Now imagine that you are Samuel. God has imparted a vital message to proclaim to Eli, but you are not going to be the bearer of ‘good news’ . I doubt Samuel slept much at all that night since Eli’s household had become so corrupt that the damage was irreparable. Imagine reporting to Eli, your priest as a twelve- year- old that Eli, his sons, and his house would be judged forever!
The Ark of the Covenant
This was fulfilled speedily as Israel went to battle with the Philistines. They fought and suffered defeat, but notice what they attributed their routing to. Their mindset was to simply retrieve the ark of the covenant and then victory would be certain. They unashamedly blasphemed and committed immorality in the temple and had no desire to repent for their shameful practice, yet they thought they could use the ark of the covenant as an invincible weapon.
God is not mocked and beware the spiritual pragmatist. The spiritual pragmatist relies on human solutions to solve spiritual problems, sometimes from business or marketing. They think of everything else other than the most important spiritual priorities. Let us decorate the inside of the congregation building or make the garden look presentable. Let us have ten- minute sermons and have more comfortable seating arrangements. Let us preach on life issues rather than expounding the Scriptures which will provide real solutions. Let us hire a good music group and stage. Sadly, on this particular occasion, the Israelites were slaughtered, and the irony was that the ark of God was captured.
Because they failed to listen to God and to honour Him, things went from bad to worse. We must be careful to not to make the mistake and be obedient to God and diligent to honour Him as godly Samuel was. In 1 Samuel 4:11, Hophni and Phinehas died the same day. Eli would die shortly afterwards once the news was conveyed to him.
It was the loss of the ark of the covenant that caused Eli to fall and die (1 Samuel 4:17-18). Merrill Unger writes, “The real disaster presented is not Eli’s death or the death of his two sons, or the death of Phinehas’ wife in childbirth, but the capture of the ark.”[i] Phinehas’ wife confirmed the same since what was her concern and awful sorrow and why the inattention to her new- born son? Ichabod! The glory of the Lord had departed because the ark had captured and to make matters worse, her father- in law and husband were a major part of the cause!
It is little use bemoaning calamities, but it is wise to consider what lessons can be learnt. Eli’s sons were priests, yet they did as they pleased. In some parts of the world there are pseudo priests today engaged in selfish gain and greed and gross immorality. Again, God is not mocked and there is a day of judgement and one day we will meet the Lord either as our Judge or Saviour.
To what extent did Eli honour God? We learn from Eli that we need to balance authority and affection. Some fathers will use their authority yet never give affection. A tyrant can maintain authority but have no love. Others do the opposite and neither bodes well. The over-permissive affectionate type seldom disciplines their offspring, and the consequences fall back on them and are multiplied. Simply put, if Eli had honoured God, he would have restrained his sons and things could have been vastly different.
To his credit, Eli took Samuel’s words and recognised that they were from the Lord. It would not have been easy to receive that message from a young boy, though a prophecy had already been given against Eli’s household from the man of God and the writing was on the wall. Eli had care and concern for his personal piety yet failed to restrain his sons. This was their downfall and led to national disaster. These types of problems inevitably extend to wider parameters and need to be nipped in the bud before it is too late.
But what about Samuel? We should remember that “Those who honour Me I will honour (1 Samuel 2:30).” 1 Samuel 3:19 tells us about his spiritual growth. “So Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” Who does that remind you of? “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:51-52).” Jesus and Samuel were both twelve years of age and were in the temple. Samuel’s words had authority and Jesus the Messiah astonished those present with His understanding and answers.
The expression ‘let none of his words fall to the ground’ is an archery term. In archery ‘falling to the ground’ was when an arrow would fall short and fail to hit the mark. Samuel’s words hit the mark and he was established as a true prophet. Samuel’s words came to pass which are the test of an authentic prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
The Lord appeared to Samuel again. If we honour the Lord, He will guide us. Israel suffered a disaster, yet they had a new prophet. The ark of the covenant was returned to Israel and Samuel judged Israel. Samuel would later appoint his sons as judges although they did not walk in his ways. On reflection that may have been partly due to the poor example Samuel had from Eli, or possibly being away much of his time from Elkanah, his father. The elders demanded a king and God let them have what they wanted. They failed to listen to Samuel. Soberingly, they had not so much rejected Samuel, but the Lord, Himself.
Three lessons remain. One, listen to the Lord. Two, honour Him and He will honour you. Three, bring up your children in the ways of the Lord that it may go well with you.
[i] Merrill F. Unger Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (AMG Publishers, 2002; Chattanooga), p368