Once upon a time there was an important man named Eli (actually it was about 3170 years ago, at which time he was ninety-eight years old, and blind). Eli had a lot going for him :
- His name, Eli, means “God is High”;
- He was a descendant of Israel’s original High Priest, Aaron, through Aaron’s fourth son, Ithamar;
- He was himself the High Priest at the Tabernacle, which had been pitched for the last time at Shiloh, a city located about thirty miles north of Jerusalem. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, served under him as priests;
- Eli had served as High Priest at Shiloh for forty years;
- Eli recognized that sexual morality was incumbent upon all priests (more about this later);
- He expected that God’s people would live moral lives as demonstrated by his words to Hannah (Samuel’s mother) in 1 Samuel 1:12-16, “And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, ‘How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!’ And Hannah answered and said, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.’”
- Eli had considerable authority and confidence before the Lord as evidenced by his reply to Hannah, 1 Sam. 1:17-20, “Then Eli answered and said, ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.’ And she said, ‘Let your maidservant find favor in your sight.’ So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. Then they rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD, and returned and came to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, ‘Because I have asked for him from the LORD.’”
- This authority and confidence was demonstrated again after Samuel was born, weaned, given to the Lord, and had lived with and served Eli for some time, 1 Sam. 2:18-21a, “But Samuel ministered before the LORD, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod. Moreover his mother used to make him a little robe, and bring it to him year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. And Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, ‘The LORD give you descendants from this woman for the loan that was given to the LORD.’ Then they would go to their own home. And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters.”
- Eli had a genuine belief in and awe of the Jehovah-God who “dwelt” between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant, over which he was the titular guardian. This can be deduced from the following scenario. Israel was attacked by the Philistines, whom God used as a judgment upon Israel during Eli’s last days. On the first day of battle the Philistines killed about four thousand men of Israel. We read what happened next in 1 Sam. 4:3, 4, “And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.’ So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.” This superstitious ploy didn’t work, and the next day the Phillistines killed thirty-thousand soldiers of Israel, Eli’s two sons, and captured the ark of the covenant. 1 Samuel 4:12, 13, tell us what happened next, “Then a man of Benjamin ran from the battle line the same day, and came to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. Now when he came, there was Eli, sitting on a seat by the wayside watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told it, all the city cried out.’ Yes, Eli had a lot going for him. But what happened?
- 1 Samuel 4:14-18, “When Eli heard the noise of the outcry, he said, ‘What does the sound of this tumult mean?’ And the man came quickly and told Eli. Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were so dim that he could not see. Then the man said to Eli, ‘I am he who came from the battle. And I fled today from the battle line.’ And he said, ‘What happened, my son?’ So the messenger answered and said, ‘Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has been a great slaughter among the people. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead; and the ark of God has been captured.’ Then it happened, when he made mention of the ark of God, that Eli fell off the seat backward by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.
We have rehearsed all those things that Eli had going for him, yet disaster struck! Why was this? Eli had a fatal flaw! We will have to go back and do some detective work. One clue is contained in the last bullet item above – Eli was heavy. Bearing this in mind, we need to know about Eli’s sons.
1 Sam. 2:12-17, “Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD. And the priests’ custom with the people was (when done properly) that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling. Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; and the priest would take for himself all that the fleshhook brought up. So they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. (NIV for verse 15) But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, ‘Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.’ And if the man said to him, ‘They should really burn the fat first (the fat was the Lord’s portion of the sacrifice); then you may take as much as your heart desires,’ he would then answer him, ‘No, but you must give it now; and if not, I will take it by force.’ Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.”
Because of this and other evil practices, God warned Eli in 1 Sam. 2:27a, 29, 31, Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Why do you kick 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 all the offerings of Israel My people? Behold, the days are coming – – – so that there will not be an old man in your house.’” Now we have two clues:
- Eli was heavy;
- Eli and his sons were making themselves fat by improper and excessive consumption of their meat allotment.
Eli confronted his sons about their misconduct as we read in 1 Sam. 2:22-25, “Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. So he said to them, ‘Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the LORD’S people transgress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?’ Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the LORD desired to kill them.”
After some years God spoke again to Eli, this time through a night vision to Samuel. 1 Samuel 3:1, 10-15, “Then the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. Now the LORD came and stood and called – – – – , ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for Your servant hears.’ Then the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever. So Samuel lay down until morning, and opened the doors of the house of the LORD. And Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision.” Eli called Samuel and insisted that he tell him exactly what God had said. 1 Samuel 3:18, “Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, ‘It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him.’”
Notice the underlined words above, Eli knew of his son’s wickedness, but though he confronted them and had the authority to restrain them, he didn’t do so. Here is the third clue as to Eli’s fatal flaw:
- He failed to restrain his son’s wickedness.
Aha! I believe we can pin down Eli’s fatal flaw by asking a question, and then answering it:
- Question – Why didn’t Eli restrain his son’s wickedness?
- Answer – Because Eli loved the illicit roasted meat complete with the fat, and was unwilling to give it up. Thus he was partaker with his sons in their wickedness regarding the sacrifices, though not in their other wickedness.
God’s judgment that came upon Eli, his sons, his priestly descendants and the nation of Israel , previously covered at the end of page one and the bulk of page two, certainly merit the use of the word “fatal” in the phrase, Eli’s Fatal Flaw:
- The last days of Eli’s life were not joyful, but in trembling fear for the ark of God, which the army of Israel had taken to their battle site with the Philistines;
- After Israel’s defeat, a runner came with the news;
- After losing four-thousand men on the first day of the battle, Israel’s army lost thirty-thousand more on the second and final day;
- Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed, neither of whom knew the Lord;
- The Philistines had captured the ark of God. When Eli heard this he fell backward off his seat, broke his neck and died;
- Eli’s descendants in the priesthood all died early deaths.
We never know to what extent our fatal flaw may cause disaster to befall us and/or others.
We all sin, but to prevent it from becoming a fatal flaw we need to respond immediately to the Spirit’s conviction by:
- Repenting (with the Spirit’s help turning from the sin);
- Confessing our sin to God;
- Receiving His forgiveness and cleansing from all unrighteousness.
Thank God for 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!”