A Degenerate Priesthood
1 Samuel 2:12-17
Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.…

The best things when corrupted become the worst. It is thus with official positions such as were held by the priests of old. Their positions were an hereditary right, and their duties consisted largely of a prescribed routine of services. It was required, however, that their personal character should accord with their sacred work (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

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD.

WEB: Now the sons of Eli were base men; they didn't know Yahweh.

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