We often think of the prophet Samuel when we read about the Bible story in which he experiences his first prophecy. But the Bible also tells of an earlier prophet, a priest named Eli, who lived in the time of the judges and served at the tabernacle in Shiloh. This article will take a look at the life of Eli and his role in the early days of Israel’s history.
Eli’s father, Elkanah, was a righteous man. He loved the Lord. When he had no sons, he earnestly prayed for a child. When he received the answer to his prayer, he took him back to his home and devoted him to the service of the Lord. He promised to bring him every year to the tabernacle, where he would serve as a child. This is how Samuel grew up, in the presence of the Lord and under the guidance of Eli.
This was not an easy environment for Samuel to grow up in. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Pinehas, were evil men. They degraded the priesthood through bribery and corruption. They violated God’s law, and, when reprimanded by their father, they refused to repent. Eventually, the people resented their wickedness and removed the Ark of the Covenant from their hands.
It was then that God made a strong and clear promise to his servants. It is similar to the parable that Jesus told, in which a master gives his servants something known as a talent. One of the servants doubled his gift; the other buried it. God warned his servants that he would punish the one who buried his talent and reward the one who had used it well.
The message was hard for Samuel to hear. He was afraid that he had not done enough to deserve God’s favor. He did not want to be the messenger of a foreboding message. But, he knew that it was his duty to tell the entire message. So he reluctantly told Eli all that had been revealed to him by the Lord.
It was not long after this that the two sons of Eli died. This was a devastating blow to the family, but it was a lesson learned by all of Israel. They needed to listen to God’s messages, even when they were difficult to hear. They should not allow their pride or fear to interfere with their obligation to serve Him. If they did not, God was able to remove them from His favor. The same holds true today. We must obey the words of the Lord, whether they are good or bad, and not ignore the warnings that He may give us. Only then will we be able to keep His promises and enjoy the fullness of His blessings. Amen! (As Written) The Rev. Robert M. Reeves, Ph.D., is the pastor of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in San Diego, California. He is also an instructor at the Theological Seminary of Claremont Graduate University. Eli Samuel