All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

A Very Young Prophet
Based on 1 Samuel 2–4

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, leaves her child at the sanctuary in Shiloh with Eli, the aged priest and judge, to minister before the Lord. As a child, he faithfully fulfills his duties in the sanctuary. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are priests serving in the sanctuary, but they are very wicked and do not know the Lord. They satisfy their own selfish desires while they go through the motions of their priestly duties.

Stealing the Fat

The priests are to receive the breast and the right thigh of the peace offering animal from the worshipers. However, the sons of Eli send their servants with a three-pronged fork to stab the choicest pieces of meat from the boiling pot, without permission from the one bringing the offering. They demand raw meat, before the fat is taken off and burned as an offering to the Lord. Obviously, Eli’s sons prefer to eat roasted meat, rather then what is being boiled, because it tastes better. 

The sanctuary regulation states that the fat is to be separated from the meat and burned on the altar for the Lord, but they refuse to separate it. In doing so, they are robbing God! Their sins go so far as to even include fornication within the precincts of the tabernacle, but when Eli feebly tries to correct them, his words fall on deaf ears.  

Meanwhile, young Samuel ministers in the sanctuary, wearing a linen ephod, a priestly garment that indicates he is serving as a priestly apprentice. This simple ephod is worn by the common priests, in contrast to the high priest’s ephod of gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and fine linen. Hannah brings her son a new robe each year, and Eli blesses her for giving her son to the Lord. The Lord also blesses Hannah, who has previously been barren, with three more sons and two daughters. As Samuel grows, he finds favor with the Lord, with Eli, and with all those who know him.

God’s First Warning
wickedness going on in the tabernacle is abhorrent to a Holy God, and He sends an unnamed prophet to Eli with a stern message from the Lord. He recounts the history of the tribe of Levi, chosen for the priesthood. They are to minister to God and to the people in all religious affairs at the tabernacle. But the sharp question asked is asked, “Why did you kick (scorn) at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of the offerings of Israel My people?” Then the prophet gives Eli a message: his lineage would be cut off and his sons Hophni and Phinehas would die in one day! With this warning, Eli has an opportunity to effectively deal with his evil sons. However, this does not happen.
God’s Second Warning
the time that little Samuel ministers to the Lord in the sanctuary, communication from Him is rare. But one night, after Eli and Samuel have gone to sleep, the Lord calls to Samuel. Thinking it is Eli who calls, Samuel runs to him and says, “Here I am, for you called me.” 

“I did not call;” Eli responds. “Lie down again.” 

more, Samuel hears a Voice calling his name, and he answers by going to Eli, thinking he has called him. 

Eli again says that he did not call him, and that he must go back to bed, but Samuel hears the Lord’s voice calling him a third time. 

Once more, Samuel obediently gets up and comes to Eli, asking him, “Here I am, for you did call me.”

This time, Eli perceives that it is the Lord who is calling. He shudders as he realizes that Lord has passed him by, and is now communicating with young Samuel. Although he is certainly heartbroken, he still instructs Samuel in the right way of addressing the Lord, telling him that if He calls again, he must say, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.”

In biblical tradition, the third time is very important; and in this case, Eli perceives that it is the Lord who is calling. But when the Lord calls the young lad the fourth time, He repeats his name, “Samuel! Samuel!” By calling his name twice, the Lord is emphasizing that this message is sure and very important. 

Samuel answers him according to his instructions, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears,” and receives a dreadful message for the high priest. Samuel must tell Eli that judgment will come to his house because of his sons’ iniquity, and his refusal to discipline them. His words to his sons were, in essence, that their actions gave the appearance of evil. He also ignored their sins, while chiding them that they were making God’s people sin. 

The next morning, Samuel is afraid to tell Eli the prophecy and busies himself with his duties, avoiding his master. It’s hard to estimate the anguish this young boy feels, burdened by the Lord with a terrible message for the old man he loves and respects. However, Eli is convinced that the Lord has spoken to the lad, so he calls to him and asks, “What is the word that the Lord spoke to you?” 

Sensing Samuel’s reluctance, Eli follows this up with a threat. “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.”

Courageously, Samuel reveals everything the Lord has spoken, and the fact that this message was given to him is a chilling indication to Eli that God is replacing him with Samuel. This substitution shortly becomes widely known throughout Israel, and since the Lord speaks to Samuel at Shiloh, he’s soon established in Israel as the Lord’s prophet.

Bad News—And More Bad News

Israel goes out to fight their old enemy, the Philistines, and there is no mention that they consulted with the Lord before engaging in war. In the battle, Israel is soundly defeated, losing 4,000 men, and the elders cannot understand why the Lord has caused them to lose. 

Desperately, they decide to take the ark of the covenant from the sanctuary to lead them into battle and save them from further defeat. To do this, at least four men must enter the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary, but only the high priest is permitted this privilege once a year on the very solemn Day of Atonement. 

To the Israelites, the ark of the covenant is a symbol of God’s presence, and since the pagans and Hebrews alike believe that the battles are always between the gods, the ark is brought out by the two sons of Eli, who accompany it into battle. This is an audacious act that belies their contempt for the Lord, and it’s amazing the He did not strike them dead in their tracks! 

When the ark arrives in the camp, “all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook,” reminiscent of the battle cry at Jericho. This uproar arouses the superstitious Philistines to exclaim, “Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods?” Then, to avoid losing the battle and becoming slaves, they desperately spur each other on to be strong and fight like men. 

In spite of the presence of the ark, Israel is defeated so badly that in Hebrew, it is called “a slaughter.” Thirty thousand foot soldiers are killed, and the rest are so badly routed that they flee individually, directly to their own homes. Hophni and Phinehas are killed, and the Philistines capture the ark! This loss is the most terrifying calamity the people of Israel can possibly imagine.

A messenger arrives in Shiloh with torn clothes and dirt on his head to demonstrate his mourning for Israel’s defeat. As he arrives, Eli is sitting nervously on a seat by the road, waiting for the return of the ark. As the messenger enters the city and relates the sad news, the inhabitants of the city wail loudly, and Eli, who is blind, hears the great noise. He asks what the commotion is about, and the messenger comes to him and relates the sad story: he fled from the battle, there was a terrible slaughter, Hophni and Phinehas were killed, and the ark was captured. 

Of all the bad news, the loss of the ark appears to be the most tragic in Eli’s mind. On hearing that news, he falls off his seat backward, breaks his neck, and instantly dies. But the tragedy isn’t over. As the pregnant wife of Phinehas hears that the ark is captured, her husband killed, and that Eli is dead, she goes into premature labor. She bears her son, and dies—but not before naming him Ichabod, meaning “no glory.” Sadly, she declares, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Terrible Consequences

At the time of his death, Eli is 98 year old and has judged Israel for 40 years. The prophecy that Samuel receives from God has met its fulfillment in the deaths of Hophni and Phinehas, as well as the end of Eli’s priesthood. Long before, a man of God brings him a message of warning, reminding him of the history of the priesthood through the tribe of Levi. God chooses Eli’s forefathers to be priests while they are still in Egypt. They offer sacrifices on His altar and wear the sacred ephod; but Eli honors his sons more than God by allowing them in their corruption to become fat with the choicest pieces of meat from the peace offerings. As a result, God cuts off his family line from the priesthood and gives it to another. Along the way, God gives Eli time to correct his family’s evils, but no correction is made. Later, He gives another warning through Samuel, but his message is ignored, as well. God finally executes His judgment during the battle against the Philistines, and in one day, Eli and his family are wiped out. The priesthood is now transferred to Samuel, but the results of evil in the priesthood go way beyond the priests; the ark of the covenant is captured, and the name of God is put to shame in all the surrounding nations.

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