices, and that when Hannah and Elkanah came Eli would bless them. Hannah would go on to provide Elkanah with 5 more children, 3 sons and 2 daughters, so including Samuel the once barren Hannah gave birth to 6 children. After v21 Samuel’s parents disappear from the story, but even in this last verse about them we’re reminded of God’s graciousness to His children. Hannah had asked for son, she gave Him to the Lord, and God gave her 5 more children. Hannah in truth received ‘grace upon grace’ (John 1:16).
This middle section ends in v21 the way it began in v18. ‘And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord.’ Again note the contrast this author is providing us with. While the priests Hophni and Phinehas are evil and about to get much worse, Samuel is growing in the Lord. Noticing the sharp distinction being made here gives one the feeling that this little boy who wears a small priestly ephod and homemade robe is slowly and quietly growing into the true priest for Israel. It would have been easy for the people of Israel to become discouraged at the state of things when looking at the condition of Eli and his sons, but they didn’t know that God was quietly teaching, maturing, and leading a new leader for His people in Samuel. Samuel himself could have been discouraged at the current state of things even at his young age, but as God had cared for his Mom Hannah, as God was caring for His people, God would care for Him too. It may be easy for us to be discouraged at the state of things in Shiloh, but don’t become too discouraged over Hophni and Phinehas, for young Samuel is there, learning and growing, walking with the Lord.
Eli, now in old age, was not comforted by his sons but was grieved by their rebellion against God. v22 says ‘he kept hearing’ all that his sons were doing, that they were laying with the women serving in the temple. In Shiloh and in the surrounding cities the sinful immorality of Hophni and Phinehas had become common knowledge. Clearly for such actions to be this public and widespread indicates this was going on for some time. Eli ‘kept hearing’ about it. Enough was enough for Eli, his sons were obviously out of control. They had no regard for God, no regard for him as their father, no regard for the people, and no didn’t even care that their sin was widely known. We’re not told if Eli ever spoke to them about these things before, if he had they clearly didn’t listen to him. But now he warns again in v23-25, ‘Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. No, my sons, it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?’ Their response was in line with their former sinful activity, ‘But they would not listen to the voice of their Father…’
It is at this point we encounter something that may alarm you. v25 ends by giving the reason why Hophni and Phinehas refused to listen to their father’s warning, ‘…for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.’ Notice what this doesn’t say. This verse doesn’t say that ‘…because they refused to listen to the voice of their father it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.’ Rather it says ‘…they refused to listen to the voice of their father, FOR it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.’ Their refusal to listen to Eli’s warning was not the reason God wanted to kill them, but the result of God’s prior judgment. A judgment that we must conclude is perfectly just. Be careful to how you respond to this verse. Do you fight against this or refuse to believe that God acts like this? That God is a God of love and something about this Old Testament God in v25 has to be wrong? That’s an option, but it’s a heretical and awful option.
Hear me clearly, when we come to a verse that is hard to accept or difficult to understand we must never close our Bible and try to think it out. We must always keep our Bibles open and go to other passages of Scripture that are clearer to help us understand the passages that are difficult. In this instance Paul’s letter to the Romans helps us. In Romans 9 Paul gives us two similar examples: Jacob and Esau, and Pharaoh. Romans 9:10-13 God says before they were born and had a chance to do good or to do evil, God loved Jacob and hated Esau. Similarly of Pharaoh God says the very reason He created Pharaoh was to show His mighty power, that His name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Paul concludes these examples by giving us a lesson in 9:19-21 ‘You will say to me then ‘Why does God still find fault? For who can resist His will?’ But who are you O’ man to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the Potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?’
This passage gives us direction on how to interpret 1 Samuel 2:25. God, who is the Potter, can do with His clay whatever He wants to do. If you find yourself all riled up about your rights or the right of Hophni and Phinehas, be reminded that God has the right to do whatever seems good to Him. Be careful of your response to such truth. Remember who God is, remember who you are, and remember the promises of the gospel. God is Creator, we are created, all those who embrace the gospel God has promised to save, and all those who reject the gospel God has promised to punish. God is completely sovereign over these decisions, yet the mystery of this is that at the same time the Bible says God is completely sovereign the Bible also says that man is completely responsible for his decisions. The Bible isn’t concerned about resolving this tension, it affirms both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, and so should we.
So who is behind the condemnation of Hophni and Phinehas? God or Hophni and Phinehas? The answer, Biblically, is just ‘yes.’
Well, our passage ends like it began, with another little glimpse of young Samuel growing in stature and favor with God and man. Throughout this passage we’ve seen 3 of these little notes about Samuel standing in clear contrast to the wickedness of Eli’s sons. In v19 we see Hannah’s love for Samuel while in v22 we see Eli’s sorrow for his sons. In v20 we see Eli blessing Samuel’s family, and in v23 he rebukes his own family. In v21 we see God ordaining life for Samuel, while in v25 we see God ordaining death for Hophni and Phinehas. All of these things remind us that despite the sin within God’s people, God was already working to provide His people with a new, godly leader. There are no scenes of glory, it’s not showy, no town hall meetings, campaign slogans, or historic speeches for or from young Samuel. We just see steady and quiet growth in God. See in Samuel that great godliness and true holiness can exist in the heart of a young man. It can even exist in a place as messed up as Shiloh.
The growth of Hannah’s son Samuel also serves as a reminder of the growth of another young boy, Mary’s son Jesus. Luke 2:52 describes him, ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.’ As God quietly raised up Samuel to lead His people, so too God quietly sent His one and only Son into a remote corner of the world, to give His people a new leader. A leader that would be like Samuel but greater than Samuel, a faithful leader who would bear our sins, in our place, as our substitute, rise again, and ascend to live forever at God’s right hand.
So as we end today, learn that this is how God normally leads His people. His normal way of leading, loving, guiding, or governing His people is usually not loud or dramatic. Though Christ’s second coming will be loud and thunderous, God doesn’t always thunder now. Much of what He does is quiet.
So when you’re tempted to think God is silent or absent when things grow wicked, remember His steady, sure, and soft voice. He is always at work.