Eli and His Sons

I Samuel 2-4    Review Activities for this Lesson

During the days of Samuel and Eli the cruel Philistines still plagued the people of God. You remember Samson had begun delivering Israel from this fierce nation. They must have known his great strength came from God. But Samson was weak in many ways, too - - and because the nation of Israel was also weak, the Lord let the Philistines continue to oppress them. The sins of Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas were typical of the sins in Israel. Instead of being a good example, the family of the high priest had corrupted the worship of God’s tabernacle, the very place where God met with His people. Eli warned Hophni and Phinehas about their wrongdoing, but they did not stop. And their father did not make them stop.

God sent a prophet to say He was going to take the priesthood away from Eli’s family. The prophet also told Eli, “Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them.” Then God would raise up for himself a faithful priest.

Poor Eli! God had given him the highest place in all the nation - - but his sons had brought it low and he had not stopped their sin. Now they would have to suffer.

While Samuel was still a boy God spoke to him one night about the punishment that was coming to Eli’s family. Samuel was in bed when God called his name and at first he thought it was Eli. Jumping up, he ran to the old priest, saying, “Here I am, for you called me.” And Eli told Samuel he had not called him and sent him back to bed. Then God called a second time, saying “Samuel!” And a second time, Samuel got up and went to Eli, saying again, “Here I am, for you did call me.” And Eli said, “I did not call, my son. Lie down again.”

Then God called Samuel a third time. This time Eli told Samuel God must be the One who was calling him. If He called again, Eli told Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” So Samuel went back to bed.

Surely enough, the Lord did call Samuel again, telling him, “Behold I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone shall tingle.” He told Samuel He was ready to punish Eli’s family.

The next morning, Samuel dreaded seeing Eli. But Eli knew God had spoken to Samuel and asked him, “What is the thing that the Lord has said to you? Please do not hide it from me.” So Samuel told him everything.

Eli knew the Lord was just. He told Samuel, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good…”

Sometime after that the Philistines came against Israel and killed about 4,000 men. When the elders heard about it, they decided to take the ark of God from the tabernacle and send it into the next battle.

Were the elders right to decide this? After all, God had let them take the ark with them when they captured Jericho - - now things were different, though. Not only had He not commanded it - - the Lord had promised to punish them for their sins. They did not stop to think about all of this. Even Hophni and Phinehas went along with their plans. When the ark was brought into the camp, everyone shouted so loudly that the earth shook.

When the Philistines learned the ark of the Lord had come into the Israelite camp, they were frightened and said, “God has come into the camp! Woe to us!” But they still told each other, “Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, ye Philistines!”

They did not have to be afraid. God gave them a great victory and about 30,000 of His own people were killed, including Hophni and Phinehas. Worst of all, the sacred ark of God was captured.

Back at Shiloh, Eli’s heart trembled as he thought of God’s holy ark tossed about in the fighting. Finally a messenger brought news of the terrible defeat, saying, “…your two sons Hophni and Phinehas are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” When Eli heard about the ark, he fell off his seat backward and broke his neck and died.

What a sad end for a man who should have been happy in God’s service!

Talking it Over:

1. What happens today when parents do not make their children obey? Do you know children whose parents let them do things that are wrong? Why do you think this happens?
2. When the Israelites decided to take the ark into battle, they were using their own wisdom instead of depending on God’s. Talk about how people do that today in worship and in their everyday lives.
3. Eli was 98 years old and had judged Israel for 40 years. Talk about how important it is to serve God until the very end of our lives.

Memory Verse:
“Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” I Samuel 3:9
How does God speak to us today? How can we answer Him?

Text by Betty Belue Haynes, originally published in Bible Talk Times. Used here with the kind permission of the author. Users are free to reproduce for use, but not for publication.