Eli occupied one of the most influential roles in Israel prior to the institution of kings. He was the high priest at Shiloh and a judge. He was also the spiritual teacher and adopted father of Samuel, who became Israel’s greatest judge. Despite his own sins, and the sins of his sons, he left an important legacy in training Samuel. Other biblical passages indicate that he had some significant descendants, including Abiathar who served as high priest in Jerusalem under King David.
The first problem that arose in the life of Eli and his sons is their gross idolatry. They mistreated the Lord’s offerings, slept with the women who worked at the entrance of the Tabernacle, and disregarded the holiness and glory of God. They also did not properly restrain their sons’ evil behavior. The result was that the Lord was displeased with Eli’s household and He was going to punish them.
A man of God came to confront Eli and delivered a message from the Lord in his name. It was an unsettling and disturbing message. It indicated that the Lord would punish Hophni and Phinehas for their sins, and the family line of Eli would not continue as priests or judges. This was devastating news, especially because God had promised that his family would be priests forever.
After hearing the bad news, Eli fell backward off his chair and died from a broken neck. This incident was a tragedy both for the people of Israel and for Eli himself. It was an example of how one’s failure to restrain his children could have disastrous consequences for everyone.
In contrast, Samuel listened to the word of the Lord and followed it. He was a man who had developed his faith and courage through the spiritual formation he received from his mentor, Eli. He had not learned to idolize his father or his role as judge and priest. Samuel was a young boy when the Lord called to him.
When the Lord called to Samuel, it was in the early morning when the lamp of the Tabernacle was still burning. It was a time when no other priests or judges were awake, so it seems that the Lord was talking directly to Samuel. Eli Samuel