This morning we are getting back into our story of Samuel. When we last left Samuel, he was about 2-5 years old and his parents, Elkanah and Hannah, had just left him at the tabernacle to live with the priest Eli. And if you missed our previous messages, you might wonder why Samuel’s parents might do such a thing! What would cause a mother leave her 2-5 year old child to live at the tabernacle and be raised by someone else?
Well, just to give you a quick recap, previous to all this, Hannah had been barren – she was unable to have children – which of course, caused her a great deal of heartache and sadness. But she prayed to God and asked Him for son – promising that if God were to give her a son, then she would give her son back to the Lord. She would dedicate him to live and serve the Lord for his entire lifetime.
And graciously, God heard her prayer and gave her exactly what she asked for. Before long, little Samuel was born – and true to her promise, as soon as he was weaned, Hannah brought him to live at the tabernacle. He would be raised by Eli the priest, and would learn to serve the Lord by assisting Eli in his priestly duties.
We read in 1 Samuel 2:11…
11 Then Elkanah returned home to Ramah without Samuel. And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest. 1 Samuel 2:11
God had answered Hannah’s prayer and so Hannah kept her promise to God and left little Samuel to grow up serving the Lord at the tabernacle.
And so that’s where we are picking up the story today. Today’s passage gives us some snapshots of Samuel’s life growing up at the tabernacle. But it doesn’t revolve solely around the life of Samuel – but it also includes what’s happening with Eli and his two sons – Hophni and Phinehas. And as we are going to see, things are not good with Eli and his sons. Even though they were the priests – representing God at His tabernacle – we quickly see that they were not the Godly representatives that God intended them to be.
In fact, the rest of this chapter is written in a way that contrasts the goodness of Samuel with the wickedness of Eli and his sons. It’s a series of back-and-forth snapshots showing how Samuel grows up honouring the Lord – but Eli and his sons increasingly dishonour the Lord.
So let’s start by looking at the first snapshot of Eli’s sons. Verse 12.
12 Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord 13 or for their duties as priests. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, Eli’s sons would send over a servant with a three-pronged fork. While the meat of the sacrificed animal was still boiling, 14 the servant would stick the fork into the pot and demand that whatever it brought up be given to Eli’s sons. All the Israelites who came to worship at Shiloh were treated this way. 15 Sometimes the servant would come even before the animal’s fat had been burned on the altar. He would demand raw meat before it had been boiled so that it could be used for roasting.
16 The man offering the sacrifice might reply, “Take as much as you want, but the fat must be burned first.” Then the servant would demand, “No, give it to me now, or I’ll take it by force.” 17 So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.
1 Samuel 2:12-17
So you can see right off the bat that things are not good at the tabernacle. The sons of Eli – who were priests along with their father – are described as scoundrels, and had no respect for the Lord or for their duties as priests. They were completely abusing their position and authority for selfish gain – stealing from the offerings that which did not belong to them.
Now of course, there were some parts of the offerings that did belong to the priest. God had specifically laid out the guidelines for what parts of the offering would belong to God and which would belong to the priests and which would belong to the giver – depending on what the sacrifice was for. God had built into the whole system of sacrifice, provision for the priest. They had a specific allotment that they were entitled to. But Hophni and Phinehas were not content with what God had given them. They completely disregarded God’s instructions and took (by force if necessary) whatever parts of the offerings they wanted.
In verse 15 it talks about how they would demand even the raw meat before the fat had been burned on the altar. Of course, the fatty part of the offering was always considered to be the best part – the most desirable cuts of meat were the fatty parts – and that part of the sacrifice was always to be burned on the altar as a gift to the Lord. The Israelites were to honour God by giving Him the best – not the leftovers – not the parts that no one else wanted anyway, but the best parts!
That’s why the fat was always burned on the altar – they were giving God the best.
But the sons of Eli had no respect for the Lord and in essence, they robbed from the Lord and dishonoured Him by taking the best for themselves.
And just as a little side note, I think sometimes we do that too! Even though God deserves the best we can offer him, sometimes we keep the best for ourselves – and just give God the leftovers.
For example, sometimes we give God our leftover time – if we’re not too tired and there’s nothing on tv, then we’ll read our Bible or pray or go to Bible study… We’ll spend time with God so long as it fits our busy schedule… Or on Sunday mornings, if there are no outings planned, or there is nothing else we’d rather do, then we’ll go to church. We give God our leftover time.
Or we might give God our leftover money – (if there is ever such a thing!) After all the bills are paid and after we’ve bought the things we need and want, THEN and only then, do we give some money to the church or to a missionary that we know or to help someone else in need. We give God our leftover money.
I don’t think it honours God to give him the leftovers. God is worthy of more than our leftovers! We need to give Him our best. Our best time. Our best energy! Our best efforts. Our best talents. Proverbs 3:9 tells us.
Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the best part of everything you produce.
That’s a principle we see throughout Scripture – that we are to honour God by giving him the best. By giving to Him first. God is worthy of more than just our leftovers!
Don’t be like Hophni & Phinehas. Don’t give God the leftovers – give to God first and give Him the best!
The sons of Eli had no respect for the Lord and they robbed Him by taking the best for themselves, so as verse 17 tells us…
The sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt.
1 Samuel 2:17
Now you’ll remember that I told you how this chapter is full of contrasts, so contrast the sons of Eli stealing from the Lord with these next verses about Samuel and his family: verse 18…
18 But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest. 19 Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice. 20 Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.” 21 And the Lord blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
1 Samuel 2:18-21
So on one hand we have the sons of Eli completely dishonouring the Lord – living selfishly with no respect for God and his commands – stealing from the people and from God. And on the other hand, we have Samuel and his family – doing pretty much the exact opposite.
We see Samuel – even though he’s just a small boy – obediently serving the Lord. We see his parents continually bringing their sacrifices – year after year – in faithfulness to the Lord. What’s more, we’re reminded once again of Hannah’s great sacrifice in keeping her promise to God and giving up her son – dedicating him to live in the presence and in the service of the Lord. I mean, if that’s not an example of giving your best to God, I don’t know what is!
Hannah didn’t give God the leftovers – She honoured Him by giving God her first (and at that time, her only) son – the most precious thing in the world to her! She gave God her best!
And because of that – because she chose to honour the Lord – the Lord chose to honour her! Verse 21 says…
21 And the Lord blessed Hannah, and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:21
What a blessing! For a woman who was once barren – broken-hearted because she was unable to have children – for her now to have six children, God was clearly honouring her because she chose to honour the Lord.
Which of course, is quite a contrast to the sons of Eli. Verse 22 continues with another snapshot of their utter disregard for God.
22 Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle. 23 Eli said to them, “I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? 24 You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. 25 If someone sins against another person, God can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death.
1 Samuel 2:22-25
It’s clear that these young men have no respect for either God or their father. Their hearts are so hard towards the things of God, that at this point, God is ready to put them to death. God knows their hearts. He knows that despite their father’s pleading, there will be no repentance – no sorrow for what they had done. These young men were so hard-hearted that they would never acknowledge their sin and or God for forgiveness.
Because if they would, God would surely forgive them! That’s just the character of God! In fact God has promised to forgive anyone who confesses and repents of their sin.
9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9
God delights in offering us forgiveness. It is his joy to cleanse us from our sin. Had Hophni and Phinehas repented of their sin, confessed to God and changed their ways (as their father pleaded with them to do) God would have surely forgiven them! But as it was, their hearts were hard and they refused to listen to their father – they refused to listen to God. And because of that, God had determined to put them to death.
And then, here’s the contrast with Samuel again. In verse 26…
26 Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.
1 Samuel 2:26
This is such an interesting verse. It’s just a short little statement – but it’s right in the middle of Eli’s sons completely dishonouring God. And there’s little Samuel – growing taller and growing in favour with the Lord and with the people.
It’s pretty amazing that while all this awful stuff is going on around him (and you can be sure that Samuel was well-aware of what was going on – kids are far more perceptive that we sometimes think.) But while the sons of Eli have such hard hearts towards the Lord – in the middle of all that, Samuel doesn’t grow up to be like them. Samuel has a soft heart towards God. He grows in favour with the Lord – doing the things that please Him and honour Him. And as a result, he also grows in favour with all the people! They can see that he’s different from Eli’s sons.
What a good example of being salt and light in dark world! And what really amazes me is that at this point, he’s still just a kid! The verse says he’s still growing taller. We’re not talking about the old, wise prophet Samuel – we’re talking about the little servant boy Samuel – running errands for Eli. But here he is, an example to all the people, soft-hearted, doing the things that please and honor the Lord.
I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes 12:1….
Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth.
Ecclesiastes 12:1 NIV
Kids – this verse is for you. It’s not really applicable to all of us older guys now. We’ve passed that point. But you can do this – you can remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Don’t wait until you get older to start think about living for God. Because by that time, you might just have developed a pretty hard heart.
But as a kid, you can choose to be like Samuel, doing the things that please and honor God. You can have soft-heart – one that wants to serve and obey God. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, so that you don’t grow up with a hard heart like the sons of Eli.
And that brings us to the final snapshot of the chapter. As Samuel grows taller and in favour with the Lord and with the people – Eli & his sons find themselves doing the opposite. They have run out of favour with the Lord. Their hard-heartedness and their disregard and disrespect for God has exhausted God’s patience with them. We read in verse 27.
27 One day a man of God came to Eli and gave him this message from the Lord: “I revealed myself to your ancestors when they were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. 28 I chose your ancestor Aaron from among all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer sacrifices on my altar, to burn incense, and to wear the priestly vest as he served me. And I assigned the sacrificial offerings to you priests. 29 So why do you scorn my sacrifices and offerings? Why do you give your sons more honor than you give me—for you and they have become fat from the best offerings of my people Israel!
30 “Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me. 31 The time is coming when I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will reach old age. 32 You will watch with envy as I pour out prosperity on the people of Israel. But no members of your family will ever live out their days. 33 The few not cut off from serving at my altar will survive, but only so their eyes can go blind and their hearts break, and their children will die a violent death. 34 And to prove that what I have said will come true, I will cause your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, to die on the same day!
35 “Then I will raise up a faithful priest who will serve me and do what I desire. I will establish his family, and they will be priests to my anointed kings forever. 36 Then all of your surviving family will bow before him, begging for money and food. ‘Please,’ they will say, ‘give us jobs among the priests so we will have enough to eat.’”
1 Samuel 2:27-36
Both Eli and his sons had failed to be the godly representatives that God has chosen them to be as His priests. They had failed to honor God. In fact, God’s main indictment of Eli was that He honoured his sons more than he honored God.
29 So why do you scorn my sacrifices and offerings? Why do you give your sons more honor than you give me—for you and they have become fat from the best offerings of my people Israel!
1 Samuel 12:29
Even though we see Eli pleading with his sons to stop their wickedness, it seems he never actually did anything about it. He didn’t take any measures to discipline them or to stop them. He didn’t remove them as priests or anything like that. In fact, it seems he ate their stolen meat right along with them. God says “For you and they have become fat from the best offerings of my people Israel.”
Eli’s family had failed to honor God. And as a result, God would no longer honor them.
And that’s one of the key themes that comes out of this passage. verse 30.
30 “Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me. 1 Samuel 2:30
This is the principle that we see throughout this story – God honours those who honor Him – but will despite those who think lightly of him.
We see this in the life of Hannah – as she determined to honor God by keeping her promise and dedicating her son to the Lord – God honoured her by giving her more sons and daughters. He blesses her with the family that she’s always wanted.
As Samuel grows up – obediently serving the Lord – keeping a soft heart towards God – God honours him and he grows in favour with the Lord and with the people.
But on the flip side, as the sons of Eli despite the things of God, stealing from the people, robbing God of the best and keeping it for themselves – as they dishonour God and think lightly of him – God determines to remove them as his priests and their entire family would suffer the consequences.
God honours those who honor Him – but will despite those who think lightly of him.
So the question I’d leave you with today is this: Who do you honor? Who do you give your best to?
Eli honoured his sons. He refused to disciple them or to intervene with what they were doing – even though he was well aware of their sins against God. He chose to honor them more than God.
His sons honoured themselves – stealing from God and taking the best for themselves. They were not concerned about honouring God -They only honoured themselves!
But Samuel and his parents honoured God. They gave God their best! They did all that they could to please and honor Him.
Who do you honor? Who gets your best time, your best energy, your best effort?
Is it your career? Your family? Yourself? Who gets your best?
Do you give God your best? Or does He just get the left-overs?
This morning, we want share communion together. We want to remember and celebrate how Jesus gave his best for us. We’re told in John 3:16….
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
God gave us His best – His beloved Son, Jesus. He has honoured us by sending His Son to die in our place so that we can live. And it’s not because we are worthy of that honor – we are completely sinful and selfish – we deserve eternal separation from God. But God, out of his incredible love for us, made a way for us not to perish, but to have eternal life. And He did that through the life, death, and resurrection his Son Jesus. So how can we, in response to that, give God anything but our best?