Judging Judge Eli

Posted: August 19, 2009 in 1 Samuel

1 Samuel 3-4, “Judging Judge Eli”

Often we start a Sunday morning with: God is good, all the time… Question: do we really believe that? Do we really believe that at every time and in every circumstance, that God is good? That’s not to say that every circumstance we walk through is good (sometimes we have severe trials!) – but can we say with certainty that the God Who allowed us to walk through those circumstances is good? Yes & Amen!

Even in times of discipline, we can be assured of the goodness of God. After all, if God wasn’t good, He wouldn’t care about our actions…but yet He DOES care & thus He does discipline us as children. That’s exactly what Eli is going to find out in Ch 3-4. What we’re going to witness is a major spanking. One that’s absolutely deserved, but one that demonstrates the goodness & glory of God.

Context: how Samuel came to be at the temple with Eli… Eli’s sinful sons… Eli’s own sin…

1 Samuel 3 (NKJV)
1 Now the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.

A. Boy Samuel is already in ministry…his young age was no obstacle. Notice he wasn’t just doing chores; he “ministered to the LORD.” … When we serve the Lord, we’re serving the LORD! It’s not just ‘stuff we do at church;’ it’s sacred ministry unto the Lord God who saved us. It’s not just folding bulletins; it’s folding bulletins for Jesus. …children’s ministry for Jesus …church cleaning for Jesus, etc. There’s nothing “minor” about anything we do if we’re doing it as to the Lord Jesus!
__a. Keep in mind that ministry is not just limited to things done at church functions! Whatever we do, we’re to do it unto the Lord (Col 3:23). Your job is a ministry – your family is a ministry – even recreation can be a ministry. And all of it ought to be done as to the Lord…

B. What kind of time was it in Israel that “the word of the LORD was rare…”? A bad time! They had gone from Moses who spoke with the Lord as a man does with his friend, face-to-face – to Joshua, one who had a very similar relationship with the Lord – to the Judges, who had occasional visions of the Angel of the Lord – and apparently finally it died out to almost nothing. Very few people were seeking the Lord – everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. And when Man becomes Man’s own ruler & judge, what need is there to seek God? Thus God stopped speaking to them as well. A very sad place for God’s “chosen” people!
__a. But God can change all of that in an instant! It was a similar situation before Jesus was born. The prophets had been silent for 400 years & then out of nowhere comes John the Baptist & the Messiah Himself! Just because God seemed to be silent didn’t mean He wasn’t active & working – He was just waiting for the fullness of time to come.

2 And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, 3 and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, 4 that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!” 5 So he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down.

A. Imagine the scene: Samuel’s a young boy who just finished a long day’s worth of work at the Tabernacle. He has probably spent time in prayer & participating in the worship there as people brought sacrifices. He works hard & lays his head down for the night (by the Holy Lampstand/ Menorah no less!) – and all of a sudden hears his name. I doubt the Lord’s voice sounded very much like Eli – but to Samuel, who else would be calling him at this time?

B. Do we listen for the voice of the Lord? Not that we need to go out of our way to try to experience the mystical… But do we get so fixed to our routines that we neglect to listen for the voice of the Lord? “Ok – I’ve done my Bible reading & prayer…I did my ‘Jesus’ duty for the day…” … Many times God will speak to us through the Scripture – but sometimes we forget to even listen for Him there! Maybe other times God wakes us up in the night to pray – do we seek Him, or just get annoyed that we can’t sleep? Be mindful in prayer not to just talk to God; but to listen as well.

C. How do we know if what we’re hearing is actually from God? Obviously we can be tempted by our own flesh & even the enemy. Easy: God will never contradict Himself. He won’t tell one person one thing & another person something completely different… He won’t ever contradict His revealed Word… He won’t ever go against His own nature… The best way to know what God is saying to the church? Open the Bible & read it!
__a. The same principle applies for people who walk up to you with “a word for the Lord.” If it contradicts what the Lord has already revealed through His Son, His nature, and His word, it’s not of God!

6 Then the LORD called yet again, “Samuel!” So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.)

A. Samuel had served the Lord (no doubt, per vs. 1); but he did not yet know the Lord… BIG difference! There are many, many people who spend their lives serving God – dedicating their time, money, and resources in way or another to their “religious” devotion – and many of these people NEVER know the Lord. It’s not that what they’re doing is necessarily bad; it’s that they don’t have the proper foundation to begin with. Matthew 7:21-23 (21) “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ [] It’s imperative that we know the Lord!!

B. The wonderful thing here is that although Samuel did not yet know the Lord, the Lord was continually calling out to him! God was calling Samuel by name & reaching out to him.
__a. What a wonderful picture of the gospel call! God Himself was calling to Samuel – just as He calls to us. No one comes to Jesus unless the Father first draws them (John 6:44), and Jesus made it clear that those who are His sheep know His voice (John 10:27). Praise God that He called you! That in itself is an amazing thought! Of all the people on the planet, God called YOU to save you for His glory through Jesus Christ!

8 And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. So he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

A. Eli finally understands what’s going on & tells Samuel what to do…

B. What does he tell Samuel? To listen to God! Eli has his faults, but this is good advice! When we are listening to God, we’re not listening to friendly advice that we can choose to follow or ignore; we’re listening to GOD. HE’s the Lord; we’re the servant. If we’re truly listening to God, then we’re prepared to obey what He says.

10 Now the LORD came and stood [Christophany?] and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.” 11 Then the LORD said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. 14 And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”

A. How’s that for a 1st word from the Lord? Heavy responsibility! God tells Samuel that the time has come for God to fulfill the prophecy He spoke to Eli regarding his sons… His sons had sinned (“made themselves vile”) & Eli himself had sinned (“he did not restrain them”)…

B. How bad was their sin? So bad that it “shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” IOW, there’s no act of repentance – no animal sacrifice that could possibly be brought that would satisfy God’s anger regarding their sin. Eli & his sons were past the point of repentance; God’s discipline & judgment was now coming.
__a. Interestingly enough, we don’t read that same sort of restriction from the prophet in Ch 2 – the 1st time Eli heard of God’s coming judgment on his sons. It seems that Eli had every opportunity to repent for his sins & his families, yet allowed it to pass by.
__b. This is why it’s so important to respond to the gospel when we hear the gospel! We don’t know how many days we have left on this earth – nothing is guaranteed. Every day God gives us is a new merciful opportunity to repent & trust Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins… TODAY is the day of salvation!
__c. What made this sin so bad in the sight of God? Not only were Hophni & Phinehas abusing their privileges as priest – not only was Eli allowing them to do so by neglecting to discipline them – but in the process the people were being led astray & they abhorred the offering of the Lord (Ch 2:17). Teachers are held to a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1) & God was applying that to Eli.

15 So Samuel lay down until morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision. 16 Then Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son!” He answered, “Here I am.” 17 And he said, “What is the word that the LORD spoke to you? Please do not hide it from me. God do so to you, and more also, if you hide anything from me of all the things that He said to you.” 18 Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”

A. No wonder why Samuel didn’t want to say anything…
__a. Don’t hide what the Lord has told you to say! We’ve been entrusted with the gospel of Jesus Christ…don’t hide it!

B. Note Eli wanted to know. God had already told him about the judgment that would come upon him & his sons & Eli probably figured it was about that. But he still wanted to know what God’s word had been on the matter. Even a word of judgment was still a word from God – and thus inherently valuable.

C. Note also that Eli accepted what was said. He didn’t attempt to weasel his way around it, nor accuse God of wrongdoing… It was God’s judgment & by definition, it is good.

19 So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD. 21 Then the LORD appeared again in Shiloh. For the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.

A. Growth of Samuel & his work as a prophet…

B. Did you notice the change? As Ch 3 began, the word of the Lord was rare; by the end of the chapter, it’s commonplace via Samuel. …
__a. We HAVE the word of the Lord! God’s person has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ… God’s will has been revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures… The word of the Lord ought to be frequent among God’s people! When it’s not, it’s not the fault of God – it’s the fault of the people for not reading the words of the Spirit in the Bible & seeking Jesus Christ!

1 Samuel 4 (NKJV)
1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines, and encamped beside Ebenezer; and the Philistines encamped in Aphek. 2 Then the Philistines put themselves in battle array against Israel. And when they joined battle, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men of the army in the field.

A. [MAP] Big loss for Israel…but it’s only the set up to a much larger loss.

3 And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.”

A. Good idea or bad idea? BAD idea! On one hand, it sounds reasonable: “Let’s go get the representation of God & place it before our enemies.” After all, Joshua had done this in the past (Jericho)… The problem? (1) God didn’t tell them to bring the ark, as He did with Joshua… (2) It demonstrated that the people’s faith was in an object & not in God! The reason why Uzzah fell over dead when he touched the ark wasn’t because the ark had some sort of magical mystic powers; it’s because he didn’t understand the holiness of God. The elders of Israel (!) are looking to the ark for mystical power; they’re not seeking the God who made the ark holy.

B. This is the essence of idolatry! They were looking to an object for power rather than God. Anytime we try to conform God into our own preferred image – anytime we value a ‘thing’ more than God – this is idolatry. What Israel should have done was to seek the Lord in repentance (they were in violation of the covenant); instead they sought some sort of fleshly means to try to ‘work-around’ God & exchanged the truth of God for a very costly replacement of Him.
__a. Idolatry can come in many forms – even innocent-looking religious acts. Some people assume that if they pray a certain way in a certain place, that automatically makes them righteous… Some people assume that the amount of money they give can bribe God into looking the other way… In the end, they’re putting their trust into their actions & not in Christ Jesus!

4 So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5 And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook.

A. Hophni & Phinehas should have known better – they were priests! Goes to underline how reprobate these guys were. They had no regard for the word of the Lord; but instead they were perfectly willing to go along with whatever the crowd wanted them to do. Rather than encouraging Israel to seek God for victory, they just bring out the religious trinket-du-jour…

B. The people were excited that it was there. Unfortunately, their shouting was all show. It seems their excitement was due to the presence of the ark; not because they had sought the Lord in worship & repentance.

6 Now when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the sound of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” Then they understood that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp. 7 So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp!” And they said, “Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men, and fight!”

A. Little insight into the Philistine pep talk…apparently the shouting & commotion over in the Hebrew camp frightened them & made them even more determined as they were going into battle.

B. Sad to see that they knew more about God Almighty than the Hebrews! The Philistines were pagan, but at least they had a better respect & fear of God than God’s own chosen people… The Philistines got many of the details wrong (the plagues were in Egypt; not the wilderness… Only 1 God, etc), but at least they had a fear of God. (Not enough of a fear to actually repent, but more fear than the Hebrews.)
__a. Reminded recently of Penn Jillette… “If you believe that there’s a heaven or hell…and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward, … How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?” (12/9/2008 youtube clip) An atheist understands this better than many Christians! Sometimes the unbelievers get it absolutely right. We get comfortable in our understanding of God & our preferences & sometimes we need to be woken up a bit. …

10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers.

A. Huge victory for the Philistines! (So they think so far. Wait until Ch 5…)

11 Also the ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

A. In the people’s idolatrous presumption, they lost the ark of the covenant in battle…
B. Yet this was the very act God used to fulfill His prophecy regarding Hophni & Phinehas…

12 Then a man of Benjamin ran from the battle line the same day, and came to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. 13 Now when he came, there was Eli, sitting on a seat by the wayside watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told it, all the city cried out.

A. Runner had typical sign of grief…

B. Eli’s “heart trembled for the ark”: Even Eli knew the ark had no place being on the battlefield. It’s not that he was afraid God couldn’t protect the ark; it’s that he thought God would choose not to do so. And that’s exactly what God allowed.

14 When Eli heard the noise of the outcry, he said, “What does the sound of this tumult mean?” And the man came quickly and told Eli. 15 Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were so dim that he could not see. 16 Then the man said to Eli, “I am he who came from the battle. And I fled today from the battle line.” And he said, “What happened, my son?” 17 So the messenger answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has been a great slaughter among the people. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead; and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 Then it happened, when he made mention of the ark of God, that Eli fell off the seat backward by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.

A. Horrible news to Eli… Told of Israel’s defeat, the death of his sons, and the capture of the ark. The day could not have gone any worse. As a result of shock or a heart attack or some other ailment, Eli fell over backwards & broke his neck. He had been blessed with a long life (98 years), but he didn’t die of old age; he died because of the justice of the Lord God.

B. Remember this is exactly what God said would happen. In Ch 2:34 a prophet told Eli that both his sons would die in one day & the prophecy was confirmed through Samuel in Ch 3. We may not know exactly how much time passed in the meantime, but we can be assured that it came true. God always keeps His promises: both for blessing AND for judgment! Just as sure as we can be thankful for the promises we have in Christ Jesus as Savior, the world can be sure of the promises they have regarding God as judge.

19 Now his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, due to be delivered; and when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and gave birth, for her labor pains came upon her. 20 And about the time of her death the women who stood by her said to her, “Do not fear, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer, nor did she regard it.

A. Phinehas’ wife was apparently pregnant & the stress caused her to give birth. Sadly, it seems she died in childbirth…

B. Never think that your sin doesn’t affect other people! Phinehas’ sin caused his wife to die from early childbirth & his son to be born an orphan…

21 Then she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

A. Tragic end & cliffhanger to the chapter. The priests & judges of Israel have died – the army have been massacred by the Philistines – the ark has been captured by the enemy.

B. Question: had the glory of God really departed from Israel? True, the ark was gone – but God is bigger than a piece of furniture! … But – the symbol of His glory had definitely departed – which is what is indicated by the boy’s name. Hb“chabod” = “glory”…the “I” is a negative = “no glory.” Remember that the ark was where the 10 Commandments were kept (the Law/covenant) – where the manna was kept (bread of life) – where the blood of sacrifice was poured out (the Mercy Seat). Everything about the ark pointed back to the God of Israel: His righteousness, His provision, and His grace…ultimately showing a picture of Jesus Christ. … In their foolishness, the Hebrews had forgotten all about God & allowed this symbol to be taken by the heathen. It wasn’t that GOD was lost; it was symbolic that the Hebrews had forgotten about God long before…thus the glory (in a sense) was gone. God Himself was sovereign over all this & allowed Israel to go through the consequence of losing the ark. [Israel had tested God & turned their back on Him] Psalm 78:60-64 (60) So that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, The tent He had placed among men, (61) And delivered His strength into captivity, And His glory into the enemy’s hand. (62) He also gave His people over to the sword, And was furious with His inheritance. (63) The fire consumed their young men, And their maidens were not given in marriage. (64) Their priests fell by the sword, And their widows made no lamentation. []

Are we listening to God? (young Samuel)
Are we trusting God? (instead of an idol, are we trusting Jesus)
Are we following God? (Eli & sons died of disobedience)

We do all of this through Jesus Christ!


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