2 Samuel 2-4 is an important chapter in redemptive history because it clears the way for the promise of a faithful priest who became a beautiful type of Christ: “And I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind.  And I will build Him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before My anointed forever” (2 Sam. 2:35).  The narrative pathway to this promise, however, is not pleasant, for it involves the demise of a priestly dynasty, the house of Eli.  The story is full of accounts of false worship, godless superstition, and spiritual abuse.  Sadly, at the center of the story is a father, Eli, who chooses to honor his wicked sons above the Lord, inviting God’s wrath on his family for generations that followed.  Although Eli’s failure is not the main point of the narrative, it is the foil against which the plot concerning the rise of Samuel, Zadok, and ultimately Jesus Christ develops.  As such, it serves as a warning to us desiring to honor Christ in our families (1 Cor. 10:11).  So we are going to consider three failures of Eli’s fatherhood to spur us on to due diligence as parents and, more fundamentally, as Christ’s disciples: neglect, half-hearted discipline, and indifference toward God.

First, Eli neglected his sons, Hophni and Phinehas.  We read, “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” (2:22).  Why is it that Eli had to receive reports about the goings on at the tabernacle?  How could he have been ignorant of his sons’ sacrilege?  He simply wasn’t there.  Granted, his sons were adults (at least I assume they waited until they were thirty to enter priestly service as the law prescribed—perhaps not based on the context), and should have taken responsibility for themselves.  Yet, we are talking about the worship of Yahweh, nothing to be trifled with, as even their own ancestral history presaged (Lev. 10).  If anything was deserving of inspection and conference, certainly their conduct as worship leaders qualified.  Yet, Eli relies on reports from other “concerned citizens.”  We wonder if he was even bothered by the news or simply bothered by the bother.  Do you know what is going on with your children?  Who are their friends?  What are they “in to”?  What are they “up to”?  What are their thoughts about God, the world, themselves, etc.?  How can you be a faithful shepherd if you don’t know your sheep?

Second, Eli only half-heartedly disciplined his sons when he learned of their abuses.  We are told that Eli gave them a short lecture with a logical warning: “Why do you do such things?  For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people.  No, my sons, it is not a good report that I hear.  . . .  If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD who can intercede for him?” (2:23-25).  We are to give heart-changing, not perfunctory, discipline to our children.  We don’t just check the box and say, “well I administered discipline, so I’ve done my job.”  God told Samuel that he was judging Eli’s house because “his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them” (3:13).  Why didn’t he restrain them?  Through another prophet God accused Eli of honoring his sons above the LORD!  Discipline can be hard work.  It requires wisdom to discern the heart of the problem.  It demands consistency and follow-up.  It cannot be satisfied with mere behavior modification, but must aim for heart-change.  Of course, only God can change the heart of stone to a heart of flesh, so parental discipline must be prayerfully dependent on God and His Word.  You are an instrument of grace in the life of your children.  God entrusted them to your care and uses you to accomplish His purpose in their lives.  How badly do you long to see them walking worthy of their calling?  Are you more interested in being liked by them or in seeing them love God with a whole heart?  Are you honoring them above God?

Finally, the narrative indicates that the biggest problem in Eli’s parenting was his own indifference toward God.  He did not foster great love for God in his own heart, so how could he ever hope to orient the hearts of his sons to honor God?  God said to Eli, “You scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded, and you honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel!” (2:29).  In fact, earlier in the story the narrator called his sons’ abuses “the custom of the priests.”  How did these abuses become custom?  Apparently, his sons were simply carrying on the same “scorn” for holy things that they had witnessed in their father.  Even when God warned Eli of impending judgment, Eli was not moved to repentance to take action against his sons.  He foolishly and fatalistically (probably false piety) replied, “It is the LORD.  Let Him do what seems good to Him” (3:18).  Your children are watching you.  What do they see?  They are studying you.  They know what excites you, what angers you, what saddens you, what drives you.  What are they discovering?  Bequeath to them an inheritance of sincere faith (2 Tim. 1:5).

God help us to know, not neglect our children.  Help us to give whole-hearted, not half-hearted discipline.  And fan into flame our love for Christ that they would see no coldness in our hearts toward You.  Amen.