In the Bible 1 Samuel 4:21-22 perhaps records the saddest words we will ever get to read. ‘Israel’s Glory is Gone!’ (NLT) These last words of a dying woman were a precise description of the plight of an entire nation. As tragic as it is, the word of God shows this was a disaster that could have been prevented if not for a man who failed as a father. Eli was the name of that man.
Eli may have been a good priest. But he was a poor father. Just like Eli, we can be righteous men but still, fail as fathers. Tonight even as we are celebrating the Fathers’ Day, I want to draw your attention to three grave mistakes Eli made as a father while raising his boys to be men so that we shall not repeat those mistakes.
1. Eli ignored the spiritual growth of his boys
Eli was the father of two sons (Hophni and Phinehas). They were supposed to be his successors. Shockingly though in 1 Samuel 2:12 the Bible says both of them were worthless men who didn’t know the Lord. (NASB) How can this be?
The author is not saying Hophni and Phinehas lacked factual knowledge about God. He is indicating a much worse spiritual condition! He is revealing to us that Eli’s sons didn’t believe in (the existence of) God! Eli was a spiritually mature man. But the wicked lifestyle of Hophni and Phinehas indicate Eli had neglected the spiritual growth of his sons when they were children. He must have believed the boys will inherit godliness because they were born and grew up in God’s house. Well, he was wrong.
We can be like Eli sometimes. We are always intentional about physical growth, emotional maturity and the education of our children because we know our children cannot inherit these things from us. But we don’t pay much attention to their spiritual growth assuming they will inherit it from their “Christian heritage”. They don’t! (If your wife gave birth to your son in a Garage will he become a car?) There are many things children inherit from us such as eye color, skin tone, temperament etc. Not spiritual growth.
Then what can we do as fathers? We cannot force our children to love the Lord. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. But we can sow tiny seeds of faith into their lives on a daily basis. Now that isn’t an option. It’s an ancient command still valid to the modern time we live in, (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Remember, that God is faithful. When we do our part as earthly fathers, our heavenly father will do the rest. I want to remind you that building up a child is easier than repairing a man! The Bible guarantees our children will not abandon the ways of God after they reach manhood if we take time for training them in His ways, (Proverbs 22:6).
2. Eli didn’t teach God’s principles to his boys
Hophni and Phinehas did not know God. Hence they had no respect for God or His ways. So they were not afraid of robbing from God. The author of Samuel describes this in great detail in 1 Samuel 2:13-17.
Out of the sacrifices offered at the tabernacle, a portion was allocated to God (the fat), another was allocated to the Priest (breast and shoulders) while the remaining portion was given back to the person that brought the sacrifice. Hophni and Phinehas, however, took whatever the fork (flesh hook) brought up out of the pot even before the fat was burnt, (1 Samuel 2:13, 27-29). The fat is the finest portion of the meat and was offered only to God. Why did they steal raw meat? Perhaps because they could cook it any way they wished or sell the meat and pocket the money (After all in the marketplace raw meat sells quicker than cooked meat.).
They didn’t hesitate to use violence to get what they want, (1 Samuel 2:16). Their greed was beyond measure. Eventually, People stopped bringing their sacrifices to God’s house for they feared being harassed by Hophni and Phinehas.
There are three lessons here. First, we must teach God’s ways to our children. Eli failed to impart to his sons respect for God’s ways, including the sacrifices and offerings.
The second lesson is no one can play the fool with God for He will judge both the heathen and His own people. He will judge His house first.
The third lesson is we live to serve others, not indulge ourselves. We shouldn’t use our official privileges for our personal gain. Destruction will fall upon every one that does.
3. Eli tolerated his boys’ immoral behavior
Eli’s boys were guilty of sexually immoral behavior also. They had sexual relations with the women who assembled at the door of the Tabernacle, (Women committed to serving at the Tabernacle.) Eli didn’t do anything about it except for a feeble rebuke. Someone may argue that Hophni and Phinehas were beyond the age of physical discipline or correction. Then Eli could hand them over to the community to be judged (Leviticus 20:10) or at least excommunicate them and stop the disgusting practices happened right under his nose. Eli did none and we are not certain why? It’s possible that Eli loved his children too much to punish them.
There are three other lessons for modern-day fathers here. First, we cannot love our children too much that we will hold back punishment. If we do we are their enemies, (Proverbs 13:24). Second, we must discipline our children when it’s necessary, (Proverbs 13:24). Third, our children may have grown up. But still, discipline can and must be administered, (Matthew 18:15-17).
Eli brought destruction upon an entire nation by neglecting his fatherly responsibilities. The times may have changed but the tremendous responsibility of a father still remains the same. We are to raise our children to honor God and serve others. When we do let’s remember we are safeguarding the future of not only our nation but the entire world.
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