“Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord. And the priests’ custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand; And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh unto all the Israelites that came thither. Also before they burnt the fat, the priest’s servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw. And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force. Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord” (1 Sam 2:12-17). “Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (1 Sam. 2:22).
“And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beer-sheba. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment” (1 Sam. 8:1-3).
The quality of heart that causes men to turn aside to lucre, take bribes and to pervert judgment is pure covetousness. They wish for more and more, and so stoop to devious, sinful means to satisfy their greed. Why did God condemn Eli for the behavior of his sons but count Samuel righteous when his sons were also wicked?
First, Eli was a high priest while Samuel was only a judge. Eli knew that his sons coveted other men’s wives and committed adultery with the women at the temple itself. Today, the church has the responsibility of putting adulterers and covetous men out of the assembly (1 Cor 5:10-12). Similarly, Eli had both the responsibility and the authority to remove adulterers and thieves from the temple, but he did not fulfill his responsibility. He may have rebuked the adulterer and covetous man, but those in authority have the responsibility to get that kind of person out of the assembly. A little leaven leavens the whole lump whether in Israel or in the church (1 Cor 5:7-8). Eli was the ultimate authority over the nation of Israel, his own sons included. Eli’s sons had left home many years before, and as a father he could chide but not physically restrain them; however, as high priest he had the responsibility to use force to stop their wickedness according to the Law of Moses whether that behavior was criminal or immoral. God condemned and cursed Eli because “his sons made themselves vile and he restrained them not.” (1 Sam. 3:13-14).
Secondly, Eli not only did not restrain his sons, but he also accepted the stolen goods, (illegal booty), and honored his sons above God Himself (1 Sam. 2:29). Samuel did neither of those things. The high priest at the time Samuel was judge could have restrained Samuel’s sons as God expected Eli to do when he was high priest, but apparently no one was able to restrain them. Eli obviously loved or feared his children more than he loved or feared God.
In contrast to Eli, as a father after his sons became of age and left home, Samuel could only chide his son’s disobedience. Eli’s sons, as priests who offered God’s worship, had a far greater responsibility to be an example of holiness, purity and honesty. Instead of being good examples, their covetous hearts caused them to steal from God. Eli recognized this and chided them, saying: Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord’s people to transgress. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him (1 Sam. 2:24-25a)?
When people are covetous, they become God’s enemy. Eli’s sons not only destroyed their own souls by their greed but the souls of the family—even the High Priest. Samuel was not covetous and spoke freely of never taking a bribe: “…of whose hand have I received any bribe [kopher, “covering”] to blind mine eyes therewith?” (1 Sam. 12:3). Samuel waited until he was old before he appointed his sons as judges in the city of Beer-sheba; however, they could not handle the position with its great responsibilities and temptations and fell to some the sins of Eli’s sons.
Israel immediately pointed to the sins of Samuel’s sons as an excuse to ask for the object of their own covetousness. “Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:4-5). Covetousness seemed to destroy the entire nation in that time, which makes Samuel’s faithfulness all the more apparent. He was able to withstand the temptation to live for this life and lived for God and the next life.
“And Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walketh before you: and I am old and grayheaded; and, behold, my sons are with you: and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day. Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you. And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of any man’s hand” (1 Sam. 12:1-4).
What a wonderful commendation for Samuel. We know that no one, except a criminal wants a covetous ruler who accepts bribes. Why then would any man do what he hates in others? Even today, every man or woman who is known for covetousness is despised. We see by Samuel’s example that we should turn from such things because we belong to God who has promised to supply all our needs.
1. Were Eli’s sons faithful to God (1 Sam. 2:12-17; 1 Sam. 8:3)?
2. Give at least two reasons why Eli was held responsible for the behavior of his sons?
3. How had Eli participated in the evil his sons were doing?
4. As a result of Eli’s evil actions, what did God tell young Samuel to say to him (1 Sam. 3:11-14)?
5. During his youth, Samuel was an assistant to Eli, the high priest. What was the designated lineage of the priests assistants (Num. 3:5-9, 12, 17, 32; Num. 4:46-47)?
6. Give the names of Samuel’s two sons. Be sure to include the scripture references.
7. In what city did they do their work? Give a scripture reference.
8. What were Samuel’s sons accused of doing? Include a scripture reference with your answer.
9. Did Samuel participate in the evil his sons were doing? Give a reference to prove your answer.
10. How might Samuel’s sons have kept themselves from such wickedness (Luke 12:15; 1 Cor. 5:11)?
11. DISCUSSION QUESTION: Besides Samuel, there were other righteous fathers who had bad sons. Name as many as you can remember and tell what they did wrong.
12. RESEARCH QUESTION: Samuel was known both as a prophet and as a judge of Israel. Explain the difference between the two types of work.