In the last article, the persisting in sin by members of the body of Christ was discussed. Though it is understandable why those in the world, the unregenerate, persist and tolerate sin, it is not understandable in the church as to why it is tolerated and why it often goes unaddressed – particularly sin that is quite evident (cf. 1 Timothy 5:24). There are many who are at ease with sin and that is not acceptable according to the Word of God. It is not uncommon for believers to have struggles with sin. After all, we are enclosed in flesh. However, our process of sanctification allows us to overcome our struggles with sin so that we are not constantly being ensnared (cf. Romans 7:14–8:1). There is a difference with being overtaken, caught off guard, or surprised by sin (cf. Galatians 6:1) versus a willful persisting in sin (cf. Hebrews 10:26–27, 1 Timothy 5:19–20, Titus 3:10–11).
The nature of having a godly intolerance of sin for those who deny Christ and worship the made up gods of other religions was also discussed. In the United States religious freedom affords a certain toleration for one to freely practice their preferred religion. This toleration does not mean all religions are valid. Furthermore, having a godly intolerance does not incorporate bringing physical harm or some other form of injustice to those who are lost in their sin, since that would be itself sin. Rather, it is being firm that any unbiblical point of view concerning who God is, is invalid and that there is only one Way: Jesus the Christ, Son of the Living God. Therefore, any other way asserted is false.
The need for being gentle yet firm was also discussed. The “don’t judge me” crowd screams louder everyday but we are to judge righteously, especially when sin is evident. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:6) and to leave sin unaddressed by others in the church does not demonstrate love. Those who take the “do not judge me” stance from Matthew 7:1 fail to keep reading the chapter and obviously fail to read the rest of the Bible.
Some sins are greater than others (cf. John 19:11) but addressing any type of sin has become unpopular, especially in “popular” churches. However, it is necessary to address sin by preaching the whole Word of God so that willful persistent sin can be prevented. It is the Word of God that will make the difference and become effective when embraced (cf. Romans 10:17, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 4:12). This is how the church grew to become the church.
It is not enough to have a mere profession of faith. Many people walk down the aisle during a salvation altar call to thunderous applause and rejoicing at the prospect of a soul being saved from the wrath of God. Unfortunately, there are times that these individuals simply profess a faith in Christ but truly do not believe or are not later built up in the Word of God and as a result they eventually spiral towards or commit apostasy. Recent examples in the news of known “believers” abandoning the faith (apostasy) demonstrate that. Evidence of true conversion is seen when one has a life that embraces the faith which leads to obedience of God’s commands (cf. 1 John 2:4–6, 5:2–4). Sin that is evident but goes unaddressed never leads to obedience. This is described in several places of Scripture, and the correct way to address sin is also found in several places of Scripture. Let’s go to the Word of God and briefly draw life from three examples. 1 Samuel 2:12–36 will be our main text. Nehemiah 13:4–9 and 1 Corinthians 5:1–8 will be our subtexts (in an upcoming article).
1 Samuel 2:12 starts an account of two men, Hophni and Phinehas, who were sons of Eli the priest. Eli was the chief priest (or high priest1) and his sons were priests. The account is a stark contrast to the prayer of thanksgiving Hannah offered because the Lord remembered her and granted the petition she made to have her womb opened (which brought about the birth of Samuel).
Immediately we are given a blunt assessment of the character and state of Eli’s sons. They are worthless men who did not know the Lord nor the customs of the priests with the people. The knowledge they did have of the Lord was superficial which meant they had no acquaintance with Him and did not embrace the awesome truth of who He is. Hophni and Phinehas went through the steps and motions of serving God in their priestly role but their hearts were far from Him (cf. Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13, 2 Timothy 4:5, Joel 2:13). They had a profession of faith that they knew the Lord but by their actions they denied Him (cf. Titus 1:16). Even some of the steps and motions they took to outwardly serve God were wrong because they are described as not knowing the custom of the priests with the people (1 Samuel 2:13–16).
Reading the account of Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas, a clear picture is painted that these two men did not have a true regard for the Lord. Therefore their disrespect of Him meant nothing to them. I personally have no issue with breaking and throwing away Buddha statues if given the opportunity since I have no respect for Buddha or the doctrines of Buddhism – none of it means anything to me. This is how Hophni and Phinehas were except their disrespect was against the True and Living God and it meant nothing to them to disrespect Him or His ways. They are not described as having remorse nor feeling guilt for their actions or character, rather, they are described as having a willful desire to persist in their sins. As a result, though they surely had knowledge of the Mosaic Law and the laws within it prescribed for the priests and all of God’s people, it, as the Word and commandment of God, had no value to them. This is understandable since they had no true regard for the God that gave the Law and who brings curses and blessings based on obedience to the Law.
Hophni and Phinehas continued to sin by disregarding God’s Law concerning the fat of a sacrificial offering. Scripture tells us that if a man brought an offering of sacrifice before the Lord, the priest’s servant would demand that the meat being sacrificed be given to the priest. They would not let the man boil or burn off the fat – the tasty part of the meat. Because it was said to be for the priest there was an obligation on the part of the man offering the sacrifice to oblige. However, the man would also want the Law obeyed by first burning the fat or at least make certain that it would not be eaten (cf. Leviticus 3:5, 7:24–25). Well, since Hophni and Phinehas had no regard for God and therefore no regard for His Law, they did not mind despising the offering of the Lord. They would also disregard any challenge or demand from the man offering the sacrifice by ignoring his concern to deal with the fat as God commanded through the Law. They did this by having the servant threaten to take the meat, as raw, by force if it was not immediately handed over for the priest.
The recorded account of their priestly position shows that in addition to all of their selfishness, contempt for the Lord’s offering, and blatant disregard for God, they also had no regard for their priestly office and the weight of responsibility that office holds. 1 Samuel 2:17 says “Thus the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for the men despised the offering of the LORD.” When sin becomes “very great” (גְּדֹולָ֥ה מְאֹ֖ד) before the Lord it can often be due to a willful persistence in sin as with Hophni and Phinehas.
Verses 18–21 of 1 Samuel 2 breaks from the account of Eli’s sons and puts focus back on the young boy Samuel and his parents. Samuel’s father Elkanah continued to make the yearly sacrifice and his wife would come along and bring a little robe for Samuel. Eli would bless Samuel’s parents with a prayer to have children in place of Samuel who was dedicated to the Lord. Eli blessed them but it isn’t recorded that the Lord took note of Eli’s blessing explicitly. However, the Lord did explicitly take note of Hannah (cf. 1 Samuel 2:21). He visited her and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. The one who was barren and did not despise the Lord has now been blessed with five additional children in place of Samuel, whom she dedicated to the Lord. This section closes with information that the boy Samuel grew before the Lord.
Amidst all the sin Hophni and Phinehas were piling up, the narrator sheds light on the preparation the Lord was making to deal with the house of Eli. A glimpse was given in chapter one and the beginning of chapter 2 of 1 Samuel, but now a little more light is shed as we again see a stark contrast in the telling of events that unfolded. We are told Samuel was ministering/serving before the Lord as an indication of his righteous behavior (unlike Eli’s sons’ unrighteousness), his regard for God (unlike Eli’s sons’ disregard for God), and by extension of his regard for God: his regard for the Law (unlike Eli’s sons’ disregard for the Law). This contrast suggests something is brewing and makes those reading this account wonder how all of this is going to play out! Some tension is building.
Usually those who persist in sin, especially ones who hold a ministry position like Hophni and Phinehas, have no clue as to the wrath they are headed towards as the Lord makes preparation to mitigate the situation. It is a covert operation at this point that the Lord is executing unbeknownst to Hophni and Phinehas (and everyone else). They were steadfastly and obliviously contributing to their own demise. A persistence in sin without perceived consequence gave them comfort and assurance that they could continue unabated. That is a dangerous place for anyone to be and Hophni and Phinehas were right (smack dab) in the middle of that place. Their profession of faith and being in a priestly office is of no help to them. In fact that likely hurts them by making them more accountable.
Some time likely has passed in 1 Samuel 2:22 from the last section. Eli is now very old and the focus shifts slightly more on him as the chief priest and his handling of his sons’ desecration of their priestly office. The account we are given is that Eli heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel. But wait, more of their wretched behavior is made known. Hophni and Phinehas further abused their priestly office by having sex with the women who served at the doorway of the Tent of Meeting! Whether these women felt pressure or not to have sex with them because of the position Hophni and Phinehas held is unknown. They were not prostitutes2, but were simply women who served at the Tent of Meeting (cf. Exodus 38:8). What is known, however, is that Hophni and Phinehas knew it was wrong and the women too. But, since Hophni and Phinehas have no true regard for God or His Law, this wrong is par for the course with any other sin they have been persisting in. The impressions given is that they call what is wrong right (cf. Isaiah 5:29). “The Tent of Meeting is the place where the holy God arranged to meet his people.” 3 They used the Lord’s meeting place as an opportunity to find women to have sex with! Who has ever heard of such a thing? Unfortunately, church leadership today, as well as laity, use the church in a similar abusive fashion with adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and pedophilia. It is easy to get the impression that not all of Hophni’s and Phinehas’ sin is described but that only highlights of their sinful behavior is mentioned – and that very well may be the case. Nevertheless, what is described amounted to great sin before the Lord that Eli, in the role as father to some extent and in the role as chief priest to a far greater extent, must address.
So what did Eli do? He recognized that what his sons were doing was in fact evil and asked them why is it that they do the evil things he hears reported by many people – the Lord’s people. He further acknowledges that the reported behavior of Hophni and Phinehas is not good. Eli is treating their behavior like a family matter more than a pure priestly matter (cf. “sons” in 1 Samuel 2:24, 29). It seems difficult for him to separate his father/son relationship to look at their behavior from the perspective of being the chief priest. Although it probably should have happened more frequently and much sooner, now that he is old in 1 Samuel 2:25a it is recorded for the first time that Eli proceeds to offer some stern counsel and “rebuke” about the behavior of Hophni and Phinehas: “If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” Eli’s statement on its face is not true since all sin is ultimately against the Lord and He has made a way of escape for us. However, since Eli was probably also considered to be a judge like Samuel4, he appears to phrase his sons behavior like a legal matter where God as judge in a courtroom is able to exonerate or intercede for a person charged with a sin committed against another person. But, if one is in God’s courtroom with a sin against the Lord Himself and also charged by God Himself, who will be able to plead his case against God and who can intercede for him? It’s a rhetorical question since it is plainly obvious that no one could stand against God in such a manner to achieve a favorable outcome. Eli is asserting that committing a “high” sin of offense against the Lord puts his sons Hophni and Phinehas (or anyone) in the desperate and dangerous place of facing God’s wrath without any hope of relief.
Eli does have some knowledge, insight, and spiritual maturity. Being in the chief priest role affirms that to some degree as well as his tutelage of Samuel. However, the narrator in 1 Samuel rightly focuses on his shortcomings because they outweigh all else and represents the true nature of his heart, which ultimately leads to the downfall of his house.
Despite Eli’s stern counsel and “rebuke” of his sons, all of their sin went unaddressed by him. You might say “well Eli did address it by stern counsel and rebuke!” And that would be true – sort of, in one sense. He did acknowledge and confront them about their sin but he, as chief priest, did nothing substantive to stop them from committing such great sin before the Lord as his sons or in their role as priests! He never addressed that. The Lord said that Eli never actually rebuked his sons (cf. 1 Samuel 3:13). So, despite knowing that Hophni and Phinehas were cursing themselves, Eli never rebuked/restrained them. As a result, Eli’s house will be punished. It was a dereliction of his duty as chief priest to not intervene on behalf of his fellow Israelites (whom he acknowledged as the Lord’s people (cf. 1 Samuel 2:24)), by making certain the sinful behavior of these priests, who happened to be his sons, was discontinued. The fact that it is recorded that he confronted the behavior of his sons only once – and he was old by that time, simply adds to his failings.
Since the sin of Hophni and Phinehas was quite evident in their priestly role, Eli should have disciplined them as priests, not just confront them as sons. They should have been removed. Even if Eli was unable to convince his sons to stop sinning or unable to prevent them from continuing in their sin, he did have the power to prevent them from continuing to commit such evident persistent sin in their priestly role by removing them, but he did not.
There are leaders in the church today who take an Eli type stance, especially with family in positions of leadership in the church. The goal of many church leaders is simply to get along and be reasonable even at the expense of doing what is right. Cases of abuse and other types of sin are confronted today quietly with stern counsel and so called “rebuke” at times. But, far too often individuals will persist in their sin of abusing the Lord’s people or bringing shame to the church, and no one will step in and intervene by removing such ones from their position. That too is a dereliction of duty from a church leadership perspective.
Though Eli should have confronted them much sooner and more frequently, and he should have interceded for the people being abused by his sons the priests by removing them, he did, nevertheless, confront them. It was not enough but it was something. Their response is on par with their behavior. No remorse or guilt can be found in them. They have no true regard for God and thus have no regard for His Law. They showed contempt for the sacrificial system that was divinely ordained and they disregarded proper sexual conduct by sleeping with women serving at the Tent of Meeting. Therefore it seems quite normal that they would also give no regard to Eli as chief priest nor Eli as their father! And that’s precisely what they did. It is recorded in 1 Samuel 2:25 that “they would not listen to the voice of their father…”
Though their response is consistent with their behavior we now see the Lord at work in them – and it’s not a good work for them! The reason they would not listen to Eli their father is because it was the Lord’s will to put them to death. He desired to kill them and He was working to bring it to pass. His will – will be done. We begin to see the reprobate state of being in Hophni and Phinehas as a result of their persistent sin…and their behavior make a little more sense.
…To be continued in Part 3…
1 “chief priest” and “high priest” are sometimes used interchangeably as translations of the same Hebrew word. During the time of Christ on the earth, a distinction seems to have been made between “chief” and “high” priest (cf. Mark 14:53). Eli, in 1 Samuel may be called either “chief priest” or “high priest.”
2 Some scholars debate whether or not the women in 1 Samuel 2:22 were cultic prostitutes (i.e. Canaanite cult prostitutes, temple prostitutes, pagan shrine prostitutes) (cf. Hosea 4:14). Whether they were or not does not change anything concerning the sin of Hophni and Phinehas in their priestly role or as Israelites under the Law.
3 Tsumura, D. (2007). The First Book of Samuel (p. 161). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
4 Eli may have been considered a judge (cf. 1 Samuel 4:18 [the seat is possibly a position of a judge], 7:6, 15–16 [Samuel succeeded Eli as judged Israel]. Also note the flow of the book of Judges into 1 Samuel).
New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
Bergen, R. D. (1996). 1, 2 Samuel (Vol. 7). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Mounce, W. D. (2000). Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 46). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
Towner, P. H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Osborne, G. R. (2017). Galatians: Verse by Verse (p. 199). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Tsumura, D. (2007). The First Book of Samuel (p. 171). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Davis, D. R. (2000). 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart (p. 36). Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.