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Samuel lived with the high priest named Eli. Do you remember that night that God kept calling Samuel’s name until He and Samuel talked? Well, that night God told Samuel about some discipline He was about to send Eli’s direction.
Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas (not the same Phinehas that stood up for God in Moses’ time). Even though Hophni and Phinehas were supposed to be priests that served God and helped His people, they were not acting anything like real priests!
They didn’t care about God at all, and they used their place as priests in God’s House to steal from God’s Family. That sounds really awful, doesn’t it? God thought it was awful, too. He wanted His priests to protect and teach and help His Family come closer to Him. But Hophni and Phinehas only cared about what they could get, get get. They were disobedient and unholy men.
God’s rules said that after a sacrifice was given to God, the priests would be given a very specific piece of meat as their food.
But Hophni and Phinehas were not doing things the way God had commanded them. If the person giving the offering to God was cooking the meat in a pot, then Hophni and Phinehas would send a servant over with a big fork to just stab a piece of meat out.
And sometimes the servant would say, “Hey! Give the priest some meat now before you cook it! He wants to cook it his own way that tastes better to him.”
The people would say, “Uhh, ok, but let us at least give God the fat from the meat first. God said the fat belongs to Him. Remember?”
“No,” answered the servant. “Give it to me now, or I’ll just grab it from you!”
This is terrible! They were supposed to wait patiently for their portion after God and the people had received their parts first. But not only were they not waiting patiently, they were taking pieces that were not for them at all.
They were stealing from God and the people. Taking advantage of God’s Family was making God’s anger burn. These men were acting like God wasn’t Holy! Somebody should have done something about this sin, huh?!
Sadly, Hophni and Phinehas’ dad, Eli, knew all about the ways his sons were sinning, but he didn’t do anything to stop them.
One time Eli did give his sons a little talkin’ to, but his sons didn’t listen. And as far as we can tell from the Scriptures, Eli didn’t do anything to stop them from treating God so disrespectfully. Talkin’ is just not the same as Doin’!
So one day God spoke to Eli. “Eli, WHY are you treating the sacrifices to Me as unHoly? Why do you honor your sons more than Me by fattening yourselves on the best parts of everything My people offer to Me? You’re taking the best for yourselves. When people honor Me, I will honor them. But when people despise Me, like you and your sons have been doing, I will be disgusted with them.”
Why do you think Eli didn’t do anything about his sons’ bad choices? Could it be he was afraid to discipline his sons because they “might not like him anymore.” Could it be that he liked eating the yummiest meat too? Could it be that he fooled himself into thinking he wasn’t responsible for their sins because he wasn’t the one sending the servant to steal the sacrifices? (These are all bad, bad reasons.)
Whatever his reason, Eli let himself get dull and foggy-eyed about what mattered to God. Eli did know what was going on with his sons. He wasn’t really blind to that. But he pretended “not to see” by doing nothing to restrain the sins of his own sons in God’s dwelling place, so his Heaven-Eyes were almost completely blind. The same is true for us; when we pretend to not see sin, our Heaven-Eyes go blind.
God went on to say that He Himself was going to put a stop to it. God was going to make Hophni and Phinehas die on the same day, and everyone in Eli’s family from that time on would be affected too. They wouldn’t be allowed to serve God much, and many of them would be blind or weak.
Not long after this, some enemies came to attack God’s People. God’s Army got beaten badly. So the next day they said, “Let’s bring God’s special Holy Box into the fight with us! Maybe then we can win because God will be with us if we bring His Holy Box.”
How foolish is that?! You can’t force God to be with you and to fight for you when you have been disobedient and rebellious. And God could not stay close to them when the men who were supposed to be leaders were stuffing their faces with His People’s offerings.
You can’t take things that are precious to God and try to use them for your own purposes just because you are in trouble. God’s Covenant Box was Holy. It was where God wanted His Glory to rest. You can’t force the Holy to support your unholy life.
But Hophni and Phinehas brought God’s Ark of the Covenant out to the battle.
And that very day… Hophni and Phinehas died, and so did many of the rest of the army. God’s People ran and scattered from their enemies. Worst of all, the enemies captured and took God’s Holy Box away from them.
Eli, whose physical seeing eyes and Heaven-Eyes were both nearly blind now, sat on a chair by the gate anxiously awaiting to hear what had happened in the battle. Eli was very concerned about his sons having taken the Ark of God into battle.
Just then a man from the battle ran to Eli to tell him the news, “Eli, Eli, the army’s been beaten, your sons are dead, and the Ark of God has been captured!”
When Eli heard about God’s Holy Box, he was so shocked he fell backwards off his chair. When he fell off the chair, he broke his neck and died, for he was old and heavy.
Then someone ran and told Phinehas’ wife (who was pregnant) the news. “Eli’s dead, your husband is dead, and the Ark of God has been captured!” She was so stunned that she started having her baby right then.
“It’s a boy!” the ladies told her as the baby was born. She was still so sad about all that had happened that she named the baby Ichabod. Do you know what Ichabod means? It means “the Glory has gone.” She saw that with God’s Holy Covenant Box taken away by the enemy, God’s brightness and strength had left them.
That’s so sad, isn’t it? But, when people start stealing from God’s People and from God… and when others pretend not to see it by doing nothing… then God’s Glory goes bye-bye.