Eli reproved his sons too gently, and did not threaten them as he should, and therefore God sent a prophet to him to reprove him sharply, and to threaten him, because, by his indulgence of them, he had strengthened their hands in their wickedness. If good men be wanting in their duty, and by their carelessness and remissness contribute any thing to the sin of sinners, they must expect both to hear of it and to smart for it. Eli’s family was now nearer to God than all the families of the earth, and therefore he will punish them, Amos 3:2. The message is sent to Eli himself, because God would bring him to repentance and save him; not to his sons, whom he had determined to destroy. And it might have been a means of awakening him to do his duty at last, and so to have prevented the judgment, but we do not find it had any great effect upon him. The message this prophet delivers from God is very close.
I. He reminds him of the great things God had done for the house of his fathers and for his family. He appeared to Aaron in Egypt (Exod. 4:27), in the house of bondage, as a token of further favour which he designed for him, 1 Sam. 2:27. He advanced him to the priesthood, entailed it upon his family, and thereby dignified it above any of the families of Israel. He entrusted him with honourable work, to offer on God’s altar, to burn incense, and to wear that ephod in which was the breast-plate of judgment. He settled upon him an honourable maintenance, a share out of all the offerings made by fire, 1 Sam. 2:28. What could he have done more for them, to engage them to be faithful to him? Note, The distinguishing favours we have received from God, especially those of the spiritual priesthood, are great aggravations of sin, and will be remembered against us in the day of account, if we profane our crown and betray our trusts, Deut. 32:6; 2 Sam. 12:7, 8.
II. He exhibits a high charge against him and his family. His children did wickedly, and he connived at it, and thereby involved himself in the guilt; the indictment therefore runs against them all, 1 Sam. 2:29. 1. His sons had impiously profaned the holy things of God: “You kick at my sacrifice which I have commanded; not only trample upon the institution as a mean thing, but spurn at it as a thing you hate to be tied up to.” They did the utmost despite imaginable to the offerings of the Lord when they committed all that outrage and rapine about them that we read of, and violently plundered the pots on which, in effect, Holiness to the Lord was written (Zech. 14:20), and took that fat to themselves which God had appointed to be burnt on his altar. 2. Eli had bolstered them up in it, by not punishing their insolence and impiety: “Thou for thy part honourest thy sons above me,” that is, “thou hadst rather see my offerings disgraced by their profanation of them than see thy sons disgraced by a legal censure upon them for so doing, which ought to have been inflicted, even to suspension and deprivation ab officio et beneficio—of their office and its emoluments.” 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 honour them more than God, being more tender of their reputation than of his glory and more desirous to humour them than to honour him. 3. They had all shared in the gains of the sacrilege. It is to be feared that Eli himself, though he disliked and reproved the abuses they committed, yet did not forbear to eat of the roast meat they sacrilegiously got, 1 Sam. 2:15. He was a fat heavy man (1 Sam. 4:18), and therefore it is charged upon the whole family (though Hophni and Phinehas were principally guilty), You make yourselves fat with the chief of all the offerings. God gave them sufficient to feed them, but that would not suffice; they made themselves fat, and served their lusts with that which God was to be served with. See Hos. 4:8.
III. He declares the cutting off of the entail of the high priesthood from his family (1 Sam. 2:30): “The Lord God of Israel, who is jealous for his own honour and Israel’s, says, and lets thee know it, that thy commission is revoked and superseded.” 3429 I said, indeed, that thy house, and the house of thy father Ithamar (for from that younger son of Aaron Eli descended), should walk before me for ever. Upon what occasion the dignity of the high priesthood was transferred from the family of Eleazar to that of Ithamar does not appear; but it seems this had been done, and Eli stood fair to have that honour perpetuated to his posterity. But observe, the promise carried its own condition along with it: They shall walk before me forever, that is, “they shall have the honour, provided they faithfully do the service.” Walking before God is the great condition of the covenant, Gen. 17:1. Let them set me before their face, and I will set them before my face continually (41:12), otherwise not. But now the Lord says, Be it far from me. “Now that you cast me off you can expect no other than that I should cast you off; you will not walk before me as you should, and therefore you shall not.” Such wicked and abusive servants God will discard, and turn out of his service. Some think there is a further reach in this recall of the grant, and that it was not only to be fulfilled shortly in the deposing of the posterity of Eli, when Zadok, who descended from Eleazar, was put in Abiathar’s room, but it was to have its complete accomplishment at length in the total abolition of the Levitical priesthood by the priesthood of Christ.
IV. He gives a good reason for this revocation, taken from a settled and standing rule of God’s government, according to which all must expect to be dealt with (like that by which Cain was tried, Gen. 4:7): Those that honour me I will honour, and those that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.
1. Observe in general, (1.) That God is the fountain of honour and dishonour; he can exalt the meanest and put contempt upon the greatest. (2.) As we deal with God we must expect to be dealt with by him, and yet more favourably than we deserve. See Ps. 18:25, 26.
2. Particularly, (1.) Be it spoken, to the everlasting reputation of religion or of serious godliness, that it gives honour to God and puts honour upon men. By it we seek and serve the glory of God, and he will be behind-hand with none that do so, but here and hereafter will secure their glory. The way to be truly great is to be truly good. If we humble and deny ourselves in any thing to honour God, and have a single eye to him in it, we may depend upon this promise, he will put the best honour upon us. See John 12:26. (2.) Be it spoken, to the everlasting reproach of impiety or profaneness, that this does dishonour to God (despises the greatest and best of beings, whom angels adore) and will bring dishonour upon men, for those that do so shall be lightly esteemed; not only God will lightly esteem them (that perhaps they will not regard, as those that honour him value his honour, of whom therefore it is said, I will honour them), but they shall be lightly esteemed by all the world; the very honour they are proud of shall be laid in the dust; they shall see themselves despised by all mankind, their names a reproach; when they are gone, their memory shall rot, and, when they rise again, it shall be to everlasting shame and contempt. The dishonour which their impotent malice puts upon God and his omnipotent justice will return upon their own heads, Ps. 79:12.
V. He foretels the particular judgments which should come upon his family, to its perpetual ignominy. A curse should be entailed upon his posterity, and a terrible curse it is, and shows how jealous God is in the matters of his worship and how ill he takes it when those who are bound by their character and profession to preserve and advance the interests of his glory are false to their trust, and betray them. If God’s ministers be vicious and profane, of how much sorer punishment will they be thought worthy, here and for ever, than other sinners! Let such read the doom here passed on Eli’s house, and tremble. It is threatened,
1. That their power should be broken (1 Sam. 2:31): I will cut off thy arm, and the arm of thy father’s house. They should be stripped of all their authority, should be deposed, and have no influence upon the people as they had had. God would make them contemptible and base. See Mal. 2:8, 9. The sons had abused their power to oppress the people and encroach upon their rights, and the father had not used his power, as he ought to have done, to restrain and punish them, and therefore it was justly threatened that the arm should be cut off which was not stretched out as it should have been.
2. That their lives should be shortened. He was himself an old man; but instead of using the wisdom, gravity, experience, and authority of his age, for the service of God and the support of religion, he had suffered the infirmities of age to make him more cool and remiss in his duty, and therefore it is here threatened that none of his posterity should live to be old, 1 Sam. 2:31, 32. It is twice spoken: “There shall not be an old man in thy house for ever;” and again (1 Sam. 2:33), “All the increase of thy house, from generation to generation, shall die in the flower of their age, when they are in the midst of the years of their service,” so that though the family should not be extinct, yet it should never be considerable, nor should any member of it come to be eminent in his day. Bishop Patrick relates, out of some of the Jewish writers, that long after this, there being a family in Jerusalem none of which commonly lived above eighteen years, upon search it was found that they descended from the house of Eli, on which this sentence was passed.
3. That all their comforts should be embittered. (1.) The comfort they had in the sanctuary, in its wealth and prosperity: Thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation. This was fulfilled in the Philistines’ invasions and the mischiefs they did to Israel, by which the country was impoverished (1 Sam. 13:19), and no doubt the priests’ incomes were thereby very much impaired. The captivity of the ark was such an act of hostility committed upon God’s habitation as broke Eli’s heart. As it is a blessing to a family to see peace upon Israel (Ps. 128:5, 6), so the contrary is a sore judgment upon a family, especially a family of priests. (2.) The comfort of their children: “The man of thine whom I shall not cut off by an untimely death shall live to be a blot and burden to the family, a scandal and vexation to his relations; he shall be to consume thy eyes and grieve thy heart, for his foolishness or his sickliness, his wickedness or his poverty.” Grief for a dead child is great, but for a bad child often greater.
4. That their substance should be wasted and they should be reduced to extreme poverty (1 Sam. 2:36): “He that is left alive in thy house shall have little joy of his life, for want of a livelihood; he shall come and crouch to the succeeding family for a subsistence.” (1.) He shall beg for the smallest alms—a piece of silver (and the word signifies the least piece) and a morsel of bread. See how this answered the sin. Eli’s sons must have the best pieces of flesh, but their sons will be glad of a morsel of bread. Note, Want is the just punishment of wantonness. Those who could not be content without dainties and varieties are brought, they or theirs, to want necessaries, and the Lord is righteous in thus visiting them. (2.) He shall beg for the meanest office: Put me into somewhat belonging to the priesthood (as it is in the original); make me as one of the hired servants, the fittest place for a prodigal. Plenty and power are forfeited when they are abused. They should not be able to pretend to any good preferment, not to any place at the altar, but should petition for some poor employment, be the work ever so hard and the wages ever so small, so they might but get bread. This, it is probable, was fully accomplished when Abiathar, who was of Eli’s race, was deposed by Solomon for treason, and he and his turned out of office in the temple (1 Kgs. 2:26, 27), by which it is easy to think his posterity were reduced to the extremities here described.
5. That God would shortly begin to execute these judgments in the death of Hophni and Phinehas, the sad tidings of which Eli himself should live to hear: This shall be a sign to thee, 1 Sam. 2:34. When thou hearest it, say, “Now the word of God begins to operate; here is one threatening fulfilled, from which I infer that all the rest will be fulfilled in their order.” Hophni and Phinehas had many a time sinned together, and it is here foretold that they should die together both in one day. Bind these tares in a bundle for the fire. This was fulfilled, 1 Sam. 4:11.
VI. In the midst of all these threatenings against the house of Eli, here is mercy promised to Israel (1 Sam. 2:35): I will raise me up a faithful priest. 1. This was fulfilled in Zadoc, of the family of Eleazar, who came into Abiathar’s place in the beginning of Solomon’s reign, and was faithful to his trust; and the high priests were of his posterity as long as the Levitical priesthood continued. Note, The wickedness of ministers, though it destroy themselves, yet it shall not destroy the ministry. How bad soever the officers are, the office shall continue always to the end of the world. If some betray their trust, yet others shall be raised up that will be true to it. God’s work shall never fall to the ground for want of hands to carry it on. The high priest is here said to walk before God’s anointed (that is, David and his seed) because he wore the breast-plate of judgment, which he was to consult, not in common cases, but for the king, in the affairs of state. Note, Notwithstanding the degeneracy we see and lament in many families, God will secure to himself a succession. If some grow worse than their ancestors, others, to balance that, shall grow better. 2. It has its full accomplishment in the priesthood of Christ, that merciful and faithful high priest whom God raised up when the Levitical priesthood was thrown off, who in all things did his father’s mind, and for whom God will build a sure house, build it on a rock, so that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.
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