Now the sons of Eli were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD
1 Samuel 2:12-17. (SHILOH.)Malachi 2:7); and their influence was great for good or evil. Whilst they reflected in their character and conduct the moral condition of the times, they a]so contributed in no small degree to produce it. The sons of Eli employed their high office not for the welfare of men and the glory of God, but. for their own selfish and corrupt purposes, and afford an example of "great and instructive wickedness." Concerning them the following things are recorded: -
I. CULPABLE IGNORANCE OF GOD (ver. 12). They had no proper conception of him as holy and just, and they did not consider that he observed and hated sin by whomsoever it was committed, and would surely punish it. They had no communion with him, no sympathy with his purposes, and no sense of their own obligations to him. They were unspiritual men, and practically infidel. And they were such notwithstanding the instructions they received, the opportunities they possessed, and the services they rendered. Although the servants of God, "they knew not God," and were "without excuse." Amidst a blaze of light men may be dark within. "And if the light within thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
II. OFFICIAL ROBBERY OF MEN (vers. 13, 14). Not satisfied with the liberal portions of the peace offerings which were legally assigned to them (the breast and shoulder), they claimed other and larger portions, to which they were not entitled, and robbed the people for the gratification of their own appetites. What they would have fiercely denounced in others they deemed venial offences in privileged men like themselves. How often do official positions and selfish indulgences blind men to the injustice of their conduct, and harden them in iniquity.
III. WILFUL VIOLATION OF THE LAW (ver. 15). It was required by the Levitical law that the fat should be burnt on the altar before the offering was divided between the priest and the offerer; but instead of doing this, the priest sent his servant beforehand to demand his portion with the fat, that it might be better fitted for roasting than boiling, which was not to his taste. He thus appropriated to his private use what belonged to the Lord, and "robbed God" of his due. It was a gross act of disobedience, sacrilege, and profanity, prompted by the same pampered appetite as his dishonesty toward men; and, in addition, it hindered the people from fulfilling their religious purposes, and made his own servant a partner in his sin.
IV. DESPOTIC EXERCISE OF AUTHORITY (ver. 16). When the people gently remonstrated, and promised to give up their own portion if the fat were first burnt on the altar, it was said to them, "Nay, but thou shalt give it me now, or else I will come and take it by force." Reason as well as right was overridden. Instead of regarding himself as a servant of God for the good of men, the priest made himself a "lord over God's heritage" (1 Peter 5:3). Having cast aside the authority of God, he made his own arbitrary dictum the law of others, and urged obedience to it by the threatening of force. By the same means, backed by spiritual terrors, he has often sought to accomplish his wishes in every age.
V. INJURIOUS INFLUENCE ON RELIGION (vers. 17, 24). Men abstained from presenting as many offerings as they would have given, or even from presenting them at all, being repelled from the service of God by the evil conduct of his ministers. "Ye make the Lord's people to transgress" (ver. 24). One unworthy priest has often made many unbelievers. Instead of strengthening what is noblest and best in men, he has destroyed it, and made its restoration impossible. And, generally, ungodly conduct on the part of professed servants of God is a great hindrance to the spread of truth and righteousness, and a powerful influence in extending error and evil in the world. "One sinner destroyeth much good." To complete the picture, two other things must be added, viz. -
VI. SHAMELESS INDULGENCE IN VICE (ver. 22). They knew nothing of self-control, gave the rein to their lusts, and indulged in vices which the heathen commonly associated with their idol worship, and which made that worship so terrible a temptation to Israel. The idol feasts at Shiloh were doubtless scenes of gross sensuality; and the sons of Eli scarcely cared to disguise their participation in similar indulgences, and made the tabernacle of the Lord like a heathen temple.
VII. SUPERSTITIOUS USE OF SACRED THINGS (1 Samuel 4:11). Having become insensible to the presence of the invisible King, they treated his services as a mere outward ritual, which may be performed without any felt inconsistency between it and any amount of immorality. Why should they observe it at all? From self-interest and from superstition. They still supposed that there was some mysterious benefit inseparably connected with the ark, and enjoyed by those who possessed it, apart from their moral and spiritual state. Their religion had become a superstition, like that of the heathen. And hence they took the ark into the battle field, in sure confidence of their safety, and were deprived of it by the heathen, and they themselves destroyed.
1. It is possible for men to possess the highest privileges, and yet sink into the deepest degradation.
2. The patience of Heaven toward sinners, is wonderful, and designed to lead them to repentance.
3. When men despise the goodness of God, and persist in transgression, they are certain to meet with signal punishment. - D
Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial.I. THE SINS IT INDUCES. The sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are the more prominent, so we will contemplate,
1. Their conduct and character. They appear in an official capacity; but the official must be viewed in its association with the personal, A degenerate priest is but the natural outgrowth of the degenerate man. The evil is in the moral constitution of these men, and whatever they do, wherever they go, it will appear.(1) They were audacious. (Ver. 12.) The children of Satan, and yet in the temple of God. They knew not the Lord. There are certain qualifications needful to the right discharge of every occupation, and he is a bold man who will undertake the duty without the fitness. What verdict would society pass upon anyone who should pursue the career of a doctor, without having studied the principles of anatomy, ignorant of the laws of medicine? Death to the patient would in all probability be the result. Much more criminal he who will engage to remedy the malady of the immortal soul when ignorant of its antidote. "They knew not the Lord." They were in the very place surrounded by indications of the Divine — how wilful their ignorance! The history of their religious life was embodied in the ark; they could not look upon its ancient timbers without seeing in every board the mercy and providence of God. But their hearts were out of sympathy with these holy associations, and instead of stimulating to devotion, habitual contact with such sanctities led to criminal familiarity. When it is said that they knew not the Lord, it cannot mean that they doubted the reality of His existence. Faint gleams of His essential life had shone upon their intellects. Though in the sunlight, they saw not the beauties it revealed. Probably when at first they entered upon the Temple duties it was with feeble steps — the pallor of a revealed dread would blanch their cheeks; but now fear had lost its tremor in the cool hardihood of habitual sin. What a degree of defiance does their conduct disclose!(2) They were covetous. (Vers. 18, 14.) What a contradiction is an avaricious priesthood! how strangely out of harmony with the royal beneficence of its Institutor, and the noble munificence of its intended exercise. A devoted ministry looks more to the Divine remuneration than to the human, and does not strike its "fish hook" into the "caldron" of the worshipper. So instead of stimulating the religious sentiments of penitent souls, and lifting them to God, they perverted the design of their office by making themselves the object of its toil. "The priest took for himself." Such a class of men have almost unlimited scope for the exercise of their purpose. The strongest instincts of the soul are those which pertain to God and His worship. Hence when claims are presented to the mentally weak and morally credulous, such demands have but to be uttered to be obeyed. How mean thus to make religion a means of personal gain!(3) They were despotic. (Ver. 16.) Coercion is operating without its sphere when brought to bear on matters of religion. Spiritual life and devotion are essentially free, both as regards the principle of its action and the form of its homage. "I will take it by force" of these wicked priests. A religion that cannot establish its claim by motive must be weak. Force is always the weapon of the morally imbecile.(4) They were adulterous. (Ver. 22.)(5) They brought contempt upon religion. (Ver. 17.) Men failed to make a distinction between the priests and the religion whose interests they wore pretending to serve. Nature is inherently beautiful, but if viewed through a piece of stained glass its perfection would be marred by an unnatural tint. So if we desire to behold the loveliness of piety we must not regard it as presented through any coloured media, but by direct contact and inspection. Religion to be correctly estimated must be felt; it is not a thing for the eye to admire, but for the heart to appreciate. Still, ungodly men have their ideals of rectitude, often sharply defined, and such, seeing the sacrilege of the priests," abhorred the offering of the Lord."(2) The conduct and character of Eli. As a parent he was over-indulgent (1 Samuel 13:18). This statement is demonstrated even by his rebukes. Eli was "very old," and the slightest vexation would be harassing to his feeble energies, but especially when occasioned by the ill conduct of his sons. What a sad reality! — the father old in years, the sons old in sin!What a reflection upon his discipline and example!(1) The method of Eli's reproof. He reproves them
(1) (2) (3) (4) (1) (2) II. THE SORROWS IT ENTAILS. 1. God revokes the mandate of Eli's election, and asserts the universal principle of his action (Ver. 30). Eli's election was not unalterable, or irrespective of personal conduct. A motto for the warehouse, "Them that honour Me I will honour." The punishment predicted. This was the cloud before the storm.(1) It was humiliating (Ver. 31). The once priestly family is to be divested of all authority or power. "I will cut off thine arm."(2) It was irreparable (Ver. 32).(3) It was eternal. A new line of priests was to be established which should be "forever." How the prophetical becomes historical! It is a page of war which issues in (1) (2) (3) (4) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(2) (3) (4) (1) (2) II. THE SORROWS IT ENTAILS. 1. God revokes the mandate of Eli's election, and asserts the universal principle of his action (Ver. 30). Eli's election was not unalterable, or irrespective of personal conduct. A motto for the warehouse, "Them that honour Me I will honour." The punishment predicted. This was the cloud before the storm.(1) It was humiliating (Ver. 31). The once priestly family is to be divested of all authority or power. "I will cut off thine arm."(2) It was irreparable (Ver. 32).(3) It was eternal. A new line of priests was to be established which should be "forever." How the prophetical becomes historical! It is a page of war which issues in (1) (2) (3) (4) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(3) (4) (1) (2) II. THE SORROWS IT ENTAILS. 1. God revokes the mandate of Eli's election, and asserts the universal principle of his action (Ver. 30). Eli's election was not unalterable, or irrespective of personal conduct. A motto for the warehouse, "Them that honour Me I will honour." The punishment predicted. This was the cloud before the storm.(1) It was humiliating (Ver. 31). The once priestly family is to be divested of all authority or power. "I will cut off thine arm."(2) It was irreparable (Ver. 32).(3) It was eternal. A new line of priests was to be established which should be "forever." How the prophetical becomes historical! It is a page of war which issues in (1) (2) (3) (4) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
II. THE SORROWS IT ENTAILS. (5) (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
II. THE SORROWS IT ENTAILS.
(5) (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. First our attention is turned to the gross wickedness and scandalous behaviour of Eli's sons. Hophni and Phinehas take their places in that unhonoured band where the names of Alexander Borgia, and many a high ecclesiastic of the Middle Ages send forth their stinking savour. They are marked by the two prevailing vices of the lowest natures — greed and lechery. It is difficult to say whether the greater hurt was inflicted by such conduct on the cause of religion or on the cause of ordinary morality. As for the cause of religion, it suffered that terrible blow which it always suffers whenever it is dissociated from morality. The very heart and soul is torn out of religion when men are led to believe that their duty consists in merely believing certain dogmas, attending to outward observances, paying dues, and "performing" worship. What kind of conception of God can men have who are encouraged to believe that justice, mercy, and truth have nothing to do with His service?
2. It is often very difficult to explain how it comes to pass that godly men have had ungodly children. There is little difficulty in accounting for this on the present occasion. There was a fatal defect in the method of Eli. His remonstrance with his sons is not made at the proper time. It is not made in the fitting tone When disregarded, it is not followed up by the proper consequences. We must not forget that, however inexcusable their father was, the great guilt of the proceeding was theirs. How must they have hardened their hearts against the example of Eli, against the solemn claims of God, against the holy traditions of the service, against the interests and claims of those whom they ruined, against the welfare of God's chosen people! Could anything come nearer to the sin against the Holy Ghost? No wonder though their doom was that of persons judicially blinded and hardened. They were given up to a reprobate mind, to do those things that were not convenient.
3. But it is time we should look at the message brought to Eli by the man of God. The house of Eli would suffer a terrible degradation. He (this includes his successors in slice) would be stript of "his arm," that is, his strength. No member of his house would reach a good old age. One word respecting that great principle of the Kingdom of God announced by the prophet as that on which Jehovah would act in reference to His priests — "Them that honour Me I will honour, but they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed." It is one of the grandest sayings in Scripture. It is the eternal rule of the Kingdom of God, not limited to the days of Hophni and Phinehas, but, like the laws of the Medea and Persians, eternal as the ordinances of heaven. However men may try to get their destiny into their own hands; however they may secure themselves from this trouble and from that; however, like the first Napoleon, they may seem to become omnipotent, and to wield an irresistible power, yet the day of retribution comes at last; having sown to the flesh, of the flesh also they reap corruption. What a grand rule of life it is, for old and young.
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
1. The natural tendency of men to religious laxity and indifference.
2. The effect of insincerity upon doctrine. Sincerity is itself an argument. Is it possible to speak the truth with a liar's heart? If his lips pronounce the truth, if his heart contradict it, and his life blaspheme it, what wonder if men — who have a natural tendency towards religious indifference — should believe the life and deny the teaching!
3. The peculiarity of moral teaching in requiring personal illustration. Men cannot understand merely theoretic morals; they must have them personified; they must have them taught by incarnation, and illustrated in daily life. The artist may teach you to paint a beautiful picture! yet he may have no regard for moral truth, His non-regard for moral truth may not interfere, so far as you can see, with his ability and earnestness as a mete artist. It is not so in the Church of God. A man's character is his eloquence; a man's spiritual reality is the argument that wins in the long run. The lesson is to Churches. What are we in our corporate capacity? Are we holy? If' not we are helping to debase and ruin the world; we have taken God's leverage to help to undo God's work! The terribleness of a moral leader falling! On the other hand, we cannot admit the plea that bad leaders are excuse enough for bad followers, when that plea is urged in relation to Christian teaching and life. Nor can we allow that exceptional inconsistency should vitiate the whole Church. We go into an orchard and point to one bit of blemished fruit, and say, "Because there is a blemish upon that piece of fruit the whole orchard is decayed and corrupt." Who would believe it? There can be found a light coin in every currency in civilisation. Suppose we took up a standard coin under weight and said, "Because this is not of the standard weight, your whole currency is defective, and, as a nation of financiers, you are not worthy of trust." Who would believe it? Such a theory is instantly destroyed by the fact that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. We do not say, "Look at Christians." We say, "Look at Christ." Then, such a theory is never urged but by men who are in search of excuses for their own corruptness. We are not to be followers of Hophni and Phinehas. The priest is not God; the minister is not Jesus Christ; the professor is not the Redeemer of the world. We must, therefore, insist upon the honest investigation of great principles on the one hand, and specially insist upon the calm, severe scrutiny and study of our Saviour's own personal life and ministry. We have a written revelation. To that revelation our appeal must be made; to the law and to the testimony must be our challenge.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. THE AGGRAVATED GUILT WITH WHICH ELI'S SONS WERE CHARGEABLE. Hophni and Phinehas are, in this portion of sacred history, marked out as examples of what is vicious and depraved. Not contented with committing wickedness in secret, they had reached a state of regardlessness, sinning against the Lord publicly, and with a high hand. Nor was it a time in the history of Israel when the conscience of the people was peculiarly alive. The fervour of grateful feeling for the past kindness of God had passed away; there seemed instead to be prevailing forgetfulness of the great purpose, for the advancement of which they had been so favoured, namely, the keeping alive of God's worship amidst surrounding ignorance and idolatry. Both the civil and religious polity of the nation were in a state of disorder. In Eli's person the two highest offices then existing in the state were united — for the long space of forty years he occupied over Israel the position, not of judge alone, but of high priest also. But defective as Eli's conduct towards his family appears to have been — many as were the temptations to which they were exposed, the guilt of Hophni and Phinehas was marked by peculiar aggravation; they had misused great advantages. To know the truth and yet to reject it; to be told of God's claims on our obedience, and to refuse compliance with them, is to begin in youth a course which often leads to a rebellious and profligate manhood, conducting, perhaps, to a premature grave, or prolonged to an unhonoured and miserable age. Such appears to have been the case with Eli's sons. They had abused great advantages, and incurred no small measure of responsibility. They were not ignorant of Jehovah's claims, nor of the holiness of heart and life which He required; their guilt accordingly was conspicuous and undeniable. The lives of Eli's sons, who were so near to the altar, might have been dedicated to Heaven. The "sons of Eli were sons of Belial:" had reached a frightful ripeness in depravity and maturity in crime. They seemed to have lost sight of the distinction between good and evil, to have forgotten the existence of a God, who "judgeth righteously." That wickedness was indeed great. There is applied to them in the text such a title as indicates no ordinary proficiency in what was offensive to God, and opposed to His law. They are called "sons of Belial," as though distinguished on account of the spirit of evil which they manifested. But can we suppose that depravity to have been at once attained? On the contrary, may they not have trembled with the fear and struggled with the reluctance of the less experienced transgressor?
II. We proceed to notice THE INEFFECTUAL REPROOF OF HIS SONS ON THE PART OF ELI, AND THE PUNISHMENT WITH WHICH THEIR WICKEDNESS WAS FOLLOWED. At this stage of the history mention is first made of Eli as having reproved the shameful conduct of his sons. He was old; his faculties may have failed, and his perception have been dulled, yet surely he could not have been altogether unaware of what was going on. Instead of using his official power to put a stop to their enormities, his duty both as a father and a legislator — instead of the severity of censure and reprimand that were called for, all that Eli said was quite disproportioned to what was demanded by the exigencies of the case. They were his sons, but dear as they had been, if reprimand were fruitless, should they not have been removed, considering the sacred office they held, from the possibility of further transgressing? In this respect also Eli failed, adding to past neglect what was in effect equivalent to a betrayal of that cause to which, with all his faults and failings, he was strongly attached.
III. Let us now ATTEMPT TO DRAW FROM THE TEXT ONE OR TWO PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. We have here a lesson for parents and others, having a sphere of authority and influence. The service of the Lord is still that from which the corrupt heart recoils with unwillingness. How often has the tyranny of evil habit been suffered, as in the case of Eli's household, to become confirmed, without adequate attempt to check its growth. How frequently is the period allowed to pass, during which a "good foundation" might have been laid, in habits of piety and the fear of God.
2. We have also here a more general lesson of warning to such as persevere in conduct denounced by Scripture, alike by positive precepts, and by means of warning examples.
(A. Bonar.)Luther, in his dark days of conflict and battle for truth and purity and Christ against apostacy and formalism and a priesthood as dark and vile as that of the two sons of Eli, should often turn to those early chapters of the first book of Samuel, and should rise strengthened for the Lord and the struggle against spiritual wickedness in high places and impure error.
I. SAMUEL WAS ENDANGERED BY PRIESTLY PROFANATION OF DIVINE ORDINANCES. Just as some of the sweetest flowers smell the foulest when dead, so it was found that these men and their sacred office became rank and foul, defiling all that came to the sanctuary, and depraving even the most sacred things of the Most High. The priesthood, the sacrifices, the holy seasons, the holy places, the bright feasts that God had appointed, they turned to their own vile uses. Those things and offices of religion that Samuel had been taught to regard as most sacred he must have found, if old enough to think at all, systematically outraged and violated; and religion, sooner or later, would be thought by him to be an imposition and its services deceptive. Not that for him or for any young mind to reason or think so would have been or would now be wise; but it would have been human, natural, and not to be wondered at. For it ever has been a common error of young lives to confound principles with persons. Sometimes I have heard the evil lives of the children of pious parents, or of ministers of the Gospel, accounted for by the grim comment — "they are behind the scenes of church life," and of Christian life. But there ought to be no seeing behind the scenes. If truly in Christ, ye are children of the light and of the day, and ought to walk in the light, as He is in the light. Here it may be well to distinctly, recognise the greater danger there is of the profanation of holy things and sacred duties where there is a ceremonial system than where there is a steady and consistent recognition of the belief that the religion which is most acceptable to God and most consistent with the mind of Christ is that which is least ceremonial, least ritual, least priestly, which, having the smallest possible sanctity in institutions and days and offices, must, if it would be consistent and worthy the name of a religion, insist to the very utmost on the greatest possible purity and holiness in hearts and souls.
II. ANOTHER OF SAMUEL'S DANGERS WAS FROM PRIESTLY SENSUALITY. In thus arranging the risks of Samuel at Shiloh I wish be keep in our minds the perils that souls as dear to us as Hannah's child was to her may and do have to encounter when they leave the immediate protection of home. I would not say any more on this part of the subject if it were not for the great, the gross dangers that even children's lives now meet in the impurities of the streets, the vile sensuousness, bordering on sensuality and licentiousness, of much popular literature, and, with some, in the daily pollution in business places and elsewhere of those who already carry the plague spot about with them, and, like the plague-maddened wretches of old, delight in staining and contaminating others. It is such pernicious associations, such horrid perils, that so frequently lead to the deepest profanation of parts of our life that should be regarded as the most sacred and dealt with most purely. It is such infection that in many cases utterly destroys the influence of a mother's parting counsels, or a father's almost divine commands.
III. ANOTHER DANGER OF SAMUEL ROSE FROM THE PRIESTLY RAPACITY OF THE SONS OF ELI. There have been covetous, worldly, rapacious ministers of religion in all ages, but there never have been so many as when and where a priestly system has gone its own way and developed its own life. Earthly greed and rapacity press as closely on the attention of the young in modern business and social life, as did Samuel's life on him. The judgment of most things and men by a money standard; the public unscrupulous. ness of so many as to the ways and means they adopt so long as the end of gain is reached; the social customs that increasingly make money the principal thing; the prodigious wealth of our times, and the infatuated efforts of the rich to become richer, to add house to house and field to field; — all these things produce an atmosphere, if I may so say, that is charged with danger. No man's vileness will warrant you failing away from the truth. No hypocrite's sin, no minister's unworthiness, will acquit any young life of guilt in backsliding from the hope and promise of early, pious days. It will now, perhaps, help us to see how Samuel lived in the midst of the sins of Shiloh.
1. And we know, first of all — That Samuel lived uncontaminated by the profanity, the covetousness, and the lust that were so near him. Now learn from this history, that there is no necessity to sin put on anyone anywhere. You cannot help running the risk, but having allowed this much, all has been allowed. If you have sinned it is because you have been careless or wilful, and not because you could not help sinning. Egypt, Shiloh, and Babylon put greater pressure on the young heroes who there fought for the Lord than we have to bear; yet they did not sin. Neither need we.
2. Again: We are told that Samuel grew in Divine grace and human favour with such vile surroundings. God gives this to you that are tempted as a hope and a promise to check our laments over unfortunate circumstances and temptations. You may grow in grace anywhere, just as you may sin anywhere. You may grow in grace on the borders of the pit; and you may sink into the pit from the house of God. Samuel grew in grace: what shall we do?
3. Moreover, Samuel grew thus by grace that we may have. The strongest of us will live as helplessly as a child that cannot yet walk, if we go forth in our own strength, and will utterly fail; while the weakest of us and those of us whose lot in life is full of spiritual hazard and care may have all the more the full and strong confidence that the Lord will keep the feet of His saints and will strengthen us with every kind of might, while the wicked shall soon be silent, in darkness.
(G. B. Ryley.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
They knew not the Lord.1 Samuel 3:7): — Hophni and Phinehas did not know the Lord; their lives showed it. Samuel did not know the Lord, and his actions showed it also. But as between the illustrative acts, so also between the meaning of the words in the two cases, there is as wide a difference as it is possible to conceive. It will help us if we here remember how wide a ground in Scripture this expression "to knew" or "not to know the Lord" covers. The first form is at times a synonym for salvation, for the whole course of perfect redemption and complete sanctification. The second, the negative form, is one of the intensest expressions that Scripture uses to state the condition of a sinful soul, and for showing the origin of some of the darkest enormities that have ever degraded the name of religion. The New Testament puts this before us very definitely. When Christ would express His perfect Albion and intercourse with the Father even on earth, He said, "I am not come of Myself, but He that sent Me is true; whom ye know not, but I know Him." "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. O righteous Father, the world tins not known Thee, but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent me." John accounts for worldly antagonism to the saints of old in this way — "The world knoweth us not because it knew Him not."
I. THAT THE EXPRESSION "NOT KNOWING THE LORD" MAY IMPLY AND ACCOUNT FOR EVERY KIND AND DEGREE OF SIN. This is sinful ignorance of God. In the case now before use, it explains some of the most degrading transgressions of which man can be guilty.
1. But this sinful ignorance of God may co-exist with full knowledge of the truth of God — that is, intellectual knowledge, received by means of education, by example of others, by home training, by social custom or general habit. You may see this in the example of the two young priests. It is certain that they knew the law of the Lord which is perfect. They knew the truth of God, the ways of the Lord, the expectation and hopes of the Almighty that were associated with their priesthood and the offering of sacrifice. They knew the truth, but they knew not God. Their hearts and His were at enmity. Let us make the same distinction for ourselves, between knowing the truth of God and knowing the Lord; between knowing what God has said and knowing God Himself. Is it not one of the saddest facts that some of the worst lives are those that like Hophni and Phinehas know the way of the Lord, have had holy training and gentle nurture, many associations with God's house, much hearing the Word, and still show that they know not God? Not the knowledge of truth or forms of truth, not correct beliefs or anything of such kind can be depended on to put us right with our God.
2. Notice, again, that there is an ignorance of God that is sinful in its consequences, but is at the same time not guilty. We can understand the vast transgressions of great cities, the brutal tendencies of so large a mass of the population by remembering their inheritance of gross ignorance and animalism in body and mind, their entailed heritage of utter ignorance of God, of inability almost to realise or even to recognise a God and Father of love, or see any meaning in the cross whereon their sins were borne. Is not some of the responsibility resting with Christians, on whose part there has been neglect of extending the light of the glory of God.
3. We must further note that there are cases in which ignorance of the Lord is in it, self a greater transgression than the worst sins that it may beget or account for. These two priests ware as evil in some things as men could be. But more shameful than their deepest impiety was that which was the cause of it — even their wilful ignorance of God. There is practically no restraint left that can touch the heart. To know God is to have now the root of eternal life within us; not to know God is to have the seed of eternal death growing in us now, and in the world to come to be altogether defiled.
II. NOT KNOWING THE LORD MAY COMPRISE AND ACCOUNT FOR EVERY DEGREE OF IMMATURITY IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. There is a sinful ignorance, as we have seen; and now we have the ignorance of immaturity, of the childlike state. Of this state Samuel the child is the illustration. Samuel had had the preparatory training of his mother's love, the reverent guiding of his life along the way that literally leads to God; but still the moment of intelligent revelation of God to him had not yet come. His love to the Lord had grown like a little seedling plant; now it was to be transplanted into fuller soil, freer air — to have snore root room, more life room altogether. Stronger and more vigorous and bracing winds were to breathe their blessing upon it; hotter sunshine was to stimulate it; elements snore maturing were to lie about the roots. Soon the day of revelation, the night of the opening of heaven in solemnity to his young soul, came; but in prospect of that visitation by which his life was fixed forever, Samuel did not know the Lord. He rested till then as in the arms of God; he lived on God as once he had hung upon his mother's breast — not knowing the love that held him though he lived in it and by it; not seeing clearly the face that bowed over him in unspeakable affection, though his own features bore the same lines and carried the same marks. He did not yet know; but this was the ignorance of imperfect growth, of incomplete development. To some there may be a special need of considering this aspect of Samuel's life, and a particular advantage in noting its obvious meaning. For this certainly means that there may be life in God before there is intelligent recognition of it. The father sees his image in the child before the little one recognises it. The Lord was in our life, and we knew it not; nor did we know Him till He Himself drew aside the veil. Or, as it seemed at times, we rambled, as a child might in the tabernacle, into that which is within the veil, into the very Holy of Holies, and there, instead of mighty glory and awful power, we found One gentler than any of earth, a voice speaking more softly than a loving woman, saying, "My son, give Me thy heart!" and, as to presences, we could not see in the Holy Place, "This is My beloved Son." We knew not God, but he knew us as His. "I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known Me. I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me." "Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord." It may be Chat we are all involved, to some extent, in blame, for we have not attained that knowledge which depends on earnest seeking after God. God will not teach the souls that will not wait on Him. God cannot show His beauty to eyes that are turned away from Him. He can reveal His secret only to those that fear Him. If we give up life's strength, and all the power of our days, to one or to many inferior earthly things, giving to the Lord none of our strength, how can we expect the Lord's light and knowledge, with the consequent blessing of our advance in holiness, to be ours?
(G. B. Ryley.)
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