1 Samuel 2:27-36
And there came a man of God to Eli, and said to him, Thus said the LORD, Did I plainly appear to the house of your father…
1. This message came from God, who observed, as he ever does, the sins of his people, and especially his ministers, with much displeasure, and after long forbearance resolved to punish them (Amos 3:2; 1 Peter 4:17).
2. It came through a man whose name has not been recorded, and who was probably unknown to him to whom he was sent. When God sends a message it matters little by whom it is brought. He often makes his most important communications in a way the world does not expect, and by men who are unknown to fame. The authority of the Lord invests his messengers with dignity and power. And their best credentials are that they "commend themselves to the conscience" (2 Corinthians 4:2).
3. It came through a "man of God," a seer, a prophet, and not directly from God to Eli, the high priest. He chooses for special service men who live near to him, and are in sympathy with his purposes, in preference to those who occupy official positions, but are possessed of little personal worth. For a long season no prophet had spoken (Judges 4:4; Judges 6:8; Judges 13:6); and when the silence of heaven is suddenly broken, it is an intimation that great changes are impending.
4. It came some time before the events which it announced actually transpired. "The Lord is slow to anger" (Nahum 1:3), and executes judgment only after repeated warnings. Predictions which are absolute in form must often be understood as in their fulfilment conditioned by the moral state of those whom they concern (Jeremiah 18:7; Jonah 3:4, 9, 10). The purpose for which this message was sent was to lead to repentance, and it was not until all hope of it had disappeared that the blow fell. In substance the message contains -
I. A REMINDER OF SPECIAL PRIVILEGES bestowed by the favour of God, and shown -
1. By the revelation of himself to those who were in a condition of abject servitude (ver. 27).
2. By his selection of some, in preference to others, for exalted and honourable service (ver. 28).
3. By his liberal provision for them out of the offerings made by the people to himself. Religious privileges always involve responsibilities, and should be faithfully used out of gratitude for their bestowment.
II. A CHARGE OF GROSS UNFAITHFULNESS (ver. 29). The purpose for which the priests were endowed with these privileges was not the promotion of their own honour and interest, but the honour of God and the welfare of his people. But they acted in opposition to that purpose.
1. By irreverence and self-will in his service. "Wherefore do ye trample under foot my sacrifice?"
2. By disobedience to his will. "Which I have commanded."
3. By pleasing others in preference to him. "And honourest thy sons above me." Eli's toleration of the conduct of his sons, from regard to their interest and his own ease, involved him in their guilt.
4. By self-enrichment out of the religious offerings of the people. "The idol which man in sin sets up in the place of God can be none other than himself. He makes self and self-satisfaction the highest aim of life. To self his efforts ultimately tend, however the modes and directions of sin may vary. The innermost essence of sin, the ruling and penetrating principle, in all its forms, is selfishness" (Muller, 'Christian Doctrine of Sin'). When men use the gifts of God for selfish ends they render themselves liable to be deprived of those gifts, and to be punished for their misuse.
III. A STATEMENT OF AN EQUITABLE PRINCIPLE, according to which God acts in his procedure with men (ver. 30). They have been apt to suppose that privileges bestowed upon themselves or inherited from their ancestors were absolutely their own, and would be certainly continued. But it is far otherwise; for -
1. The fulfilment of the promises of God and the continuance of religious privileges depend on the ethical relation in which men stand toward him. His covenant with Levi was "for the fear with which he feared me" (Malachi 2:6, 7); but when his descendants lost that fear they "corrupted the covenant," and ceased to have any claim upon its promised blessings. It was the same with the Jews who in after ages vainly boasted that they were "the children of Abraham." In the sight of the Holy One righteousness is everything, hereditary descent nothing, except in so far as it is promotive of righteousness.
2. Faithful service is rewarded. HONOUR FOR HONOUR. "Them that honour me I will honour." Consider -
(1) The ground: not merely his relationship as moral Governor, but his beneficence in bestowing the gifts of nature, providence, and grace.
(2) The method: in thought, word, and deed.
(3) The reward: his approbation, continued service, extended usefulness, etc.
3. Unfaithful conduct is punished. "Promises and threatenings are made to individuals because they are in a particular state of character; but they belong to all who are in that state, for 'God is no respecter of persons'" (Robertson). "He will give to every man according to his works."
IV. A PROCLAMATION OF SEVERE RETRIBUTION upon the house of Eli (vers. 31-34). Consisting of -
1. The deprivation of strength, which had been abused. Their power would be broken (Zechariah 11:17).
2. The shortening of life, the prolonging of which in the case of Eli had been an occasion of evil rather than of good. "There shall not be an old man in thine house forever;" the result of weakness; repeated in ver. 32.
3. The loss of prosperity; the temporal benefits that would otherwise have been received. "Thou shalt see distress of dwelling in all that brings prosperity to Israel" (Ed. of Erdmann).
4. The infliction of misery on those who continue, for a while, to minister at the altar, and of violent death (ver. 33; 22:18).
5. Although these things would not take place at once, their commencement, as a sign of what would follow, would be witnessed by Eli himself in the sudden death of the two chief offenders "in one day" (1 Samuel 4:11). If anything could rouse the house of Eli to "flee from the wrath to come," surely such a fearful message as this was adapted to do so. Fear of coming wrath, although it never makes men truly religious, may, and often does, arouse and restrain them, and bring them under the influence of other and higher motives. The closing sentences contain -
V. A PREDICTION OF A FAITHFUL PRIESTHOOD in the place of that which had proved faithless (vers. 35, 36). "I will raise up a faithful priest," etc., i.e. a line of faithful men to accomplish the work for which the priesthood has been appointed, and to enjoy the privileges which the house of Eli has forfeited. In contrast with that house, it will do my will, and I will cause it to endure; and it will continue to live in intimate fellowship and cooperation with the anointed kings of Israel. It will also be so exalted, that the surviving members of the fallen house will be entirely dependent upon it for a "piece of bread." The prediction was first of all fulfilled in Samuel, who by express commission from God acted habitually as a priest; and afterwards in Zadok, in whom the line of Eleazar was restored; but the true underlying idea of a priest, like that of a king, has its full realisation in Jesus Christ alone. The gloomiest of prophetic messages generally conclude with words of promise and hope. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Did I plainly appear unto the house of thy father, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh's house?