The Forgetfulness of Sin (I Samuel 2:27-36)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 2:27–2:36
Crying for a King
As we come to God’s word this morning, we have one task, don’t we? Our job this morning is to attempt, with God’s help, to understand what God is saying to us through the words He himself has preserved in this book for thousands of years. God still speaks today, and this is where we hear his voice. Are you ready to hear from Him?
I pray that God will help me to do my best at making His heart clear this morning as I share with you, as we study together.
This morning we return to our study in I Samuel. Turn with me to I Samuel 2, verses 27 through 36.
II. The Passage: "Far Be It From Me" (2:27-36)
Last week we found ourselves at Shiloh, the place where God’s people had set up the Tent of Meeting (or Tabernacle) after they came into the land God had promised to their forefather Abraham.
And here at this tent, which was for all intents and purposes, a mobile temple, here at Shiloh we were presented with a very disturbing picture of the priests who were serving God and His people in this holy place.
You may recall that in chapter 1, the Tent of Meeting was a place of blessing, a place where Hannah’s prayer for a son was answered. But here in chapter 2, we find at Shiloh nothing but shame.
Verses 12 through 25 revealed that the sons of Eli, who was the chief Priest, [his sons] were using the Tabernacle for their own wicked gain. Not only were they stealing meat from worshipers who had come to sacrifice to God, but they were also taking advantage of the women who were serving God in Shiloh.
Now, we also saw last time how God was raising up the boy Samuel to be a faithful servant, in stark contrast to Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli. But the situation, the intimidation and immorality, was still taking place at Shiloh.
A. A Reminder of Blessing (2:27, 28)
So look at verses 27 and 28, look at what happens next:
27 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? 28 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.
We know nothing about the man who appears in verse 27 except that he is a “man of God”, which is another name for a prophet in the Old Testament. Ultimately, everything else about his identity is irrelevant. The only important thing is his mission.
And his role as a prophet is confirmed when he opens his mouth.
Notice who this “man of God” addresses here. He does not go to rebuke Hophni and Phinehas. He goes to Eli. He goes to the man who is not only their father, but also their priestly superior and their national leader. Remember, like Gideon and Samson before him, Eli is the judge of Israel.
But here, God’s message begins, not with a reminder of Eli’s judgeship and responsibilities, but with a reminder of the honor shown to and the blessing bestowed on Eli’s ancestor, Aaron.
God goes all the way back to Aaron, the brother of Moses, and describes how He graciously revealed Himself to Aaron in order to use Aaron and Moses to free the Israelites from the oppressive bondage of Pharoah.
Not only that, God also reminds Eli that He chose Aaron to be His priest. God gave to Aaron and his descendants the incredible privilege of serving God, in His presence. Only Aaron and his sons were able to represent the people and offer sacrifices for the sins of Israel.
But there’s even more to this priestly privilege. Look again at the end of verse 28: I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel.
Now what does that mean? If you remember last week, we talked about how the Law of Moses provided for a portion of the sacrificial animal to be given to the priests before they brought the offering before God. This was God’s way of providing for those who were devoted full-time to the ministry of the Tabernacle.
God not also blessed them with the incredible privilege of serving before Him, but He also made provision for his priests, so that they could fully enjoy that privilege, without having to also be shepherds or farmers or craftsmen.
Now why has God sent a prophet to Eli to tell him all this, to tell him what Eli must already know?
B. A Recounting of Sin (2:29)
Look at verse 29. God says, “In light of all my blessings, in light of your privilege and my provision…”
29 Why then do you scorn [lit. kick, trample on] 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?’
At first, it seems like the indictment handed down here is misplaced. If anyone has scorned God’s sacrifice, it’s Eli’s sons, right? Remember verse 17 above: 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.
But look at how God fills out this accusation out at the end of the verse.
How has Eli scorned God’s sacrifices and offerings? By “honor[ing] your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel.”
Now, remember what happened in 2:22-24. After hearing the reports about all of their “evil dealings”, Eli confronts his sons and warns them about their foolishness. So, again, why is Eli being rebuked here? Well the problem is not that Eli confronted his sons about their sins. The problem is that when his sons ignored him, Eli did nothing else.
In the midst of God’s people, if you warn a brother or sister about sin and they fail to listen, you cannot simply stop there. In Matthew 18, Jesus describes a process of appeal to, and ultimately, separation from one who is unrepentant, who is unphased by their sin.
Why a process like this? Because not only is it the most loving course of action for that someone who is headed down the wrong path, but it also serves to protect the rest of God’s people from the cancer of stubborn sin.
And if it is a leader who fails to act, then the accountability is even greater.
This verse even seems to indicate that Eli, by failing to censure his sons and expel them from the priesthood, or have them punished as blasphemers, Eli is not only allowing them to continue to sin against God and God’s people, but Eli might be continuing to enjoy the supply of meat that comes directly from his sons and their servants: “by fattening yourselves”.
God always has a way of cutting through all the junk and showing us the naked truth about our sin, doesn’t He? He tells Eli, “Your failure to take action against your wicked sons reveals that they are more important to you than I am. Your sons’ well-being, as you understand it, is more important to you than my worship.”
Who knows how long Eli failed to act. Who knows how many times he looked the other way. But none of that matters now. Eli stands condemned.
C. A Revelation of Judgment (2:30-36)
And as is always the case, when God brings to light His just condemnation, there are always consequences that follow. Look at verses 30 through 36:
30 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. 31 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. 32 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. 33 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. 34 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. 35 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. 36 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 priests' places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.”’”
The consequence of Eli’s sin is singular in focus, but diverse in its implications. Do you see that? God’s judgment against Eli is expressed succinctly in verse 31: 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
As verse 30 makes clear, this is in contrast to the promise that God gave to the Aaron and his sons and their descendants. God is telling Eli here, “Did you think you could rest in my promise of priesthood while you were defiling that very priesthood through your fear and inaction?”
No, God will keep His promise, but Eli’s branch of the family tree will be withered and hacked off. This curse will be experienced in several ways:
Verses 31, 32: Every male in Eli’s family will die as a young man.
Verses 32, 36: Eli’s family will look with envy as Israel is blessed while they themselves suffer lack.
Verse 33: Those who are allowed to live for a time will be consumed with grief.
Verse 33: Their premature deaths will be the result of violence.
Verse 34 [the one that hits closest to home]: Eli’s two sons will be no exception, but, in keeping with God’s just judgment, they will both die on the same day.
Unlike Eli, God will act. Unlike Eli, God will not permit wickedness to go unchecked. Verse 30: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.’
But, just as we saw last week, God always provides a glimmer of hope, a token of grace in the midst of His judgments. Verse 35 indicates that God’s judgment against Eli and his sons will not be the end of the priesthood or the worship at Shiloh. Not only is God raising up Samuel to serve as a kind of priest for the people, but God will also establish another branch of Aaron’ s family tree. Who is the priest mentioned here?
Well, the only other mention in Scripture of this curse on Eli’s house is found in I Kings 2:27. This is what we read there:
So Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.
Now, remember, Abiathar was the only priest to escape from the massacre that Saul ordered in I Samuel 22. That’s when 85 priests died by the sword, just as God foretold to Eli. But here in I Kings 2, Abiathar, the only survivor, is removed from the priestly office. And who takes his place?
I Kings 2:35…The king put Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army in place of Joab, and the king put Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar.
It is Zadok’s family that served the kings that came from David. It’s is Zadok’s family that continues in the high priesthood all the way through the exile in the 6th century, and even after the exile, as far as the records go in the Old Testament.
III. Perspective: God Will Always Act
And so, as we think about the broader perspective of I Samuel 2:27-36, as we think about the main point the writer is trying to make here, I believe we can say, with certainty, that this passage confirms for us that God will always act to do what is right, even when we are surrounded by what is wrong.
You see, God will always deal with sin. He can’t not deal with sin. If somehow, he could look the other way, if somehow he could slip back into complacency, He would not be God, would He? He would not be perfectly just.
Those reading Samuel needed to know that no matter the position of power a person possessed, if they neglected and/or resisted and/or corrupted God’s word, God’s will, they would be accountable to God; and God would act against those who remained resistant.
But at the same time, we also see here that God will always provide leadership for His people. He will always make a way, in spite of our failures and foolishness. He will always prepare a man who can lead God’s people in God’s ways.
IV. Practice: He Still Reveals, Chooses, and Gives
But how will this passage change your thinking and your life in the minutes, hours, and days to come? Sometimes, we are tempted to think of all these things only in historical terms. We’re attentive in terms of the past while remaining apathetic in terms of the present.
But this is God’s word, isn’t it? His word is alive and active, as Hebrews 4 says. All of it is always profitable, as II Timothy 3 tell us. So how might God use it this morning?
Well, no doubt, for some of us, the reminder that God will always act is the reminder we desperately need right now as we face various challenges. We need God to act…soon.
But there was something else about this passage that struck me this week. Isn’t it interesting that the message given to Eli did not begin with God’s indictment against Eli. There’s a preamble to the prophet’s message of judgment.
As I’m sure you recall, this preamble in verses 27 and 28 is a reminder of God’s blessings to Aaron and his descendants. It’s a reminder to Eli of the incredible privilege God has given him, and the perfect provision God has made for His priests.
Now, think about this for a minute. Was God telling Eli something he didn’t know? No, Eli knew all of these things. So why this preamble?
I believe this preamble is here in order to let the richness of God’s grace make the reality of our sin even more pronounced. God’s grace is always the white backdrop that brings out the black of our sin in all its blackness.
This week we have been inundated with reports from Haiti in light of the tragic earthquake that struck the country last week. And as is typically the case in times of tragedy, I've heard some people asking the classic question “How could a good God allow this kind of suffering?”
There's nothing wrong that question, but why is it that we almost never hear, in all those other times when things are moving right along, when life seems to be “business as usual”, why don't we ever hear people asking, not “How could a good God allow this kind of suffering?”, but instead, “How could a just God allow these kinds of blessings?”
What am I talking about it? I'm talking about the blessings of life, light, love, health, air, family, a good book, a day at the beach, a chocolate milkshake, an exciting football game, a walk in the woods, eyesight, any kind of burrito, and the list goes on...How could God allow people like us, people who so often live in a state of ungratefulness, who exchange the worship of God for the worship of sex and sports and sports cars and celebrities, how could God bless us every day with “every good and perfect gift” as James 1 puts it?
This is the richness of God's grace that surrounds all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. And God's goodness and mercy and grace serve not only to bless us, but to make the case against us even stronger. Because of His indisputable grace, our sin against a God like this is even more disturbing, even more disgusting, even more damning.
God said to Eli, “I revealed myself to your forefather. I chose Him and his descendants to be my servants, my priests. I gave Him, not only the incredible privilege of serving me, but also the provision for this service. And what do I get in return? Greedy, complacent, and cowardly priests.”
Brothers and sisters, did you know that God still reveals, chooses, and gives...because of His grace? If you belong to Him through faith in Jesus, then He has revealed himself to you, He has chosen you to be His servant, and He has given you every provision in Jesus Christ; you have been given, I have been given greater privilege and provision than any Old Testament priest could have imagined.
Why am I reminding you of this? Why does God want us to remember this? Because He always wants us to see our sin, to consider sin in light of the backdrop of His grace.
God wants to use the reality of his incomparable blessings to convict and correct us in regard to sin. Like Eli's sin, when we meditate on His blessings, God reveals both the expressions and extent of our sin. “I can't believe how ungrateful I am?...I'm too proud, Lord, help me...I have been so selfish with what I have, when you, God, have been so giving.”
But God also wants to use the richness of His grace to correct us in regard to obedience. Do you think Eli would be in the same place he is here, as a priest, as a leader, as a father, if he had taken time each day to dwell on, and give thanks for, and worship in light of all that God had given Him; if he had lived each day honoring the God of grace above everything else, even his sons? I don't think he would be.
In the same way, we need to live each day in a constant state of meditation on the blessings of God, on the richness of His grace. How do we do that? We allow God to do exactly what He did here. We allow ourselves to be confronted by the word of God. Like Eli, we may have people around us who come to us and remind us of God's blessing, hopefully without the threat of judgment. But we always have the opportunity to hear directly from God's word as we open the Bible each day; as we memorize and meditate on Scripture.
And as we do that, God is saying to us through His word, “Did I indeed reveal myself to you? Yes. Choose you? Yes. Give you all you need? Yes.” Instead of such reminders preceding a word about our failure, as we see here in I Samuel 2, shouldn't such reminders precede expressions of our gratefulness and obedience?
The judgment for sin fell upon Eli because of the faithlessness of Israel's priests. But this morning we can rejoice in the fact that the ultimate judgment for sin does not fall upon us because of the faithfulness of our priest, Jesus Christ. The ultimate consequences of human corruption and cowardice fell upon Jesus. His altar was the cross.
To be “gospel-centered” people is to live each day meditating on the richness of God's grace to us. Beyond family, and health, and burritos, we have a God who has “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). Shouldn't such a lifestyle of remembrance and reflection on the Good News be one thing that drives us toward a life of holiness, of purity, of selflessness, of obedience?
This week, let's not get weighted down by the forgetfulness of sin. Let's instead, by God's grace, purpose to remember, each day, the richness of God's grace to us in Jesus. May that convict and correct us, so that our lives more fully reflect the God we serve as a kingdom of priests.