The House of Eli (When God Departed)

The House of Eli
When God Departed
Robert Wurtz II

And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies. (1 Samuel 4:3)

Since God began dwelling among men, He has warned His people about dangerous characters who would come along and put His presence at risk. Satan seems to have an endless army of agents at his disposal who infiltrate God’s ”  house ” for the purpose of    running Him off. Satan knows that bad behavior and God do not mix. These phenomena play out countless times in the Old Testament and into the New Covenant. In fact, a cursory read of Revelation chapter 2, and 3 revealed how serious the Lord Jesus is about protecting the churches of God from bad people. These people came in to cause God’s unique presence to cease dwelling among the people; in the language of Revelation, to get their lamp stand removed. 

In Chapter 2 the Lord praises Ephesus for not bearing with those who were evil and for rejecting false apostles as liars. Pergamos tolerated Baalam like people in the church who stumbled the saints with fornication. He warned them sharply to repent. Thyatira allowed a ” Jezebel ” to stumble the people with fornication and idolatry. He gave her a chance to repent, but she did not; tribulation was now at the door for them. These are just some examples of how the enemy is relentless to corrupt the churches so that God’s presence will withdraw from them. 

An Old Testament Lesson

It is hard to read our passage without bringing to mind the complete lack of discernment that Eli showed when Samuel’s mother wept before the Lord. Here was a man ready to accuse a woman for being drunk, while his two sons were living like devils in the ministry. All the while, she wept because she had no son. Now Eli’s sons are about to manifest the full recklessness of their own father’s inaction. In modern times, he would be tried for criminal negligence. In Israel, God will now demonstrate His estimate of bad behavior within the ministry. 

It is folly to pretend to have faculties of discernment when one is devoid of basic common sense. (compare 1 Cor. 11:14a “does not even nature teach you?”) Any person who had even the faintest understanding of the God of the Jews would have known how evil these boys were. If a man fornicates with women of the church, he is capable of anything. Moreover, they would take the largest portions of the offering for themselves causing the offering of the Lord to be despised. A sinner could have been called in to bring correction to such high-handed disregard for the things of God. Why did Eli allow this to happen? God said it was because he honored his sons more than he honored YHWH (God). You see, what was designed to be God’s House, had year-by-year slowly turned into Eli’s house. 

A House For God

Shiloh was the temporary capitol of Israel before the first temple was built in Jerusalem. For over 300 years, this place served as a center of religious worship. In fact, the Wilderness Tabernacle was erected here semi-permanently, with the Ark of the Covenant and the other related furniture. This means that things had gone relatively well for some 260 years. Then came that dreaded 40 year stretch where Eli, the high Priest, judged Israel. There are over 100 references, directly or indirectly to the number 40 in scripture. Typically the number symbolizes testing, trial, or probation. During these last 40 years at Shiloh, the nation was spiraling into a backslidden condition with Eli’s “priestly” son’s Hophni and Phinehas leading the charge. 

Either one or both of the sons of Eli was an accomplished fornicator; and either one or both of the sons was a gluttonous man. Between these two sons sins, and their father’s dereliction, the entire house of Eli was judged forever ending their priestly ministry with Abiathar

Only God understands the secrets of men; so we cannot say with any certainty why Eli honored his sons more than God. Whether he was proud of them or afraid of them, we cannot tell. We only know that he would rather disobey God in the face of certain judgment than deal with them. In fact, so serious was the situation that God raised up the young boy Samuel to replace Eli as the spiritual leader in Israel. In the very spot where God was to be reverenced and obeyed (as He is reverenced and obeyed in Heaven), Eli’s sons were behaving in unconscionable ways. We have this simple description of these men, “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.” (1 Samuel 2:12) 

The sons were evil and the father was complacent. Loyalty is when you will stand by a person even when they are in the wrong; faithfulness is when we will stand for truth no matter who it effects. Eli’s loyalty to his sons trumped his faithfulness to God. Absolutely nothing moved Eli to correct His sons. He was receiving undeniable and direct threats from God (not that God makes any idle threat). God spoke to him in the strongest of ways warning him of what would happen if he did not stop them. Nevertheless, he carried on into the 40th year as if God was not talking. 

Sometimes it seems as though God is never going to judge sin. Can you imagine how vexed the Saints were who witnessed these things? Year after year the house of Eli acted out. People probably wondered, ” when is it going to stop? ” they have made a mockery of the ministry. It’s a wonder there was any faith left by the time it was all over. Some would have liked to have done something perhaps, but they could not bring themselves to do it. Indeed, things were completely out-of-hand. Eli didn’t correct them, and neither did anyone else. Somewhere between charm and intimidation, the house of Eli behaved however they wished. God had to do something. 

He describes His plan to Eli saying, “I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever.” (1 Samuel 2:35) God wants leaders that are after His own heart–not their own lusts. This account of the leaders in Israel’s history are recorded for us, the churches of God, as examples of what not to do in the Kingdom of God. 

Moving in a Superstitious Reverence

It came to pass that God spelled out his judgment upon Eli and his house because of the way they had treated Him before the eyes of all of Israel. We have said this before, but the primary role of any leader in the Kingdom of God is to sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people. Leaders must never give the impression that God is like a common man who can be obeyed and disobeyed at will; but they must exalt Him and sanctify Him before the people — through their conduct — in absolute reverence. 

Eli and his sons didn’t live by every word that was proceeding from the mouth of God; in fact, they treated God as one who can be trifled with. Isaiah 66:1-3 tells us what is required for a place of “God’s rest.” They are a broken and contrite heart (humility) and one who trembles at God’s word (obedience). The house of Eli failed on all counts and it would signal the beginning of God’s departure in Israel.

Blasphemed Among the Gentiles

People may have thought YHWH to be a dumb idol of wood or stone based upon how they behaved toward Him. In fact, the sons and elders of the people were so rebellious and misguided, that they viewed the Ark of God, i.e., the Ark of the Covenant- the very throne of His divine presence, as a superstitious relic that could be used almost as an amulet. They didn’t look to God, but to the Ark itself to secure victory in their battle with the Philistines! 

They didn’t obey and regard God, but they tried to go a running into battle with the ‘symbol’ of the authority of God to overthrow the Philistines. There is an important truth here. What sense does it make to try to exercise authority over demons if we are not willing to obey God ourselves? This is a sobering point. Why would men who flagrantly disobeyed the authority of God call upon His authority in their time of need? They wanted saved out of their situation, but had no intention of submitting to God’s authority. Notice they did not call upon Him, but they used the symbol of His authority superstitiously. This is what things came  to. When men seek to utilize the authority of God for their needs, but will not submit to Him in their everyday lives, it is time for serious change. 

The Ark Lost

The power was never in the Ark itself; it was what it represented in the Earth. The only power was in the peoples’ submission to God and their standing under His authority. The Ark had been sanctified to the Lord and was not to be used for man’s whims. It should have been the farthest thing from these elders’ minds. At least Eli had the good sense to tremble for the Ark of God as his sons took it out presumptively into battle. 

When a messenger returned he gave this report, And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken. (1 Samuel 4:17) When Eli heard this he literally fell over dead. 

The story continues,  And his daughter in law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it. And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband. (1 Samuel 4:19-21) The glory departed  from Israel. The saddest thing of all is that God offered many chances for Eli and his sons to repent; they would not. 

A Big Shout

This story would not be complete if we did not go back and make an important point. When the battle began, 4000 of Israel’s men were killed. This is 100 times the number of years Eli ruled (judged) Israel. Upon hearing this news the elders asked, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us today before the Philistines? How could they ask such a question? Was it ignorance? Were they blinded and hardened in sin? The elders should have known better than to suggest something so insane. Clearly neither the sons of Eli nor the elders had any clue about how Israel won the victory in the former days. 

Did they inquire of the Lord for an answer? No. Why? The Word of the Lord was precious in those days and there was no open vision. People apparently were not in the habit of seeking the Lord’s direction. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Rather than waiting on God to see why things had gone so badly, they presumptively rallied around man’s idea. That idea was that the Ark could save them! In other words, the method could save them, or the thing God had done in the past will save them. They were banking on yester-years victories, while living in flagrant rebellion. They refused to understand that when God moved in the days of old, it was because the people had sanctified themselves unto Him. They determined to obey God and His word at any cost, and as a result they saw mighty victories. What about these rebels? Did they think that God was going to be with them as He was in years past simply because they went through the same religious exercise of their forefathers? No way. Rather, God sought to slay the devilish leaders from Eli’s house. 

So the people sent to Shiloh, and they brought from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which sitteth upon the cherubim: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. (1 Samuel 4:4-5)

Notice how the people were excited about what they believed God (the Ark) was going to do. These people shouted so loud that some translations say that the ground shook. Now contrast this with David, who in the decades to follow, when the Ark is finally brought back into the city, danced before the Lord with all of his might. He was overwhelmed with excitement that God was returning to the tabernacle in and rule Israel. Yet, in the years prior the people of Israel made a loud ruckus and wist not that God was actually departing as they shouted! They made a big noise, looked up and God was gone. 

For a brief moment it almost fooled the enemy, but then they strengthened themselves. And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. (1 Samuel 4:7) Even the Philistines believed God was moving, but the people were operating in the emotional excitement of bygone years. Nobody can prevail on the stories of past victories. We have to establish our own testimony of a life of faith. The trouble is that they wanted victory without holiness.  They wanted to fornicate and covet and then go out and do exploits. It can never happen: at least, not by the Holy Spirit of God. 

Israel had not taken the time to sanctify themselves before the Lord as did Joshua and those who took the land. The consequence? What they thought was going to be a great victory ended up being their greatest defeat. Why? Because they mistakenly trusted in the objects and the memories and had not submitted themselves under the authority of God. They wanted the devil to obey God, but they had no intention of setting a course for personal obedience to Him. 

Personal Application

When God stirs men in repentance, He is seeking to turn them back to Himself in personal obedience. God does not want His people living according to the counsel of their own will. He does not want us quenching and grieving the Holy Spirit when He deals with us. Human beings are creatures of habit, and sadly, quenching the Spirit can become almost a habit. This ought not so to be. God wants us in the habit of seeking His counsel and obeying His voice. That is to say, His gentle checks and rebukes along life’s way. Elijah is the example of a man that learned this very thing. Here we read,  

 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? (1 Kings 19:11-13) 

Sometimes people think God is speaking in ways that rend mountains. They are looking for an earth-shaking fiery ‘Word’, but God moves His people most often with a still small voice. We don’t need God to speak to us in a way that will shake the earth or move a mountain — we only need to give heed to God speaking to us in the subtlety of His dealings. When we spend time in prayer, or in the word of God, He will speak to our hearts in a way we can know His will with certainty. He will nudge us to do well, and we need to be responsive. It is of no consequence to give up a big shout if we refuse to obey the still small voice. This is why so many people never know the voice of God- they simply refuse to respond rightly to Him when they know He is dealing with them. Nevertheless, the house of Eli soon discovered that God will abandon a people who will not obey his will. His house is liable to become our house. 

See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ (Luke 13:35 NKJV)



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