The Seriousness of Sin
Scripture: 1 Samuel 2:11–36
The Seriousness of Sin1 Samuel 2:11-36
Sunday, May 6, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith
Last week, as we began 1 Samuel, we learned about a broken woman named Hannah. We observed her pouring out her heart before God, finding her refuge in the One who truly cared for her needs. We saw her heart change from gloom to joy when she cast her concerns before the God who is not only all-powerful, but also truly concerned for the well-being of His people.
You will recall that Hannah prayed at the tabernacle (1:9). And while she prayed at the tabernacle, the tabernacle itself symbolized the personal relationship she had with the living God. The tabernacle was a continual reminder that God is willing to dwell with His people (immanence) and willing to be approached in their time of need.
But the tabernacle also revealed another side of God. While God was amongst the people, He was also separated from the people. Due His holiness and their sin, direct access to His most intimate presence was prevented. God symbolically dwelt within the Holy of Holies. But it was only the high priest who had access to this chamber and that was once a year only after various rituals were completed and three veils were passed. We learn that God is holy. He is set-apart from us.
As we studied Hannah and witnessed the God of mercy last week, this week we will study the lives of the priestly leadership and witness the God of holiness. God will condescend to the brokenhearted, but He will also break the hard-hearted who fail to recognize His holiness. This is true for all of us, but especially true for those who represent His name and teach His people.
1. A WORD OF REVELATION-THE SINS OF THE SONS
Eli was the high priest at the tabernacle in Shiloh. He had two sons named Hophni and Phinehas (1:3). In verse 12, the NASB describes these follows as "worthless men," the NIV - "wicked men," the KJV goes with the literal - "sons of Belial." The reason for this harsh assessment is because, as the text says, "they did not know the Lord." As we begin the first point, the Scripture will reveal their sinful actions and give us a snapshot into the hearts of these young men.
The Liturgical Sins of Eli's Sons
First, their liturgical sins are revealed in verses 13-17.
Beginning halfway through verse 12. "They did not know the Lord and the custom of the priests with the people. When any man was offering a sacrifice, the priest's servant would come while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand. Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. Thus they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there" (2:12b-14).
While the priests were not given an inheritance like the other tribes in Israel, God provided a special way for them to be sustained. According to the Law, when an animal was sacrificed, a portion of the meat would belong to them, namely the breast or the right thigh (Lev. 7:28-36).
However, the sons of Eli appear to have devised their own system. They took a "pot-luck" approach. So while the worshippers were cooking their portion of the peace offering, along came the dreaded fork from one of their servants sent to do their dirty work. Say goodbye to whatever that greedy fork happened to stab.
I like the way one pastor put it: "I do not think that what the priests were given to eat was a matter of chance either. The breast portion or a piece of thigh did not represent T-bone steaks for them because that was from the loin - round steak, yes, rump roast, yes, but filet mignon, no - unless, of course, the priest's servant "just happened" to pull it out of the kettle. I doubt if these fellows made many mistakes about what piece of meat was taken for the priest. There would be no chuck steaks for these fellows and no neck bones either. In the way they selected the meat, the priests cast aside the law, satisfying their tastes by obtaining the most select cuts" (Bob Deffinbaugh).
In addition to this, verses 15-16 add: "Also, before they burned the fat, the priest's servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, 'Give the priest meat for roasting, as he will not take boiled meat from you, only raw.' If the man said to him, 'They must surely burn the fat first, and then take as much as you desire,' then he would say, 'No, but you shall give it to me now; and if not, I will take it by force.'"
Nice guys! And these were the spiritual leaders in the land!
Leviticus 17:6 states, "The priest shall sprinkle the blood on the altar of the Lord at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and offer up the fat in smoke as a soothing aroma to the Lord." A soothing aroma to the Lord obviously took a backseat to soothing their taste buds. Once again the Levitical Law and the concern of the people were set aside to cater to their selfish and sinful desires.
While priests were intended to bring people into the presence of God, these men repelled worshippers and profaned the sacrifice. Far from helping worship, they actually hindered it.
This insidious behavior that cast a stumbling block before the people is not unnoticed by the commentator in verse 17. "Thus the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for the men despised the offering of the Lord."
Imagine the frustration. You leave your farm and make the annual trek to Shiloh. You spend much of your hard earned money and endure the risks of first century travel. Yet the anticipation to meet with God during this spiritual zenith is squelched by a bunch of thugs who care more about their stomachs than facilitating your encounter with the living God. Nowadays we would simply go to a different church. Back then there was only one tabernacle. No doubt, all of Israel was suffering in the present. And as for the future, dad was old and these two sons would soon be the top dogs. We remember Hannah's situation from last week and ask, "Is there any hope?" Answer: With God there is always hope. Question: How will God respond?
This past Wednesday at prayer meeting we discussed Elijah's experience at Mount Horeb (1 Ki. 19:9-18). While Elijah needed a word from the Lord, He experienced several mighty acts of nature. God caused the strong wind and earthquake and fire, but His voice was not in these dramatic actions. When God chose to speak to Elijah, He was heard in the "gentle blowing," also known as the "still small voice" (KJV).
Amidst the hustle and bustle and desire for an instantaneous and spectacular fix, God often works in quiet ways unknown to the naked eye or natural mind. Just when Israel thought there was no hope, they will come to realize that God did not abandon them. For a young child was growing up in the tabernacle, a new leader was emerging to restore righteousness to the land. Enter God's quiet voice. Enter Samuel.
The Contrast of Samuel-Part One
After recording this horrific account of the tabernacle leadership, beginning in verse 18 we read, "Now Samuel was ministering before the Lord, as a boy wearing a linen ephod. And his mother would make him a little robe and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, 'May the Lord give you children from this woman in place of the one she dedicated to the Lord.' And they went to their own home. The Lord visited Hannah; and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew before the Lord" (2:18-21).
Do you see the contrast? While the adult sons of Eli are profaning the sacrifices, little Samuel is not polluted by their influence. We see him quietly "ministering before the Lord," wearing the priestly attire, some of which was provided by his mother. Samuel is growing before the Lord. A ray of sunlight is appearing over the dark horizon. Our minds are taken from the filthy to the pure, from the profane to the innocent, from hopelessness to hope in a brighter future.
The Moral Sins of Eli's Sons
A second cycle of contrasts begins in verse 22. Before it was the liturgical sins of Eli's sons. Now we read about their moral sins.
"Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting."
Exodus 38:8 speaks of these women who served at the tabernacle. The acts of sexual immorality these men committed immediately catch our attention, but we must also not miss the passing reference made about their father, Eli. The implication is that he is guilty by association. The text says he was aware of their scandalous actions. "He heard allthat his sons were doing." So how did he respond?
Beginning in verse 23, "He said to them, 'Why do you do such things, the evil things that I hear from all these people? No, my sons; for the report is not good which I hear the Lord's people circulating. If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?'" (2:23-25a).
Eli tried to restrain his sons, but they were beyond the point of listening to their father. Years of permissive parenting, the absence of discipline and the failure to confront his sons over time gave him no control over their outrageous behavior. Their hearts were hardened to the voice of authority. As they had grown accustomed to ignoring the voice of their father, they had now become numb to hearing the voice of God.
Their sins were of the worse kind - presumptuous, intentional, calculated, habitual and high-handed. The more they ignored God, the more their hearts gradually became harder. And God, like He did Pharaoh (Ex. 5:2), gave them over to their sinful desires (Rom. 1:18-32). They became obstinate and unreasonable. Their hard hearts eventually produced a total deafness to God's call of repentance. While they followed after their own lusts, God's judgment was upon them.
Look how verse 25 ends. "But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for (not "so") the Lord desired to put them to death" (2:25b - emphasis added).
One commentator added: "(Hophni and Phinehas) experienced the fate of men who deliberately sin against the light, who love their lusts so well that nothing will induce them to fight against them; they were so hardened that repentance became impossible, and it was necessary for them to undergo the full retribution of their wickedness" (Blaikie, The Expositor's Bible - 1 Samuel, p. 45). Or as John Wesley put it: "They had now sinned away their day of grace. They had long hardened their hearts. And God at length gave them up to a reprobate mind determined to destroy them" (Wesley, Wesley's Notes on the Bible, p. 181).
The Contrast of Samuel-Part Two
While this account should humble us as we stand by grace before a holy God, we are once again reminded of young Samuel as his life was flying under the radar.
While the sons of Eli were shaking their fists in the face of God, as they were offending worshippers, verse 26 contrasts, "Now the boy Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with the Lord and with men."
While the two sons were growing in their sin and rebellion, a young child was growing in spiritual maturity. A man of God was being developed. When we are about to lose hope, God keeps whispering in this account, "Don't forget about Samuel!"
2. A WORD OF CONDEMNATION-THE SINS OF THE FATHER
We have already examined the sins of the sons. As we move to the second point, we need to take a look at the sins of the father. As the sons were guilty for their sins of commission (what they did), the father was guilty for his sins of omission (what he did not do).
God sends His word to Eli through the sudden appearance of an unnamed prophet. His discourse of condemnation begins in verse 27.
"Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him, 'Thus says the Lord, Did I not indeed reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in bondage to Pharaoh's house? Did I not choose them from all the tribes of Israel to be My priests, to go up to My altar, to burn incense, to carry an ephod before Me; and did I not give to the house of your father all the fire offerings of the sons of Israel?'" (2:27-28).
After looking to the past and reminding Eli of the blessings and favor he received. After receiving so much, God is perplexed about Eli's present disobedience. Verse 29, "Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?"
Dale Ralph David remarked, "Hence the man of God rebukes the sin of sweet reasonableness, the willingness to tolerate sin, to allow God's honor to take a back seat, to prefer 'my boys' to 'my God.' For Eli, blood was thicker than fidelity" (Davis, 1 Samuel, p. 36)
Amazingly, Eli could come down on Hannah for her apparent drunkenness (remember that from last week?-1:13-15), but yet turn a blind eye to the repeated sins of his kids. God's honor was obviously less important than his son's approval. Even if Eli reproved his sons, he never removed his disqualified sons from ministry positions. Because of his failure to confront sin, Eli was confronted. A loud warning echoes through the corridors of every church and every Christian home. God must be honored. God is holy. Deal with sin in your midst and be willing to pay the price for it or suffer the consequences of greater proportions.
Davis continues, "You can end up in grave sin by thinking it is very important to be nice to people. How easy it is to practice a gutless compassion that never wants to offend anyone, that equates niceness with love and thereby ignores God's law and essentially despises His holiness. We do not necessarily seek God's honor when we spare human feelings" (Davis, 1 Samuel, p. 36-37).
The impending judgment is announced as we begin in verse 30: "Therefore the Lord God of Israel declares, 'I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk 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 will be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will break your strength and the strength of your father's house so that there will not be an old man in your house. You will see the distress of My dwelling, in spite of all the good that I do for Israel; and an old man will not be in your house forever. Yet I will not cut off every man of yours from My altar so that your eyes will fail from weeping and your soul grieve, and all the increase of your house will die in the prime of life. This will be the sign to you which will come concerning your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas: on the same day both of them will die. But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always. Everyone who is left in your house will come and bow down to him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and say, 'Please assign me to one of the priest's offices so that I may eat a piece of bread''" (2:30-36).
As individuals threaten God's people, they will be removed to spare God's people. And as God tears down, He raises up faithful leaders who will honor Him. We must also see that there are serious consequences for sin. God will not be mocked by those who play fast and loose with Him, disrespecting His holiness.
Once again, in contrast to the sins of the sons and the sins of the father stands a little boy named Samuel. As bookends to this entire section we read in 2:11, "The boy ministered to the Lord before Eli the priest." And then in 3:1 the text says, "Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli." While the priesthood was in ruins, there was Samuel dressed in his priestly garb, ministering in the tabernacle, as his age would permit.
Yet even Samuel, while ministering, needed to abide by the separation that existed in the tabernacle. Even if Samuel chose to ignore these barriers that divided sinful man from the holiness of God, he would be immediately consumed. The wrath of God will always flame out against sin that seeks to intrude upon or compromise His holiness. In order for us to enjoy the most intimate presence of God our sin would somehow have to be removed.
Samuel is a type of One who was about to come named Jesus Christ. As we read in verse 26, "Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with the Lord and with men." The Gospel writer informs us, "And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Lk. 2:52). As we read in verse 25, "If a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?" Jesus would be our Intercessor before the Throne of God. As we read God's words in verse 35, "I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always," Jesus Christ would be the ultimate fulfillment of that promise (cf. 2 Sam. 7:10-17).
As we know it was Jesus Christ who went to the cross to atone for our sins. The mercy of God found a way to remove the wrath of God so we could experience the love of God. At the time of His death, the veil of separation that kept us from the "Most Holy Place" of God was torn in two from top to bottom (Mt. 27:51), signifying that we now have access to the most intimate presence of God. For those who have faith in Jesus Christ, their sins have been entirely removed through His work at Calvary. The wrath of a holy God has been propitiated. We have peace with Him through the shed blood of His Son (Col. 1:20). We have hope. And we have been set free from sin to follow the righteous example of Samuel and especially the One to whom he pointed, Jesus Christ.