The spirit of the Sons of Eli
Robert Wurtz II
Also, before they burned the fat, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who sacrificed, “Give meat for roasting to the priest, for he will not take boiled meat from you, but raw.” And if the man said to him, “They should really burn the fat first; then you may take as much as your heart desires,” he would then answer him, “No, but you must give it now; and if not, I will take it by force.” Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for men abhorred the offering of the LORD. (1 Samuel 2:15–17 NKJV)
Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? (2 Corinthians 11:29 NKJV)
When I use the phrase “the spirit of the Sons of Eli,” I don’t mean a demonic spirit (though the sons of Eli may have been demonized), but rather the conduct of the sons of Eli that was so Godless and wretched that it altered the course of history. But, sadly, it didn’t end there. It was similar to the “leaven” of fornication and malice Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians that must be purged from the churches (1 Corinthians 5:7-8) and the “spots” in our love feasts (2 Peter 2:13; Jude 12). We see it still today.
In the time of the Judges, the influence of Eli’s sons was so utterly vile and destructive that God’s glory departed Israel, and it took decades to return. Understand that the priests were charged with teaching the people the word of God. Instead, they were fornicating and playing fast and loose with holy things. In time, the people were so ignorant of and reckless with the things of God that He had to smite Uzzah dead to get them to stop, regroup, and get their act together ( 2 Samuel 6:3–8; 1 Chronicles 13:7–11).
Put in Trust
The sons of Eli were entrusted with being God’s representatives but behaved like overlords who took what they wanted and did as they pleased. They behaved like privileged characters. What happened? Their selfishness, whoredom, arrogance, and conceit spread contempt for the offering of the LORD. People were more than merely “turned off”; they blasphemed God because of Eli’s sons’ behavior. People lost their faith because of these boys’ actions.
The sins of Eli’s sons were a family affair. In some way or another, other than the infant Ichabod, they were all involved, and God judged them collectively. Eli refused to correct them even though they stole from both God and the people. How did they steal? They took the fat that belonged to God alone (Leviticus 3:16) and used flesh hooks to filch forcibly and rob ruthlessly the portions of meat that they wanted (1 Samuel 2:16). If that weren’t bad enough, though married, they slept with the women who came to worship.
Honoring Family More Than God
Eli knew that his sons’ sins were unconscionable acts, but he glorified them more than he glorified God (LXX Gk. dokeo). The KJV translates the Hebrew word kaved as “honored,” which is the same word used in “Honor thy father and thy mother.” The boys didn’t honor their father; the father honored the boys. Let that sink in. This dangerous attitude cost Isreal the manifest presence of God until the time of Solomon. Paul Kretzmann called it “mawkish sentimentality” and it opens the doors to the spirit of the sons of Eli to make havoc in churches.
The sons of Eli were involved in ministry (so to speak) but were children of the devil. They didn’t know the Lord. Had they known God, they would have trembled to do the things they did. What was wrong? There was no fear of God before their eyes. Instead, they normalized behaviors that would make God-fearing people shutter. We should ask ourselves who would dare to use the church ( as it were) as a hook-up joint? Who would dare to steal the sacrifices (fat) that belonged to the LORD? Who would dare to be so wicked to provoke people to despise worship and then blaspheme God?
God Declares Judgment
Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever. (1 Samuel 3:11–14 ESV)
God utterly expected Eli to deal with these boys, but they were the apple of their father’s eye (so to speak). They were admired by their priestly dad but were an abomination to both God and the people. Way back in Exodus, God demonstrated to Aaron that He would judge the sons of the High Priests and killed Nadab and Abihu with fire. Yet here is another set of boys whose sin was so remarkable that it seems there was no forgiveness. “Therefore, I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” (1 Samual 3:14) Those shocking words should frighten even the hardest of sinners.
The only hope for Eli’s sons was to repent in sackcloth and ashes. God tried to warn Eli and give them a chance, but he wouldn’t listen. How out-of-touch with reality can a parent be when it comes to their children? Eli should have fired (sacked) them himself, but instead, he kept praising them until God sent the prophet and then Samuel to warn him. Eli replied, “Let him (God) do what seems good to him.” (1 Samuel 3:18 ESV)
Leaven and God’s Intervention
As mentioned earlier, this is all similar to the “leaven” that Paul warned the Corinthians would “leaven the whole lump.” God deals with believers who don’t discern the Lord’s Body and, therefore, threaten the local churches by first making them weak, then sick, then dead (1 Corinthians 11:30). This is the progression.
Like Eli’s sons, God allows and expects repentance. Notice what Paul writes, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:31–32 NKJV) God will not long tolerate what I’m calling “the spirit of the sons of Eli” among His people. He will chasten and chasten again. When that doesn’t work there is no other option but to bring death. Why? Because this behavior destroys everything He is trying to accomplish through the local church and it cannot be tolerated. As we have seen under both the Old and New Covenant, He will do what it takes to keep His churches pure.