Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 2:11-36 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/14/2014 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 2:11-36
“Who Will Intercede For Him”
God’s people need good leadership, particularly good spiritual leadership. As we’ve been digging into the book of Samuel, we’ve said that this is a time of transition from the time of the judges to the time of the kings. We’ve said that a big problem during the time of the judges was the lack of a king to lead the people in righteousness. The book of Samuel is about God raising up his anointed king to meet that problem. But as we see in today’s passage, the godly leadership of a king is not the only kind of leader us humans need. We also have the need for a priest; specifically a godly and faithful one. This is the problem we see in today’s passage. More failed leadership during the time of the judges. Eli and his house was the current priesthood but they were not what the people needed nor what God wanted as priests. And so we’ll look first at Eli and his wicked sons. Then we’ll see how Samuel stands as a literary foil to the house of Eli. Third, we see how God promises to establish a faithful priesthood; that was a good promise for Israel back then and especially for us today.
So let’s begin with observing the wickedness of the house of Eli. Let’s begin with Eli’s sons. Their names were Hophni and Phineas, per verse 34. Verse 12 gives us an initial description of them. They are called corrupt. Literally, sons of Belial, which here Belial literally means worthlessness, though interesting it’s a term that later starts getting used as another name for the Devil. It’s also interesting that in last chapter, when Eli mistakenly thought Hannah was drunk at the tabernacle, that she defends herself by saying, literally, that she is not a daughter of Belial, 1:16. Hannah was not a worthless daughter. But these sons of Eli are worthless, wicked, sons. Of course, as sons of the high priest, they themselves would have been priests too. Sadly, that is exactly where their evil really shows itself. We see here two main sins attributed to them, both connected to the role in the priesthood.
First, we see how they abused the sacrificial system. This is described in verses 13-17. As you might recall from a previous lesson, in some of the offerings, the priests were given a share of what was being offered. But as you read about the sacrifices in the Torah, especially in the book of Leviticus, you’ll find that it explains in great detail how the different sacrifices were to be offered, and what parts the priests would get. And so starting in verse 13, we see several abuses of the sacrifices. In verse 13 we see that the priests were randomly selecting meat out of the pot where it was boiling; literally “pot luck” in terms of what they got. But the Torah lists out exactly the parts that the priests should get for each offering; none of this pot luck stuff. Now to be clear, it’s somewhat unclear in verse 13 if this was something that just Eli’s sons were doing, or it was a more typical practice of all the priests at Shiloh. Regardless, it was against the Torah, and either way, verse 15 begins to describe something even worse that they did with the sacrifices. And verse 17 attributes this worse practice specifically to Eli’s sons. And so in verse 15, we see that they weren’t happy just with boiled meat, that they wanted to take some more for roasting. This particularly was bad when we see that they were taking the parts with fat on it, and eating the fat. Why was that so bad? Because the provisions in Leviticus specifically say that the fat is for God. Leviticus 7, for example, specifically goes into such details, talking about the parts of the animal which was for the priests, and how the fat had to be burned off on the altar, as a sacrifice to God. Leviticus 7:25 even says that anyone who eats this fat is to be cut off from the people. Verse 16 here says that they even threatened force against any person who came with their offering and objected to what these priests were doing with the fat. Verse 17 concludes this issue by giving God’s perspective on it. Their abuse of the sacrifices was very great before the Lord, for they abhorred the offering of God. We would do well to remember that though all sins are wrong and evil, some sins are more heinous in God’s sight than others. When it comes to the perversion of how God is worshipped, that is a very serious thing to God. Read about Nadab and Abihu, for example, in Leviticus 10, who were also sons of the high priest.
The other main sin mentioned here about Hophni and Phineas is sexual immorality, verse 22. It says that they were engaging in this with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle. To clarify, the women that are being described in verse 22 are likely talking about women who serving in some capacity at the tabernacle, to assist and support the Levites in their duties. So, this would be akin to something like today when a pastor gets in an inappropriate relationship with a church secretary, or something along those lines. Again, you could see how Hophni and Phineas abused their position of leadership as priests here.
So these are the two main sins mentioned for Hophni and Phineas. These are what we would call sins of commission. They overtly broke direct laws of God, committing these acts which God forbade. And yet as we think of the wickedness of this house of Eli, we realize that it’s not just the sins of commission that we see here. As we turn to consider Eli himself next, we see that Eli was also sinning here, but for him it’s a sin of omission that is highlighted. In other words, it’s not what he does that’s shown as sinful here. It’s what he doesn’t do that is shown as sinful.
This is important to clarify, because we do see some commendable aspects of Eli’s service to God. Last chapter we saw him speak godly words of affirmation to Hannah as she went to the tabernacle to pray. Again, in verse 20, he speaks kindly to Hannah and her husband Elkanah, blessing them in the name of the Lord, asking that God would give them more children in light of how they have given up Samuel. And in fact, God answered Eli’s blessing and prayer and indeed gave them five more children. So, Eli’s blessing and prayer was effective. And next chapter we’ll see that Eli has good rapport with Samuel, giving him wise counsel that helps Samuel receive his first prophetic word from the Lord. So, we do see some commendable service by Eli. He’s not wicked like his sons were wicked, for sure. And in fact, when he heard of his son’s wickedness, in verse 23, we see that he even confronts them on it and rebukes them for it. And yet, sadly, it is in that, that we see his sin of omission. Yes, he rebuked his sons for their evil. But as the priest and judge of the people, and given how heinous these crimes were in and of themselves, let alone as those committed by those who were official leaders of the people, Eli’s action was not sufficient. Eli sinned a sin of omission. Remember, Leviticus 7, for example, said that someone should be cut off from the people of Israel, if they ate the restricted fat from the offerings. Yes, Eli speaks against his sons, but he didn’t go beyond words. We see this sin of omission explained by God very clearly in next chapter. In 3:13, God says that Eli knew that his sons made themselves vile, but he did not restrain them. And so Eli’s moral failing comes out by what he didn’t do. He didn’t shepherd and judge his children properly.
The ramification of this wickedness in the house of Eli is spelled out in verses 27-36. God sends a man of God to Eli and that man prophesies to Eli. He tells Eli that he is guilty in all of this. And he tells Eli that his house will meet great destruction, they would lose the priesthood, and that any that are ultimately left in his house would beg to become a priest again. This is God’s judgment upon the house of Eli for this wickedness, for sins of both commission and omission. As sadly was such the case during the time of the judges, the leadership, including the priesthood, had failed the people.
Turning now to our second point, notice how Samuel stands as a foil to the house of Eli. A foil, in literary terms, is when you have a narrative with a character that has qualities that directly contrast with the main character, to help you recognize something in the main character more clearly. Now of course Samuel is the larger main character in this story, but for now, in this chapter, Eli and his two sons get the most attention. Remember, think of transition. God is transitioning away from the bad time of the judges, from the kinds of things that went on like in the house of Eli, to better things, like to the leadership of Samuel the prophet, and David the king. But for now, this chapter primarily highlights the evil of Eli’s house. But don’t miss how the story keeps interweaving in details of Samuel’s life. Again, we are supposed to see a contrast going on here. Eli’s boys seem all the more wicked in comparison to how they could have grown up like Samuel.
So, let’s walk through the references to Samuel that are interwoven throughout this chapter. First in verse 11, there’s the reference to young Samuel being left with Eli, and it says how he ministered to the Lord before Eli the priest. So, Samuel is clearly an apprentice of Eli, beginning to learn and do various priestly duties. By the way, people sometimes ask at this point how Samuel could serve as a priest, if he was an Ephraimite as 1:1 says. Reading that you might get the wrong impression that Samuel was of the tribe of Ephraim, but he would need to be of the of the tribe of Levi to be a priest. And yet in 1 Chronicles 6, when listing Samuel’s genealogy, we see that actually Samuel was of the tribe of Levi. So the reference in 1:1 must be then the location of where Samuel’s family was living, not their family lineage. You might recall that since the Levites did not receive any inheritance of land in the Promised Land that each of the tribes had to allocate some of their land for cities for the Levites to live in. So Samuel’s family apparently lived in one of such cities in the territory of Ephraim, which would make them Levites by family line, and Ephraimites by geographical boundaries.
But I digress. Going back to our chapter, we continue to see how Samuel’s positive service and growth is interwoven throughout this chapter. Look next at verse 18. After describing the horrible ways Eli’s sons did their priestly service, it then remarks on how Samuel, even as a child, wore a linen ephod — that’s typical priestly clothing, so it’s showing how early in life he started serving in the tabernacle. And then again in verse 21 it reports that he was growing before the LORD — the language emphasizes that he’s growing as someone who is seeking to follow God. Jump ahead again to verse 26, and it says that Samuel grew in stature, and in favor both with the LORD and men. And so you see a maturing of Samuel going on here, and as he matures, it’s one whereby both men and God find favor with him. Again, think of the opposite with Eli’s sons. God was displeased with the handling of the offerings, but so were the people too. Both God and man looked down upon Eli’s sons. But God and men looked favorably upon Samuel and his growth. Finally, notice the verse right after our passage; 3:1 again brings us back to Samuel, and mentions similar to verse 11 how he was ministering to the Lord before Eli. And so in this passage you have some back and forth between short references to Samuel’s godly growth and longer descriptions of the wickedness of Eli’s house. The contrast is surely intentional. And this sets things up for God to bring a change of leadership in Israel from Eli and his house to Samuel.
I’d like to turn now to our third point and see how this passage shows us God’s desire to establish a faithful priesthood. I hope you already have begun to notice the problem here at that time with the priesthood as controlled by the house of Eli. But I want to look at two more verses which really emphasizes the need for God to bring a better priesthood to his people. And so look first at verse 25. Eli says this in verse 25 to his wicked sons, “If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” I find this statement a very interesting statement in light of what’s going on in this chapter. But it’s a very fitting statement for this chapter to reflect on for a moment. Let me read it again. “If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” The words here for judge and intercede are actually different verb tenses of the same Hebrew word, so there is some correspondence between the two halves of this statement. But, the basic idea of the statement is that between human conflicts, God can mediate between the humans and will justly resolve the conflict. If someone wrongs you, you can know that God will see to justice, ultimately. But the other half of the statement is that if you sin against God, who will then mediate on your behalf? Who will stand in between you and God and offer intercession for you? Now on the one hand the point here sounds like there wouldn’t be anyone who would be there to mediate and intercede. And yet the irony is, I would ask, isn’t that the job of a priest? Isn’t that Eli’s job? Has he maybe not even rightly understood his role? Think of Moses, when God’s people sinned with the golden calf, he went back up Mount Sinai and interceded on behalf of the people. And so, yes, that’s exactly the job of priests! And so I’m having us look at that verse to acknowledge that what the people really needed back then and still today is a great high priest who can mediate between God and man. A great high priest who can intercede for man before God. Well, as Christians, we know that we have such a great high priest. Romans 8:34 says that even now Jesus Christ is at the right hand of God, interceding for us. Hebrews 7:25 and 9:24 makes a similar point, and the book of Hebrews repeatedly calls Jesus our high priest!
The other verse to draw your attention to in this third point is verse 35. It says, “Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.” And so this is when that prophet tells Eli that his house is going to be destroyed and lose the priesthood. God then makes this promise and prophecy that he will establish a faithful priest. This coming priest will do God’s will. This coming priest, it says, will be a sure house that will serve forever. This is said to contrast with Eli’s unsure house, of course. And notice it says that this priest will walk before God’s anointed forever. That’s the word for Messiah or Christ. And so it says this promised priest will be serving forever with the coming Christ. Again, given that at this time there isn’t even a king yet, this is a pretty amazing statement. And the “forever” service of this priest with the Christ is pretty amazing, but certainly matches well when you get to 2 Samuel when God promises David that one of his offspring would be a king of a forever kingdom. So you have the promise in the book of Samuel of a coming forever priest and a coming forever king!
Who then is the fulfillment of this prophecy? Well, you can’t help but most immediately notice Samuel, that in at least some ways begins to fulfill this. But Samuel himself didn’t fully bring this to pass. True, in Samuel’s life, King Saul would massacre almost all of the priests of Eli’s line. But as we read on in the historical books, there is a remaining priest in the line of Eli, named Abiathar, still serving by the time you get to King Solomon, after Samuel was already dead. Solomon removes him and sends him away, and 1 Kings 2:27 the Word says that this was in fulfillment of this prophecy here in 1 Samuel to do away with the priesthood of Eli’s house. We then see that Zadok, another Levite and descendent of Aaron, is placed as the new high priest. Thus, a new house of priests was established to serve with the Lord’s anointed.
And yet, was that appointment of Zadok the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy from verse 35? It does not seem that he could be. That line has not continued on in service with the promised Messiah and his eternal kingdom. Rather, what is clear in the light of the New Testament is that the Christ himself is also this promised priest. Jesus has become established not just as the King of the promised eternal kingdom. But Jesus has also become established as this faithful priest. He alone perfectly serves as priest according to the heart and will of God. He alone will serve faithfully forever. And so it’s a beautiful thing that the way this promised priest will be able to serve alongside the promised Messiah, is that we see now that one and the same person fulfills both. Jesus is both the promised Messiah king, and the promised faithful priest! Of course Scripture subtly hinted to this even in the Old Testament, that a king could also be the priest. Psalm 110 is a song about the Messiah king, that also says in 110:4, “You are a priest forever according in the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek himself in Genesis was a king that was also a priest. And of course Psalm 110:4 gets said in Hebrews 7 to be realized in Jesus. And so we have an amazing faithful priest and righteous king established, and he is established as king and priest forever.
Saints of God, the people during the time of Samuel needed a faithful priest and they needed a righteous king. God brought about kings and priests after that as types of the one to come who would be the ultimate priest and king. The one that would serve forever in these capacities. As for the priesthood, they needed back then someone to intercede on behalf of sinful humans to a holy God. And that is what we have needed today as well. Jesus Christ as that established faithful priest intercedes to God on behalf of all who call upon him in faith. If you have trusted in Jesus, he even now intercedes on your behalf to God. And when he intercedes he can make an excellent case. Actually, he can make not just an excellent case but a winning case! You see, when we sin against the Lord, on our own, we ordinarily would have no good defense. Even if we had someone to plead our case, what could they say in our defense? But with Christ, he not only pleads our case, but he can make the perfect defense. Because he comes acknowledging that we have indeed sinned, but then he can appeal to the cross, where he already paid the complete penalty for our sins. There is no more guilt to be dealt with. Christ did not abhor the offering of the LORD, but gave himself as the most pleasing offering to God. And that was an offering pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight. So for us in Christ, there remains no more any guilt of ours before God. This is the work of our amazing high priest. As a Christian here today, rejoice in this wonderful high priest that you have. Be renewed again today in knowing his work as priest on your behalf. And if you are here today as a visitor, not having known Christ, then I encourage you to repent of your sins, believe in Jesus, and cry out to him to be saved.
My closing application then today is to say that though Christ is our high priest, we see in Scripture that we as Christians have now also become priests. We are priests ministering before our high priest Jesus; Revelation 1:6 says this. Actually Revelation 1:6 says that he has made us both kings and priests! Just like Jesus is both king and priest! Isn’t that awesome and amazing! But not only is it awesome and amazing and a wonderful fruit of his grace, it’s also a privilege and a responsibility then. In other words, we’ve seen today an example of how not to serve as God’s priests! The problem started with Eli’s sons in what we see in 2:12, they didn’t actually know the Lord. But we have known the Lord, by his grace! Praise the Lord! Let us then all the more look to serve alongside our anointed High Priest and King faithfully. Let us look to be fully established in our faithful service unto him. Realize, this is something that we will get to do forever! We are now part of this sure house mentioned in verse 35! Let us then like Samuel, look to grow up in knowing God, and growing in wisdom, and growing in the favor of God and man. Some specific lessons that we learn from here include that we need to then have a real desire for holiness of worship; as we’ve seen how God cares so much about his worship. As his priests, let’s make sure we help facilitate the holiness of worship. That means we treat Sunday service as special. We get here on time and try to put off all the distractions of the world, and look to truly make this time be all about him. Also, another specific lesson from this passage is that we don’t abuse our positions of leadership, or the gifts that we have, to sin and take advantage of others, like Eli’s sons did with the women who served at the tabernacle.
Those are just a few examples from this passage of how we can look to serve faithfully alongside the Christ! What a joy and blessing to be kings and priests to our God, because of the grace of God in Christ! And what a wonderful High King and High Priest that we have! Praise be to the Lord! Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.