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)
Yesterday we read about Eli and his poor parenting skills and how he let his sons continue sinning rather than disciplining them. Eli did nothing but talk to his sons, and they would not listen to him. But in our study yesterday we skipped over a phrase that confuses and concerns many people. Today we’ll address that phrase.
The writer of this passage in 1 Samuel (who very well may be Samuel himself) tells us that Hophni and Phinehas would not listen to their father for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.
Many people read this verse – especially Bible critics – and conclude that God controlled Hophni and Phinehas’ attitude because He wanted – for some unstated reason – to put them to death. They think that God capriciously decided to kill Hophni and Phinehas because that is just how God is – arbitrary and evil. But this is not the case.
By this point Hophni and Phinehas’ behavior had been going on for some time [1 Samuel 2:22]. It’s hard to believe that these men did not know that their behavior was wrong. After all, their father was the high priest and they were working in the tabernacle – the very home of God. They certainly could not claim ignorance.
Further, their behavior was affecting all Israel [1 Samuel 2:22] and was damaging Israel’s reputation with neighboring countries [1 Samuel 2:24]. People were starting to disrespect and scorn God and His commands because of the corrupt action of these men [1 Samuel 2:17].
It is not God’s desire for anyone to perish [2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4]. God created every single person for the purpose of spending eternity with Him. But God has also allowed everyone the freedom and ability to chose for themselves whether they will take Him up on His offer [Joshua 24:15; Revelation 3:20]. He will not force Himself upon anyone.
Long before Eli rebuked them, Hophni and Phinehas decided they were not interested in God. They decided they were interested in temporary, earthly pleasures like food and sex [1 Samuel 2:12-16, 22]. That was their choice and God let them make it.
But, their behavior was leading people away from God. And this is not something God has ever – or will ever – take lightly. Hophni and Phinehas were affecting people who wanted to worship God (the women who came to the tabernacle) and those who did not yet know God (the countries neighboring Israel). They weren’t going to change. So they had to be eliminated before their ungodly influence spread.
God did the very same thing in the New Testament with Ananias and his wife Sapphira whose sinful behavior had the potential to mislead others and destroy their small community [Acts 5:1-11].
God is not unfair. He gave Hophni and Phinehas decades of life (they were likely already into their forties) during which time they could have chosen to believe in Him. But they didn’t. God knows the future [Isaiah 46:10]. God knew they were never going to believe. That was their choice. But if they continued to live they would have influenced others to make the same choice. So they had to go.
Getting rid of Hophni and Phinehas – which God will do in the next chapter of 1 Samuel – is not an arbitrary act of hate by a temperamental God towards these two men. It is an act of love and protection towards everyone else who would have been negatively influenced by them.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.