1 Samuel 2:22–25; 3:11–21comment (0)
June 3, 2010
By James Barnette
Related Scripture: 1 Samuel 2:22–25; 3:11–21
Bible Studies for Life
Associate professor of religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
When Leaders Fail
1 Samuel 2:22–25; 3:11–21
A Sacred Trust Violated (2:22–25)
Some time had passed since the episode in the preceding verses. Eli was now very old. The women with whom Eli’s sons were “sleeping” were not the Canaanite temple prostitutes. Likely they were women who performed menial tasks in the pre-monarchy Israelite sanctuaries. Lamps were kept burning from evening until morning at the Tent of Meeting’s entrance (see Ex. 27:21). That these infidelities occurred at the most significant place where God met His people highlights the degeneracy of the behavior.
Godly people had warned Eli about his sons’ sinfulness, but the warnings did no good. He was not much of a godly father or spiritual leader, and his sons did not heed his words. How tragic it is when a father loses his influence over his family, especially when it comes to spiritual leadership.
Unlike sin against one’s neighbor, high-handed sin against God leaves no room for mediation. God determined the destiny of Hophni and Phinehas: They would be put to death. Because of their utter rejection of God, no human intercession would be effective for delivering the two. Hophni and Phinehas respected neither Eli nor the Lord, and for this, they would be subject to His judgment. As part of this judgment, God would replace them with faithful servants.
The Lord Does What He Thinks Is Good (3:11–18)
The Lord was preparing Samuel to be His messenger, His prophet. The “thing” that God was going to do refers to a disaster of some kind. The expression “his two ears will tingle” appears also in 2 Kings 21:12 and Jeremiah 19:3. As in 1 Samuel, the term in these two passages refers to a calamity to come upon people. “Judging” in verse 13 means “punishing.” This presents an ironic touch to Eli’s fate: The judge would be judged.
Because Samuel was obedient to the Lord and Eli, he heard His message and realized what He planned to do. This had to be a heavy responsibility to give a young boy. By doing so, it appears that the Lord was intensifying the rebuke of the apathetic adults. When God cannot find an obedient adult, sometimes He must deliver His word to a child and let it be spoken through a younger soul.
The Lord would judge the house of Eli because Hophni and Phinehas had “blasphemed God” or as other manuscripts state, “made themselves contemptible.” Eli had done nothing to restrain his two sons. Though Eli and his sons were priests, there were no sacrifices that they could offer to atone for their sins.
Though at first afraid to tell Eli about what he had seen, Samuel told the priest about the word he had received. Here Samuel was playing his role as a prophet of the Lord for the first time. He delivered God’s message as the one who “was called” by Him, “received” His message and “was sent” as His messenger.
God Still Speaks His Word (3:19–21)
After this initial experience as a prophet of the Lord, Samuel kept growing, preparing himself and being prepared by God to be a mature prophet both physically and spiritually. Not only did Samuel grow but also “the Lord was with him.” This statement also was used to describe the youthful David (see 1 Sam. 16:18; 18:12, 14). “Let none of his words fall to the ground” means literally “did not cause any of his entire words to fall to the ground.” Here Samuel’s words were understood to be the Lord’s words as well. Thus Samuel had been validated as a prophet of God.
Unlike other judges, Samuel’s words and actions would influence the entire nation of Israel. The people recognized him as a prophet called of God to voice His word to them and discern His will for them as well. Because of the prophet Samuel, Shiloh changed from a place of infrequent vision to one where the Lord would appear frequently to His new intercessor. Unfortunately the holy place of Shiloh would encounter a dark period in the next chapter with the capture of the Ark of the Covenant. But fortunately for Israel, Samuel would lend his powerful gifts and influence to guide the nation through challenges and blessings.