Eli [Ē'lī]—jehovah is high or my god. The high priest and judge of Israel of the family of Ithamar (1 Sam. 1-4; 14:3).
There are few Bible men in whose character we cannot find some great and glaring fault. There is usually a dead fly in the ointment, a rent in the garment, a spot on the whitest sheet. Eli was a good man whose life was pure. He loved and delighted in God’s service, but was faulty in one point. He failed to exercise the proper authority of a parent over his children.
Eli belonged to the tribe of Levi, and for years acted as a judge and as High Priest in Israel. He lived at Shiloh in a dwelling adjoining the Temple for the greater portion of his life. We know little about him until he was well advanced in age. The first mention of him is when Hannah came to pour out her heart.
Eli’s fault which brought sorrow upon his declining years was the conduct of his own two sons, Phinehas and Hophni, who, although lacking their father’s character and qualities, were yet put into the priest’s office. Their conduct disgraced their high calling and shocked the people so much that they “abhorred the offering of the Lord.” While Eli warned them of their shameful ways, he did not rebuke them with the severity their evil deeds merited. He should have exercised the stern authority of a father and rebuked them as a judge. Instead Eli only mildly reasoned with his sons saying: “Why do ye such things?” But the sons disregarded such a weak and useless protest for their hearts were cold and callous and so they no longer heeded their father’s feelings.
Although Eli had no power to change the hearts of his sons, he could have prevented their ministry before the Lord, but he “restrained them not.” He wanted to be kind to them but it was a false and mistaken kindness. A seasonable correction would have saved them from ruin. Eli had no need to be harsh and severe, only firm and decided in the matter of obedience. Eli was twice warned that judgment would overtake him and his sons, but such warning was lost upon him. He dearly loved his sons and could not take action against them.
What a pitiable spectacle Eli presents! An old man of ninety, almost blind, waited to hear the result of the grim battle between the Israelites and the Philistines. How he trembled for his nation, his sons and also for the Ark of God which would be dishonored if it fell into enemy hands! Then the messenger came with news of the slaughter of his sinful sons and of the taking of the Ark. As Eli heard mention of the latter he fell off his seat by the side of a gate and died of a broken neck, yes, and of a broken heart! As is often the case, children bring down their father’s gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.