(1 Sam. 2:27-36.)
"And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Did I plainly appear unto the house of thy father, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh's house? - and did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest to offer upon mine altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? - and did I give unto the house of thy father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel? Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice, and at mine offering which I have commanded in my habitation; and honorest thy sons above Me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?"
WE have before remarked that Samuel has been called the first of the successional prophets which the grace of God raised up and maintained throughout the monarchies and among the remnant after their return from the captivity in Babylon. The priesthood was ordained to maintain the nation indirect communication with God. Having broken down completely in the days of Eli, men of God, called seers, or prophets, were raised up to bring God's messages to the people and plead with them on God's behalf. This was pre-eminently the mission of Samuel. Previous to his call, "there was no open vision" - no public manifestation of God's presence in their midst.
That there were men of God, or occasional prophets, previously, we cannot doubt. "The angel of the Lord" who came from Gilgal to Bochim, and reproved the nation for their disobedience, may have been a prophet, for in the marginal reading the word "angel" is messenger (Judges 2:1). The messenger here sent to Eli is called "a man of God." This honorable title is not bestowed indiscriminately on all the servants of God. Moses is called "the man of God" five times; David, three times. Samuel, Elijah and Elisha. with a few other prophets, are thus designated; and in the New Testament it is applied to Timothy, showing that we also may covet this title, or the character that merits it. There never was a greater need than now for such men, and we can say, as Moses said to Joshua, Concerning the prophesying of Eldad and Medad in the Camp, "Would God all the Lord's people were men of God!"
This man of God comes to Eli unannounced. Of his name and origin we know nothing. Three others like him were sent, each with God's message, to a king: the "man of God out of Judah" was sent to apostate Jeroboam; another was sent to the weak and wicked Ahab; and still another, to the militarist Amaziah. Their words only have come down to us. God would not have us occupied with His messengers, but with their message. They shall be known in due time, and receive the due reward of their service. Let us be satisfied, beloved fellow-servants of Christ, to labour unnoticed and unknown, content to deliver our message, bear our testimony, and leave the rest to Him and to "that day." There are many in the sacred Chronicles whose record we might envy, but whose names we do not know. In Hebrews 11, what a wonderful catalogue of unnamed worthies is given, whose deeds are inscribed in God's "Hall of Fame Enduring." The secret name on the white stone of Christ's approval is the thing to be desired above all else." To him that overcometh... will I give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it" (Rev. 2:17).
The man of God comes to Eli with the message: "Thus saith Jehovah," he begins. He needs no apology for the message he bears. He is relieved of all responsibility in the matter; it was his to deliver the communication regardless of any consequences to himself. Men might call him brutally abrupt, lacking in tact and consideration of the effects of the terrible words on the venerable priest. But he was to deliver God's word, "not in words which man's wisdom teacheth," but in the words which God had given him to say. And those today whose business it is to reason with sinful and lost men "of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," must not tone down God's truth, nor shun to declare to a sinful world what lies before it. The sweet tale of the gospel of our precious Saviour dying for ruined and guilty man, of pardon for rebels and salvation for the lost, this is indeed the burden of their testimony, and is to be always duly emphasized; but they have also to bring God's warnings to the wicked, and tell of judgment for the impenitent, of hell for the Christ-rejecter, and of the fire that never shall be quenched. To declare the whole counsel of God is the solemn responsibility laid upon the man of God. Let the example of these men of God of old embolden every servant of Christ to bear faithful testimony to a dreaming world that more and more demands of the ministers of Christ that they prophesy "smooth things" to them.
The terse message of the man of God to Eli has three distinct parts. He first reverts to the past, dwells for a moment on the present, and then foretells the future. The past sets forth the privileges of Eli's priestly ancestry; the present establishes the fact of the utter failure of his branch of this favoured house; and the future proclaims the sure and sweeping judgment about to fall upon it.
He first reviews the origin of the priestly family. Speaking as the mouthpiece of Jehovah, he says
"Did I plainly appear to the house of thy father, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh's house? and did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer upon mine altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before Me? and did I give unto the house of thy father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel? Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering?"
Eli is reminded of the high honor put upon the house of his fathers: the great I AM appeared to Aaron while in the land of bondage and without any revealed reason, but His sovereign choice, selected him for the honorable post of high priest to Israel. It was for no distinguishing merit on Aaron's part, but of God's freest grace, and this privilege was entailed on his posterity for ever. He gave them ample and generous provision also for their maintenance" - all the offerings made by fire of the Children of Israel." These distinguishing favours should have incited them to faithfulness in the discharge of their official obligations, and prompted them to hearty obedience to all His will. This is ever God's way with His own, and often with sinners too. He reminds them of His past dealings in grace and favour towards them. The review of His "goodness" is designed to "lead them to repentance;" if this fails of its desired effect, the goodness bestowed becomes but an aggravation of the guilt, and cannot but bring down heavier judgment. It is a most solemn and serious thing to trifle with, or abuse, the grace of God, as many have learned to their sorrow and eternal loss.
Having prepared the way by recalling to Eli's mind the high and holy privileges conferred on him and his house, the prophet proceeds to charge home on his conscience his failure and sin: "Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering ... and honorest thy sons above Me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?"
There are three points in the indictment they "kicked," or rebelled, as if God's sacrifices were a thing of contempt, or the regulations concerning it onerous; he honoured his worthless sons above the great and glorious Jehovah, God of Israel; and they "made themselves fat" with the very best brought by Israel to His altar. It is a grave and awful charge to bring against such a man as Eli! Oh, how it must have cut him to the heart as he stood dumb before the accuser, in mute acknowledgment of the charge. Think of it, he honoured his wicked sons above Jehovah! Could sin be greater or guilt more grave? Those that allow and countenance their children in any evil way, and do not use their authority to restrain and punish them, do in effect honor them more than God, being more tender of their reputation than of His glory, and more desirous to honor them than to honor Him.
This was the deep fault of the too indulgent father, though himself innocent of the disorders about the Tabernacle. Being both high priest and chief magistrate over the land, he was invested with full powers both to depose and punish them, but failed utterly to do it. How much failure there is of this, alas, amongst Christian parents to-day. There are good men, who are fathers, who seem to have neither eyes nor ears for the shortcomings of their children, and disastrous results follow. Some grow up unbelievers, if not profligates; and instead of becoming an honor and ornament to God and their parents, they bring down their gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. God said of Abraham, "I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him." He did not, like Eli, weakly expostulate, or in easy tone admonish, but he commanded. We like the word; it has the ring of discipline, and savors of authority and order; and this is the very thing Eli failed most to do, and had, consequently, to hear from the lips of the man of God the doom pronounced against his family: "Wherefore the Lord God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before Me forever: but now Jehovah saith, Be it far from Me; for them that honor Me I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed."
The priesthood was promised to the house of Aaron forever (Ex. 29:9). "The priest's office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute; "but it was in a way conditional, that they "walk before" Jehovah; this they ceased to do, and were consequently " put as polluted from the priesthood." This eventually became true of the whole house of Aaron (see Mal. 2:1-9), and it became displaced by that Priest "after the order of Melchizedek, who abides continually." He could say in faithfulness, as no descendant of Levi ever could say, "As for Me, Thou upholdest Me in mine integrity, and settest Me before thy face forever" (Ps. 41:12). Our willing hearts delight to have it so. Our God has laid help upon One that is mighty: "the government shall be upon His shoulder," "and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and He shall be a priest upon his throne" (Zech. 6: 13). God speed the day of His appearing!
Them that honor Me, I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed." Here is a most weighty principle, seen in all God's governmental ways; and it was to be illustrated in a solemn way upon the house of Eli. They had daringly despised Him of whom it is written, that "He is mighty, and despiseth not any" (Job 36:5); and for their insolence flaunting itself in the face of the Almighty, they must suffer the severest punishment which the Jewish mind can conceive: "Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father's house, that there shall not be an old man in thy house; and thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation ... and all the increase of thy house shall die in the flower of their age." This came to pass in the very beginning of the glorious reign of Solomon. Abiathar, the last official representative of the house of Eli, and his son Jonathan, took part with the ambitious Adonijah, in collusion with the veteran warrior Joab, in conspiracy against Solomon, for which he was deposed and disgraced (see 1 Ki. 2:26, 27), and from that day the priestly office returned to the house of Eleazar, in the person of Zadok. After sharing the afflictions of David in his rejection, and bearing with him the burdens of a not untroubled reign, he slipped at the last, and lost the place of honor just as Solomon's reign was about to begin.
"And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day shall they die both of them. And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in my heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever. And it shall come to pass that every one that is left in thy house shall come and crouch to him for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and shall say, Put me, I pray thee, in one of the priests' offices, that I may eat a piece of bread" (vers. 34-36).
Abject poverty and humiliating beggary was to be the lot of Eli's descendants. It is a picture fearful to contemplate, and it must have struck Eli with horror. But his sons had reveled in luxury and power, and it was meet that their offspring should grovel in disgrace and penury. They had lived luxuriously at Jehovah's expense, robbing Him of that which was His due, and their children should come to beg a piece of silver (the word is said to signify the smallest coin), and a morsel of bread.
How painful all this is! Had Eli honored God above his sons, and dealt with them accordingly, he would have escaped this sorrow and humiliation. But thus it is in the equitable government of God. He "is a consuming fire," and a jealous God, and woe to those that set aside His word.
Now, here again, a bright light is shining out of the gathering gloom: God was to raise up for Himself a "faithful priest," His "Anointed." This evidently looks beyond either David or Zadok; it is God's glorious King-Priest, who on earth ever did that which was according to God's heart and mind. So, in wrath, God ever remembers mercy; but it is mercy which can only be ministered through the merits and mediation of His "merciful and faithful High Priest." Blessed surety and pledge of eternal blessing for all who by grace believe.