1 Samuel: When Children Let You Down

Sermon by on March 22, 2009

1 Samuel 2:12-36

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The Lord’s Day

March 22, 2009

I Samuel 2:12-36

“When Children Let You Down”

Dr. Derek W. H.

I want to read this evening from I Samuel 2, and
we’re going to pick it up at verse 12 and we’re going to read through to the end
of the chapter. This is a distressing chapter, and there are some more chapters
like it to follow. Wickedness of monumental proportions is in the house of God,
and as we come to this passage tonight we’re going to look at God’s reaction to
that. We live in an age where sin is lightly thought of, and God is a God who
easily forgives “because that’s His business.” But, my dear friends, it is not
so in Scripture, and we need tonight as we approach this passage to have our
worldview (and moreover, our view of God) shaped by God’s own self-disclosure of

Now let’s look to God in prayer.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures that holy
men of old wrote as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit. We need Your help
now, as we always do when we read the Bible. We don’t want to read things into
the Bible and we don’t want to miss what’s there. We want to understand the
Bible, because it is Your letter to us. You wrote it. You caused it to be
written. So come, Holy Spirit, and enable us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly
digest, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

“Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know
the Lord. The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man
offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling,
with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or
kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take
for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came
there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and
say to the man who was sacrificing, ‘Give meat for the priest to roast, for he
will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.’ And if the man said to him,
‘Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,’ he would say,
‘No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.’ Thus the sin of
the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the
offering of the Lord with contempt.

“Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen
ephod. And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each
year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli
would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, ‘May the Lord give you children by
this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.’ So then they would return to
their home.

“Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three
sons and two daughters. And the young man Samuel grew in the presence of the

“Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were
doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the
entrance to the tent of meeting. And he said to them, ‘Why do you do such
things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons; it is
no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. If someone
sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the
Lord, who can intercede for him?’ But they would not listen to the voice of
their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.

“Now the young man Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in
favor with the Lord and also with man.

“And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, ‘Thus the Lord
has said, “Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were
in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? Did I choose him out of all the tribes
of Israel to be my priest, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to wear an
ephod before Me? I gave to the house of your father all My offerings by fire
from the people of Israel. Why then do you scorn My sacrifices and My offerings
that I commanded, and honor your sons above Me by fattening yourselves on the
choicest parts of every offering of My people Israel?” Therefore the Lord, the
God of Israel declares: “I promised that your house and the house of your father
should go in and out before Me forever,” but now the Lord declares: “Far be it
from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be
lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength
and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in
your house. Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the
prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man
in your house forever. The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from My
altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the
descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall
come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of
them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful
priest, who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. And I will
build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before My anointed forever.
And everyone who is left in your house shall come to implore him for a piece of
silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, ‘Please put me in one of the priest’s
places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.’”’

Well, so far God’s holy, inerrant word.

The temple, the worship center in Shiloh is rocked by
scandal — sexual scandal.

Roman Catholic priests who molest little boys;
evangelical leaders who have affairs with their secretaries; graduates of RTS
arrested on a street in a city in this land known for prostitution.

So what’s new? Let’s not look at this passage with
hypocrisy. This passage could have been written today, in a church, alas, of
today. What’s shocking is that Shiloh is where Hannah left her little boy, her
three-year-old/four-year-old little boy. I’m not sure how much Hannah knew what
was going on in Shiloh, although the text seems to say that all Israel knew what
was going on in Shiloh. And if she knew, it is — and don’t mistake this — it is
further evidence of her remarkable faith in God to trust him in God’s care in
such a wicked place.

I. The hand of God on Samuel.

Time is passing by here. The reference in verse 11,
“And the boy ministered to the Lord in the presence of the priest,” and then in
verse 18, “Samuel was ministering before the Lord.” In verse 11, he’s
ministering in the presence of Eli, but in verse 18 he seems to be ministering
by himself. He perhaps by this time is a teenager. Perhaps ten years, a dozen
years have passed by. And you have this little ritual, little scene, little
cameo of Hannah knitting a little garment for her little boy, and getting all
excited at the thought of an annual journey — just once a year — to go and see
her little boy and take him this little whatever it was. And how proud, in the
right sense of the word, she must have been when she would see him.

Worship in Shiloh was a farce. We’re introduced to
something that reminds us of Kentucky Fried Chicken™ I suppose, here, because
it’s about an offering, and it’s about a peace offering, and it’s about a ritual
that you can read about in Leviticus 7. And sure enough the priests in Shiloh,
Eli and his two sons, knew what Leviticus 7 said: that the breast and the right
thigh of the offering…after the offering had been made, the breast and the right
thigh was to be given to the priests. It was how they were fed. It was how they
were supported. Everyone knew that. Everyone understood that. It was written in
the word of God. But in Shiloh, things were different. In Shiloh the priests,
Phinehas and Hophni, would come along with a three-pronged fork and into the pot
of stew and boiling meat they would plunge this fork, and whatever came up was
theirs. And they would plunge it again, and if they didn’t get what satisfied
them they asked for portions of meat that hadn’t been boiled. [Oh, a filet
mignon here and a New York strip there for supper.] And we laugh and find it
odd–is it thigh, or is it breast, or is it chicken wings? But you understand
what they were doing was utterly contrary to the revealed will of God. There was
thuggery and greed in the name of religion, in the name of the God of Israel.

You see the verdict in verse 17: “The sin of the
young men was very great.”
There’s a contrast here. It’s a deliberate
contrast on the part of the writer of I Samuel, because the godliness of Hannah
was very great and the sin of Eli’s sons is very great. There’s great godliness
here in the godliness of Hannah and the godliness of Samuel. And in the midst of
this great godliness, there’s this great ungodliness.

Now what I want you to see is this. You notice they
are called in verse 12 “worthless men.” Actually, literally in Hebrew they are
“the sons of Beliel,” and it doesn’t get more offensive than that. They’re
worthless men. They did not know the Lord. They’re in the ironic service of the
priesthood, but they didn’t know the Lord. They didn’t know God. They cared
nothing for God. They cared nothing for God’s word. They cared nothing for God’s
law, for God’s people. They lived entirely for themselves. And in the middle of
that, shocking and revolting as all of that is — it’s worse than that, because
they were sleeping, having sexual relationships with ancillary workers in the
temple, womenfolk who served in the Shiloh temple. And everybody knew about it.

And right in the middle of that there’s this little
description of Samuel: that Samuel grew “in stature and in favor with the Lord,
and also with men.” He’s like [and it’s deliberate, you see]…he’s a Jesus-like
figure in the midst of great ungodliness.

Now here’s my point. I haven’t got the voice to
expand on it, but I want to get to this point: that great godliness can exist
among a young man, a teenager. Do we have teenagers here tonight? We’ve got a
few teenagers here tonight. Young men, I want you to listen to me just for a
second, because you think it’s hard to be godly in school, you know, when all
the boys are talking about their achievements and all the things they’ve done at
the weekend, and all their accomplishments and all the boasting they have to
make — and most of it is ungodly. And the jokes they tell! And they poke fun at
you because you’re a Christian and you love the Lord, and there are certain
things that you don’t do and there are certain things that you won’t do, and
there are certain things you don’t laugh at. And I want you tonight to see
Samuel in a most ungodly place. And as far as I know, there is no one here to
help him. There is no evidence here of anyone that helps him, that’s a mentor to
him. He has no mentor. He has no father figure. And yet…and yet…in the midst of
all of that, he shines like a bright and shining light for God. Now I’m saying
to you, you can’t do that by yourself. There’s no way that you can do that by
yourself. But if you call on the Lord, you ask the Holy Spirit to fill you every
day to overflowing, you can be that Samuel by the grace of God, by the strength
of God, in a wicked place…in a wicked place…and not succumb to the
temptation and allurement of the world.

The wrath of God.

But secondly, not only
do we see here the hand of God on Samuel, but the second thing I want us to see
is the wrath of God on Eli’s two sons.
A prophet of some description appears
— he’s nameless in verse 27 — and he comes with a word of denunciation. Now
notice what the Scripture says in verse 25. This is part of what he says: “If
someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins
against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” Now listen:

“They would not listen to the voice of their father, because it was the will of
the Lord to put them to death.”

Now notice what it’s not saying. And hold on
to your seats, now! Notice what it’s not saying. It’s not saying they wouldn’t
listen to their father, therefore the Lord put them to death. Now that’s
shocking enough, but that’s not what it’s saying. What it’s saying is they
wouldn’t listen to their father because God had already decided to put them to
death; that the time for repentance is past.

Now while you dwell on that note of divine
sovereignty and judgment — and it’s a sobering thought — while you dwell on
that, let me explain just a little bit of the judgment that this prophet
delivers to Eli and his house. It comes in four waves.

Firstly, there was a promise, you see, to Aaron (to
Moses’ brother) that Aaron’s house and his four sons would be priests forever.
That was the promise, the general promise that God had made. But that will not
be so for Eli’s house, because that line of Eli who descends somehow or other
from one of the sons of Aaron, that line of Eli’s house is going to disappear.

Secondly, in verse 31, Eli’s strength is going to be
cut off. And that’s a reference to the fact that his two sons (let alone Eli
himself) will be put to death, and they will be put to death in chapter 4 of I
Samuel when the ark of the covenant is taken by the Philistines.

Thirdly, there’s a reference here to the coming
massacre of all the priests. We will read that much later on, in I Samuel 22.
And the only priest that escapes that massacre is Abiathar. And then notice
verse 34: “This shall be a sign to you….” All of the previous Eli will not see
for himself, but this one he will see: “You will see both of your sons die on
the same day.” This is God’s verdict. This is God’s judgment on Hophni and
Phinehas. He’s going to kill them. Now what do you make of that? I mean,
honestly? In 2009? What would CNN make of that? What would the religious
channels on TV make of that? What kind of God is this that comes and says to a
man that I’m going to kill your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas?

III. The mercy of God.

And you can respond in one of two ways. You can say,
as some commentators that I was reading this week said in their pontifications:
that this, you see, is an example of primitive religion. What really happened is
that the two boys died in war with the Philistines. But some — you know, some
writer, some religious figure — interpreted that as this was God’s judgment. But
you know he was just primitive, and we understand better because we know God
doesn’t do things like that. Believe that, if you dare. If you dare approach the
Day of Judgment and the day of everlasting wrath and damnation, believe that if
you dare.

Or, you can say what many of my students say about my
grading policies: “That’s not fair.” I mean, let’s be honest. Does it strike you
as fair that because these two boys are doing …well, let’s be honest…are they
doing any more than some of our own sons have done when they’ve gone off to
college? And what is this nonsense about stealing a few prime ribs for supper
and God would come and kill them? And is there, my friends, there lurking in
your minds tonight the thought, “That isn’t fair. That isn’t right. That isn’t

In 1741, on July 8, at Enfield in Connecticut,
Jonathon Edwards preached that infamous sermon. We all know the title of the
sermon, even if we’ve never read it: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.1
It’s gone down in history. You can look it up on the web. You can read it
tonight. [I dare you to read it!] His text was from Deuteronomy 32: “Their foot
shall slide in due time.” He uses a number of images, one of which is that we
are like lead balls that God is holding, and the only reason why that lead
weight doesn’t sink to the ground and sink into hell is because God is still
holding on to it. He uses the metaphor of a dam that is about to burst. And
behind that dam there are millions and millions and millions of gallons of
water. And the only reason that dam doesn’t burst is because God is holding it
up. And if He were only to remove His hand for a moment, a deluge would come.

Who wants justice tonight? Is it justice we want, you
and I? Forget about Phinehas and Hophni; let’s think about ourselves for a
minute. If it’s justice we want, with all of our sins and all of our guilt, I
don’t’ want justice. I do not want justice. I want grace. I want mercy.

There’s a story that Harry Ironside used to tell of
the days of the prairies, when the pioneers made their way across the central
states in pursuit of homesteading. And as they had crossed a river and they’d
gone a certain distance, all of a sudden they saw this smoke — tell-tale smoke —
filling the skies ahead of them. And it was fire. Brush fire was heading in
their direction, and they had no time to go back and cross the river. And what
they did was in a circle around them they burnt the brush, ever widening that
circle so that when the fire came they were within that circle. And when a
little child grew alarmed that they would be burned by this fire, an elderly man
said to the little child, “My child, the flames cannot reach you, because we’re
standing where the flames have already burnt.”

That’s what it means tonight to be in Jesus
Christ, because He has borne the judgment and the wrath of God for us.
believe the story of Hophni and Phinehas should remind us of the attribute of
God’s holy wrath against sin. And if you’re not a Christian tonight, if you’re
not a believer, if you’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ — my dear friend, all
that awaits you is this judgment, the judgment of God against your sin forever.
So trust in Jesus Christ. Come to Jesus Christ and confess your sin, and say to
Him tonight, “Lord, I know I am a sinner, and it’s not justice that I want, it’s

You know Jesus says to you, dear friend,

“Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you
rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for My yoke is easy and My burden
is light.”

Let’s pray together.


Jonathan Edwards. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”



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