22 Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 26 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death. 26 Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.
(1 Samuel 2:22-26)
The other day we read about the sinful behavior of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas and how they were using their position for material gain. Today we read that they were also using their position for sexual pleasure in that they would lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
The entrance of the tent of meeting was the place where God met with the high priest as He did with Moses [Exodus 3:9, 29:42]. It was considered a holy place by all the people [Exodus 3:10]. But now, just a few generations after Moses, the entrance had become a different kind of meeting place – a place where Hophni and Phinehas conducted their trysts.
The women referred to here are either women who came to worship at the tabernacle or were women who worked at the tabernacle [Exodus 38:8]. Either way, Hophni and Phinehas were corrupting women who had otherwise good intentions of serving God. These men were sinners who did not know God and they were leading godly people away from God.
Furthermore, we know that Phinehas was married [1 Samuel 4:19]. So his behavior is doubly sinful. Even though he had a wife, that wasn’t enough for him. He committed adultery, a crime punishable by death [Leviticus 20:10].
Notice that Hophni and Phinehas didn’t even do a good job of keeping it secret, as their father, Eli, kept hearing all that his sons were doing. Eli heard everything. And he heard it over and over.
Even worse, what these men were doing was known outside of Israel (abroad) and was damaging all of Israel’s reputation (it was being done to all Israel). But Eli was very old and didn’t do enough about it.
Eli only rebuked his sons verbally, basically telling them that their behavior was wrong. He even went so far as to inform them that they were sinning against the Lord, hoping to strike some fear into them. But Hophni and Phinehas did not know the Lord [1 Samuel 2:12] – a fact that should have resulted in their dismissal from the tabernacle long before. So Eli’s appeal fell on deaf ears.
While his verbal rebuke wasn’t necessarily wrong, the problem was that Eli took no action to stop the behavior of his sons even though as their father and boss he had the authority to do so. Hophni and Phinehas, who were likely at least 40 years old at this point, would not listen to the voice of their father.
Very rarely will talking stop bad behavior. Most parents learn this early on. It’s easy for children to ignore words. But they will change their behavior if they suffer some kind of loss a result of it.
People will alter their behavior to avoid bad consequences. But they will rarely, if ever, change their behavior (especially sexual behavior, which is often addicting) just to please someone else and certainly not to please a God they don’t believe in.
Contrast Eli’s parenting skills with those of Hannah which we read about the other day. Eli was an ineffective parent who let his sons go on sinning. Hannah, on the other hand, actively developed her son Samuel‘s relationship with God and as a result he continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man.
While each child must make his/her own choices, it is their parent’s responsibility to teach them about God when they are young [Proverbs 22:6] and continue to remind them throughout their lives, just like Hannah did with Samuel. Moreover, blatant sin should not be tolerated at any age. A parent is never too old to take their children to task over their behavior.
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