45. Eli, Quite A Character


By Trevor Hass

‘Now this man (Elkanah) used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.’ 1 Samuel 1:3

Eli was the 13th judge of Israel. Eli is an example of a good start but a bad finish. He was a strong religious leader. He helped the young boy Samuel. However, his sons took the best of the meat offerings and gave it to their father against God’s command.

Eli’s sons turned the tabernacle of God into a brothel. They turned a place where sins were to be confessed into a place where sins were committed. Eli couldn’t restrain his sons and became a spectator and compliant in their actions.

The end of his life is tragic, the Ark of the Covenant was captured, two of his rebellious sons were killed, he fell over, broke his neck and died.

The account of Eli is a warning to all fathers. Our responsibility is to teach our children God’s Word and to live as examples before them. God held Eli responsible for not straightening out his rebellious sons even when he was old.

Too Little, Too Late

‘Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the LORD.’ 1 Samuel 2:12

Why were Eli’s sons considered worthless men?

Three times Eli was warned about his sons’ evil ways. He never removed them from being priests. He said he heard reports from the Israelites. They were disrespecting the meat sacrifices and having relations with women who were serving in front of the tent of meeting. A man of God told Eli the consequences of his parental neglect and his sons’ actions. And then came the vision of Samuel.

‘The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. One-night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place.’ 1 Samuel 3:1-2

The vision of Samuel is important because according to the above verses we see that visions were infrequent during this time. Physically, Eli’s eyesight was beginning to grow dim. As Eli was losing his physical vision, Samuel was gaining his spiritual visions from the Lord.

‘And the LORD said to Samuel: ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about 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 forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, 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

What was included in the vision of Samuel regarding Eli?

(Eli and his family would be punished. Eli knew his sons were evil, full of iniquity. Eli did not restrain his sons. The wickedness of Eli’s house would not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.)

‘So, Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, ‘He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.’ 1 Samuel 3:18

What was Eli’s response to Samuel’s vision?

(God held Eli responsible for not rebuking his sons. Eli told them they were in the wrong but his words had no action behind them. No discipline. God disapproved of this rebellion and there were dire consequences.)

Read 1 Samuel 4

What was captured during the battle with the Philistines?

What was the result for the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas?

‘Eli heard the outcry and asked, ‘What is the meaning of this uproar?’ The man hurried over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. He told Eli, ‘I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.’ Eli asked, ‘What happened, my son?’ The man who brought the news replied, ‘Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also, your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead,
and the ark of God has been captured.’ When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.’ 1 Samuel 4:14-18

The above passages relate the sad end of Eli’s life.

What other ailment is afflicting Eli at the advanced age of 98?

(He had lost his vision physically and worse, he had lost the vision of God’s way.)

‘Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honour your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’ 1 Samuel 2:29

In the description of Eli’s death, why is it mentioned that he was heavy?

(The sons and Eli had made themselves fat from the Lord’s sacrificial offerings.)

Eli ruled Israel for forty years. The paradox of Eli’s life was that his sons were evil and Eli was complicit, yet he helped train righteous Samuel from a young boy. The ending of his life makes us reflect, but it should also be a warning to us, to raise our children in the Lord.

What do you see in the world today as a result of parents not restraining their children?

How does discipline actually show our love for our children?

‘My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.’ Proverbs 3:11-12

Our precious gifts from God, our children, deserve attentive parents who teach daily the ways of the Lord. God put this story in His Word to teach us not only the events that happened, but also that our children are never too old for reproof, instruction, and correction from their loving parents concerning the ways of the Lord.


"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."