The Sin Of Eli And Its Consequences -- By: Brett W. Smith

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 170:677 (Jan 2013)
Article: The Sin Of Eli And Its Consequences
Author: Brett W. Smith

The Sin Of Eli And Its Consequences

Brett W. Smith

Brett W. Smith is a Bible teacher in Grove City, Ohio.

Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David appear as the primary leaders of Israel in 1 and 2 Samuel. They are also the primary fathers. Three of these leaders lost their dynastic hopes, which makes one wonder what went wrong. Of course they sinned, but the narrator gives more.

Though peripheral to the narrator’s grander purposes of teaching Israel about how the Davidic line began and how God deals with His people,1 a discernible pattern in the failings of fathers throughout the Samuel narrative may indicate that the author(s) intended to teach a lesson about the relationship between dynastic hopes, sons, and God. The lesson is this: honoring one’s sons above God in the interest of preserving one’s dynasty actually tends to end the dynasty and to cause great trouble for the nation. This problem—“the sin of Eli,” which is seen throughout the Samuel narrative—destroyed or damaged dynasties and brought disaster on the nation.


To understand the sin of Eli one must first understand the sin of his sons. The account of Eli’s two wicked sons in 1 Samuel 2 leaves no doubt about their spiritual condition. Hophni and Phineas “were worthless men; they did not know the Lord” (v. 12). Verses 13-17 record how they violated the sacrificial procedure prescribed by Moses in Leviticus 7:31 and Deuteronomy 18:3. Yet they were

serving as priests under Eli. The narrator offers a summary evaluation: “Thus the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for the men despised the offering of the Lord” (v. 17). As if that were not enough, they also committed immorality with the female attendants at the tabernacle (v. 22). When Eli heard what was going on, he rebuked them to some degree, but “they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death” (v. 25). All defiant sin was blasphemy against the Lord, and blasphemy against the Lord called for stoning. Numbers 15:30-31 states the relations...

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