I Samuel 2: Hannah’s Gratitude & the Depravity of the Sons of Eli

I Samuel 2 deals with separate yet connected topics: Hannah’s gratitude, Samuel’s blessings, and the wickedness of the priest Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas.

As the chapter opens, Hannah offers a prayer to God after being blessed with a son. She is overjoyed because God has saved her from her plight of being a woman unable to bear children. Her prayer of praise and confidence in God is impressive because of its sincerity; her reaction to God’s blessing is appropriate in its expansiveness.

We could surmise that her prayer takes place publicly at the temple, after her interchange with Eli. However, it could just as easily have been more of a private affair. She recognizes that God is holy and singular. In the wake of the blessing of her son, Hannah admonishes others to temper and remove the arrogance from their speech. She acknowledges God as the “God of knowledge”, and the One who weighs actions. Verses 4-8 are an acknowledgement of God’s control over the land of the living:

“The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, and the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, and she who has many children has become feeble. The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them.”

He brings the high of the world low and the low He exalts. Through His unreachable wisdom, He puts things as they ought to be: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Matthew 19:30

Verses 9-10 display an attractive and sure confidence in God’s prevalence in the world, the surety that He will accomplish His will. Hannah’s mention of God giving strength to “His king” could be viewed as a prophecy. Her son Samuel will ultimately prophesy about Israel’s first King (Saul), so there is a case to be made here for prophecy. Alternatively, Hannah’s mention of a king could also be interpreted as a prophecy of the Messiah Jesus. This option seems less likely though, especially considering that her son will prophesy Saul’s coming. Skipping ahead to verses 18-21, the account of Samuel growing before the Lord is encouraging. Also, Hannah had more children, three sons and two daughters.

The chapter transitions to listing the transgressions of the priest’s sons Hophni and Phinehas. These two angered God with their disregard for the specific commandments of sacrifice and with their selfishness. They manipulated the rules and methods of sacrifice to gather for themselves the meat they wanted. Their use of a three-pronged fork to gather meat was nowhere mentioned in God’s instructions for sacrifice. Also, the fat was meant to be burnt as a sacrifice to God, but Eli’s wicked sons took it for themselves, as seen in verse 16: ““And if the man said to him, “They should really burn the fat first; then you may take as much as your heart desires,” he would then answer him, “No, but you must give it now; and if not, I will take it by force.”” Despite the people trying to do the right things, these wicked men collected the best meat selfishly for themselves, denying God’s portion and angering Him.

Eli’s sons also had sex with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle. In terms of degrees of sin, this one seems just as bad as taking God’s portion of the sacrifice. Once can picture these wicked sons, taking advantage of the women seeking to praise and glorify God by bedding them. This is a depraved corruption, a disgrace of the worship and holy approach that should otherwise be made to Almighty God. The actions of Hophni and Phinehas so angered God that He made them not listen to the admonitions of their father Eli because “the Lord desired to kill them.”

But why did their depravity get to such a point? News of the deeds of Hophni and Phinehas reached their father Eli, and he attempted to influence and change their behavior, but by then it was too late. It is a lesson for parents but especially fathers: if and when we see insolence, evil, corruption, sin, disrespect, or ungodliness in our households, it needs to be addressed and aggressively removed. Because if it is not, it grows into something akin to the abomination Eli has on his hands. It is clear that Hophni and Phinehas sinned greatly and will pay for their sins, but Eli bears some of this burden along with them.

The chapter ends with a prophecy from an unnamed man of God (Samuel’s first prophecy comes in chapter 3). The prophecy is given directly to Eli (more evidence that he bears significant responsibility) and reveals the height of insult that the actions of Hophni and Phinehas have caused. Their selfishness and desire for sin were not what God had in mind when He delivered the priesthood to men, with the design of facilitating worship and sacrifices. God says that an enemy will be in His dwelling place, a suggestion that the tabernacle will be occupied by foreigners or the ark will be stolen, or both. The young men of Israel will die and Hophni and Phinehas will die on the same day. Eli’s family, although in the line of priests, will not be allowed to remain as priests and the day will come when they will beg money and food from the new priesthood.

The new priest that will replace Eli is not mentioned by name, but it is one that God says will be faithful and will do “according to what is in My heart and in My mind.” In the closing verses of chapter 2, we have a reference to David “My anointed” in that the new priest will be faithful. David, as one in the lineage of Christ, intimates what weighty matters the wicked brothers were playing with.

If we were not convinced before, may we be convinced now that God is highly serious about His commandments, the way we approach Him, how we heed His provisions for worship, and our attitude when we approach Him. Are we taking these things seriously enough? Do we have the right amount of reverence, awe, respect, and fear? God expects us to take Him seriously and to approach and obey Him sincerely and in the prescribed ways. May each of us pray that our hearts are right before Him.

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