Eli was one Old Testament person with a very modern problem. The recognition and respect he earned in public did not extend to his handling of his private affairs.  He may have been an excellent priest, but he was a poor parent.  His sons brought him grief and ruin.  He lacked two important qualities needed for effective parental discipline: firm resolve and corrective action.

Eli responded to situations rather than solving them. But even his responses tended to be weak.  God pointed out his sons’ errors, but Eli did little to correct them.  The contrast between God’s dealing with Eli and Eli’s dealing with his sons is clear – – God gave warning, spelled out the consequences of disobedience, and then acted.  Eli only warned.  Children need to learn that their parents’ words and actions go together.  Both love and discipline must be spoken as well as acted out.

But Eli had another problem. He was more concerned with the symbols of his religion than with the God they represented.  For Eli, the ark of the covenant had become a relic to be protected rather than a reminder of the Protector.  His faith shifted from the Creator to the created.

It may be easier to worship things we can see, whether buildings, people, or Scripture itself, but such tangible things have no power in themselves. This book you hold is either merely a respectable religious relic, or it is the sharp and effective word of God.  Your attitude towards it is largely shaped by your relationship to the God from whom it came.  A relic or antique has to be carefully stored away; God’s word has to be used and obeyed.  Which attitude accurately describes your approach to the word of God?

Strengths and accomplishments:

  • Judged Israel for 40 years
  • Spoke with Hannah, the mother of Samuel, and assured her of God’s blessing
  • Brought up and trained Samuel, the greatest judge of Israel

Weaknesses and mistakes:

  • Failed to discipline his sons or correct them when they sinned
  • Tended to react to situations rather than take decisive action
  • Saw the ark of the covenant as a relic to be cherished rather than as a symbol of God’s presence with Israel

Lessons from his life:

  • Parents need to discipline their children responsibly
  • Life is more than simply reacting; it demands action
  • Past victories cannot substitute for present trust

Vital statistics:

  • Where: Shiloh
  • Occupations: High priest and judge of Israel
  • Relatives: Sons: Hophni and Phinehas
  • Contemporary: Samuel

Key verses: “And the LORD said to Samuel: ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle.  At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end.  For I told him that I would judge his family for ever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.  Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, “The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering” ‘ “ (1 Samuel 3:11-14).

His story is told in 1 Samuel 1-4. He is also mentioned in 1 Kings 2:26, 27.


©KingsWay 1973.


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