I loved hearing and reading Bible stories when I was young. My parents had a series of children’s booklets that had many of the stories of the Old Testament in them. We had a bookshelf full of them and I would go and read them and look at the drawings often when I was 6 or 7. My parents would also read me stories from the Bible often.
Because of all this exposure, when I started going to Sunday School, I knew all of the stories that we would talk about. I loved that there was another place to listen to these stories - I can still remember the feeling of being in the basement classroom listening to our teacher, Mr Walton, reading to us as we followed along. He was an old friend of my grandfather and he would tell my grandfather that I knew the stories better than he did.
I especially loved the story of the calling of Samuel related in the first few chapters of 1 Samuel. In that story, Samuel went to live at a young age in the Temple of the Lord and heard God’s voice calling him in the night three times. I thought about this story often, thinking about what it was like. I especially was struck by the figure of Eli, the kindly old priest who Samuel runs to when he hears God’s voice. Eli is kindly and wise and I liked him. I would imagine him as like my own dad, or my grandfather, who I loved and spent lots of time with. I loved Eli because he loved Samuel and was good and kind.
For this reason I was always confused by a story that takes place soon after the calling of Samuel. You see, Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. They were bad. They were greedy, corrupt, and promiscuous and they took advantage of their position as priests to get what they wanted. They paid little heed to the law of the Lord to worship him rightly, the Scriptures say “they had respect neither for the LORD nor for the priests’ duties toward the people.” As a result of their growing bad reputation, Eli takes them aside and tells them to stop. However, they persist, and so God sends a “man of God” to say to Eli: “Why do you honor your sons more than you honor me?” and then God punishes Hophni, Phinehas and Eli - all of them die on the same day. But not only they are punished, but the whole of Israel is punished with withering defeat at the hand of the Philistines, and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant (the representation of the presence of God) into the hands of these mortal enemies.
Why did God punish kindly Eli for these bad sons? And why did all of the Israelites suffer and feel abandoned by God? We’ll see the answer and how it applies today next week.
May God bless you and make you a saint!