1 Samuel 2:22-25
Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did to all Israel…
A man may possess many amiable qualities, and be, on the whole, a good man, and yet be marked by some defect which mars his character, prevents his usefulness, and makes him the unintentional cause of much mischief. Such a man was Eli. Of his early life nothing is recorded. He was a descendant of Ithamar, the youngest son of Aaron, and held the office of high priest, which formerly belonged to the elder branch of the Aaronic family, that of Eleazar (Numbers 20:26), but which was now transferred to the younger, from some unknown cause, and which continued therein until the time of Solomon. At the age of fiftyeight he became judge, and "judged Israel forty years" (1 Samuel 4:18). When first mentioned he must have been at least seventy years old. His sons were children of his old age; for some time afterwards they were spoken of as young men (1 Samuel 2:17), and, as is not uncommon in such cases, he treated them with undue indulgence. He was hasty and severe in reproving Hannah, but slow and mild in reproving them. The inefficiency of his REPROOF appears in that -
I. IT WAS NOT ADMINISTERED IN PROPER TIME. The tendency to go wrong generally appears at an early age; and it must have been seen by him in his sons long before the rumour of their flagrant transgressions reached him, if he had not been blind to their faults. But he had no adequate sense of his parental responsibility, was old and weak, of a gentle and easy going temperament, and omitted to reprove them (1 Kings 1:6) until they had become too strongly devoted to their evil ways to be amenable to expostulation. A little plant may be easily rooted up, but when it has grown into a tree it can only be removed by extraordinary efforts. If some children are "discouraged" (Colossians 3:21) by too much strictness, far more are spoiled by too much indulgence. "Indulgence never produces gratitude or love in the heart of a child."
II. IT WAS NOT GIVEN WITH SUFFICIENT EARNESTNESS (vers. 23, 24). Gentle reproof may sometimes be most effective, but here it was out of place.
1. It was not sufficiently pointed in its application; being given to them collectively rather than individually, in indefinite terms, by way of question, and concerning things which he had heard, but into the certainty of which he had not troubled himself to inquire.
2. It exhibited no sufficient sense of the evil of sin (ver. 25). He spoke of the consequences rather than of the nature, the "exceeding sinfulness" of sin, and spoke of them in a way which indicated little deep personal conviction.
3. It showed no sufficient determination to correct it. He did not say that he would judge them for their injustice toward men; and with reference to their sin against the Lord, which was their chief offence, he simply confessed that he could do nothing but leave them to the judgment of a higher tribunal. "In the case where the rebuke should have descended like a bolt from heaven we hear nothing but low and feeble murmurings, coming, as it were, out of the dust. Cruel indeed are the tenderest mercies of parental weakness and indulgence. And the fate of Eli shows that by such tender mercies the father may become the minister of vengeance unto his whole house" (Le Bas).
III. IT WAS NOT FOLLOWED BY ADEQUATE CHASTISEMENT. The law of Moses in the case of disobedient children was very severe (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). But Eli neither observed this law "when they hearkened not to his voice" (ver. 25), nor took any further steps to prevent the continuance of the evil which he reproved. He had none of the zeal for which Phinehas the son of Eleazar was approved (Numbers 25:11-13); but as a father, a high priest, and a judge he was guilty of culpable infirmity and wilful disobedience (1 Samuel 3:13). "Osiers," says an old writer, "can never be pillars in the State or in the Church."
IV. IT DID NOT RESULT IN ANY IMPROVEMENT (ver. 25). Their contempt of reproof showed that they were already infatuated, hardened, and abandoned to destruction; or (reading for - therefore), it filled up the measure of their iniquities, and exposed them to inevitable judgment. "He that hateth reproof shall die" (Proverbs 15:10).
1. Reproof is often a solemn obligation.
2. It should be given in an effective manner.
3. When not so given it does more harm than good.
4. When justly given it should be humbly and obediently received. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.