The head priest, Eli, had been planning to turn the priesthood over to his two sons. Unfortunately, his sons were immoral and corrupt, and their actions were leading some to sin and others were discouraged from even coming to the tabernacle to offer a sacrifice.
17 Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:17 (NKJV)
All who come to seek God are guilty of sin, God knows this, and we know it. But He wants us to freely come to Him to receive forgiveness for all our sins and shortcomings. From shoplifters and lie-tellers to those on death row in prison, God’s generous outpouring of grace is there for all who seek Him from the depths of their hearts. His grace pours out due to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who offered Himself on the cross in our place. The Old Testament sacrifices and offerings in Samuel’s time all pointed towards this life-giving event.
Nothing upsets God more than when the shepherds in charge of His flock turn people away from approaching God to receive His wellspring of love, grace, and restoration. Yet this is exactly what was happening as young Samuel came onto the scene.
The Lord warned the old regime through prophecy that He was about to cleanse the priesthood to install Samuel as prophet and head priest. Samuel’s reputation as God’s representative was already spreading throughout all of Israel. Eli had scolded his offensive sons for their actions, but otherwise did nothing to stop them or to replace them.
God was fed up with the situation of Eli’s sons and was going to use young Samuel to begin a new order. Samuel’s first prophecy was to inform Eli of this fact.
Samuel was reluctant to pass the prophecy on to Eli, but Eli insisted, then accepted the word as from the Lord, who had already been sending Eli warnings.
God’s judgment came down hard on Eli, his sons, and the army of Israel. After first being defeated by the Philistines, they thought that if Eli’s sons brought the Ark of God into the battle, they could never lose.
This was a bad assumption. God is a Being with ultimate authority, not a symbol to be carried around. His love and mercy for us is overwhelming and without limit, but He is holy and hates corruption. We receive tremendous grace from Him in our weaknesses and failures because He paid the price of our sin on the cross. But we should not take Him for granted and assume we can act any way we please towards others.
Both of Eli’s sons were killed in the battle, a judgment for their abuse of their holy responsibilities. The Philistines also took possession of the precious Ark of the Covenant, the box containing the covenant between God and man, the tablets of the Ten Commandments. When Eli heard that the Ark had been taken, he, too, fell over and died.
Through this tragedy, God cleared the decks of a sinful and shameful priesthood, and installed His new priest and prophet, the young Samuel.
Many years later, Jesus would comment on the severity of turning God’s people, especially young people, away from Him:
6 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:6 (NKJV)
Jesus also cleansed the temple in Jerusalem of its moneychangers, those who were profiteering off believers who came to the temple to worship God but did not have the proper local currency or sacrifice offering.
We who have been shown much mercy have a responsibility to share the same with all who seek Him, and help them to succeed in their faith journey. All who do this in His name are priests of God’s new order.
Father God, none of us are strangers to sin and shame. Our lives have been full of both. We turn to Christ, the One who bore all of our sin on the cross and is so quick to forgive us. This was true yesterday, today and will be true tomorrow, as well. We turn to Him each day to be cleansed of our sins and to seek His strength and healing to do better as we seek to walk with Jesus and to be a blessing to others. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9 (NKJV)