1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli.
And word from the LORD was rare in those days, vision
were infrequent. 2 And it happened at that time as Eli was
lying down in his place (now his eyes sight had begun to grow
dim and he could not see well), 3 and the lamp of God had
not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple
of the LORD where the ark of God was, 1 Samuel 3:1-3
Sadly, as I read this passage, I saw a report that has replicated itself in many generations. While it is not popular preaching, this passage introduces the journey of transition from One Prophet to another.
I know; this is Eli! He is the man of God. The one God promised that his family would “…walk before the LORD forever…” God, despite the behavior of previous generations, had honored His promise, though the ones serving Him had not been honorable in theirs. God decides no longer to work through Eli’s lineage and anoints Samuel.
Before you start screaming this in unfair? And how dare God! Let’s look closely at why God chose to move in a different direction.
He chose Eli as a High Priest to serve God and the people. He was responsible for leading the people in all righteousness, and helping the people walk rightly before the LORD. He helped them atone for their sins, making sure their sacrifice was acceptable to the LORD, and that they understood the perspective of God and His desire for His people.
Eli served the LORD for over 40 years, and from what we know, faithfully and dutifully, but something changed. It wasn’t that Eli had begun committing wrongs, but God was displeased with Eli for how he was managing His house. It wasn’t Eli’s hands, but it was the hands of his sons that were steadily committing atrocities before and to God’s people. They were bullying the people, taking offerings and sacrifices to feed themselves, and sleeping with the women who served in the temple.
Eli confronted his sons about their ways, but did not punish them, stop them or remove them from their position. Maybe he thought his talk was enough? Maybe he was too weak to stop them? Maybe he didn’t have the strength to remove them? Maybe they were too far gone? We don’t know, but what we do know is that the word about their actions spread through the camp like a wild fire.
Whatever the case, we find that God was displeased with his service. I wonder what God thinks about the service of Priest and Prophet today. While it is clearly not every Priest or Prophet, we find that God is very attentive to how the house of God is treated, and how the relationship between God and His people are managed. Despite God’s love and His promise to Eli, we find that protecting His name and correcting the errors and harm to the people who came to His house as a place of refuge, solace and restoration was so important to God that He had to do what was best for all.
See, Eli was putting the comfort and needs of His sons above the name of God and the laws of God. This angered God. It’s not just that Eli heard the complaints of the people, but God heard the complaints of the people. He saw with His own eyes the actions of the sons. He saw how they treated the temple. He understood their hearts, and knew that they saw it not as a place of repentance but as a resource for their pleasure and delight. As Prophets and Priests, we are responsible for the way the name of the LORD is spoken. We are responsible for the reports about the way the house of the LORD is given to the community. The reputation of the Lord and His house are tied to our deeds and actions, and Eli had addressed, but not taken the proper action towards restoring the peace to the people. The people wondered how could God allow His servants to take advantage of His people? So, to protect His name, He suspended service.
God was so angry about the disrespect, that He tells Eli that his time is up, but that He is going to cut off his entire line for service and kill both of his sons on the same day. He speaks, “Those who honor me, I will honor, those who despise me, will be disdained.”
1 Samuel 2:31
God will not allow the man of God, no matter how great his service in years past, to allow His house to be disgraced and His people abused. God asked Eli, “‘Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’” 1 Samuel 2:29 Eli chose to confront his sons, but allowed them to continue doing wrong by God and people. He returned to his seat, as though his job was done, allowing the people to continue being offended by his seed. God watched Eli turn a blind eye to his sons, and decided that he had become a co-conspirator with the boys. Though Eli had done nothing wrong, his silence toward the verbal outcry against his children was enough for God to consider him part of the problem and not the solution.
Eli, by not correcting his sons had chosen to treat them with more honor than he treated the LORD! And for this, He moved in an entirely new direction. Though Eli kept his title, His days of serving were over.
God had changed His Course!
God needed someone that would love Him and serve Him. He needed someone that He could trust, and that would restore the faith of the people in the Temple and in their God to protect them from all forms of harm and danger. He chose Samuel! This could also be stated, He Chose to Move On From Eli!
The Chapter begins acknowledging that Samuel was a boy. He was young and inexperienced, while Eli had grown old in age. Samuel had entered ministry, learning under the reign of Eli, and under the watchful eye of the LORD! Samuel, the text says was ministering before the LORD. Samuel’s service was not only noticed by the LORD, but by Israel. Loyal, Faithful and Respectful of Eli, Samuel carried out his duties as assigned, and his work pleased God.
God needed someone that would not only carry out the rituals, but that would listen and be obedient when He was speaking. We find that the people were being served, but that there was a lack of vision and revelation in that time. God, still a presence for His people, was either not speaking to His Prophets and Priests, or was speaking but were not saying what thus said the LORD.
Even though the word says that vision was diminished and the Word of God was rare, verse 2 informs us that Eli was found “…lying down in his place.” This doesn’t mean that He was always laying down, but in this instance, God took the time to document that Eli was lying down on the job. How could Eli be lying down? God had expressed his displeasure, there was no word from the LORD, no visions among his servants, his son’s were disrespecting God and His Temple, Samuel was young and serving and Eli was not even in the temple. The scripture says he was “…in his place.”
One would think that Eli would be in the house of the LORD! Eli should be laying in the same room as the Ark of the Covenant. He should be sitting in the presence of God, hoping to hear a Word, eager to see a vision, but Eli is at home leaving things to deteriorate while Samuel the body serves the LORD!
Maybe we are being to hard on Eli? The Word informs us that “…his eye sight had begun to grow dim and he could not see well.” Eli had some legitimate health concerns, and because of this, we should have compassion for him due to his circumstances, but the Word informs us that he was still able to make it to the temple to sit at the gate. He was present for the peoples sacrifice, but like his sons, it would seem that his presence was no longer to serve the LORD, but rather to get his portion of the sacrifices to God.
While Eli was leading and absent in a time that needed him, the text lets us know that God’s favor was leaving. Much like Saul, God’s favor now resided with someone else. David had been anointed in private, and would one day be acknowledged as King in public. Samuel too had been chosen by the LORD, and had to wait for God to fulfill His Word and Promise to Him. Samuel would be aware from this point on, that the anointing and favor can be granted and can be moved if and when ones season was up.
Though anointed by God’s vessel, the text says “…the lamp of God had not yet gone out…” The imagery painted here was that the anointing was fading from Eli. Eli had accepted his fate and wasn’t interested in doing what it would take to change his fate and the performance and actions in the temple. It would seem that he would head to the temple once he realized that God was speaking. But he knows in his heart that God has moved on, so he simply instructs Samuel to answer the LORD, and then to bring back the revelation of the LORD to him.
Furthermore, God is careful to point out that Samuel was not just serving the LORD, but he was “…lying down in the temple or the LORD where the ark of God was.” While Eli was enjoying the comforts of his home, Samuel was laying down in the presence of the LORD! He rested in the place where God’s power was, and for that, God spoke to him. He cried out from the silence, choosing to speak to a boy whom was in service, but had yet to really know God. Until this point, his connection to the LORD was Eli, who was able to teach him rituals and deeds, but could no longer give him a Word and Vision. Samuel would have to learn directly from the source, because his guardian lacked a strong connection.
Samuel would hear a strange voice 3 times, answering on the forth time, to find out that God has a plan for him. And while Eli has 40 years of experience, he is able to give the young boy basic advise. I suppose this should count as mentorship. Eli’s sons have gone astray, and the son given to him by Hannah. He has been entrusted with raising and mentoring this young man in the service of the LORD, and one could argue that Eli is even failing at this.
And with all this, God steps in! God’s assessment of the situation is bleak. He sees not only the sons of Eli are wayward, His man of God is diminished, but sees a young boy with gifts who is not being mentored. God’s voice was quiet, but still. His Word didn’t return void. It hit the ears intended. And brought a fire to a lamp that was slowly being filled with oil.
This is a Word to the Eli’s of today.
It is likewise a Word to the Samuels of the today.
God will honor those who honor Him. Those that despise Him will be disgraced.
God is serious about His house, and protective of His name.
God is eager to be intimate with His people, and will remove all that make peace and restoration difficult. God will punish. God will chastise. God will appoint. God will remove. God will honor His Word, but He will defend the integrity of His name above all, and will but down all those who bring it shame.