The Sons of Eli and Samuel: Children of Priest, Prophet and Judge
The Last Two Judges of Israel were Eli and Samuel.
In Jewish history, before Israel was ruled by kings, they were guided by the wisdom of judges, holy but imperfect men of God who were appointed to deliver the people from their oppressors and to counsel them on how to live in a manner pleasing and acceptable to their God.
The last two judges of Israel were Eli and Samuel. Interestingly, both of them had the same problem: wayward children.
Children who grew up to be men and who, regardless of genuine examples set by their fathers of living a righteous life and of being faithful and just, willfully chose to go in the opposite direction.
Though Eli and Samuel lived their entire lives in dedicated service to God, their sons did not. The difference between Eli and Samuel is that the former did not “restrain” his sons from their evil ways; whereas, the scriptures indicate that when Samuel grew old, his sons decided to “turn aside” and pervert judgment.
Phinehas and Hophni
Eli's two sons, Phinehas and Hophni, were priests who committed evil deeds. What did they do? Their sins were greed and immorality. What's more? They were so brazen and bold, they had no qualms about committing these deeds in the tabernacle, the house of worship. One could not accuse them of hypocrisy as they made no attempt to cover up their lifestyle and create the appearance of godliness. They did whatever they wanted to do and who was going to stop them? The man in the only position to rebuke them was their father and he had been warned twice to check them and did nothing!! These men were, as we would say in today's common vernacular, out of control!
Eli loved them as a father (truly a parent's love is boundless), and tried to reason with them. However, he should have rebuked them as a judge that had the duty and responsibility of enforcing God's laws, in order to keep the people sanctified and holy. In the end, the sons were killed in a battle at Aphek. When Eli heard the combined news reports: (1) his sons were dead; and (2) the Ark of the Covenant had been taken by the enemy, the Philistines – he fell off his chair, broke his neck, and died. Samuel, a child whom Eli had also raised, but who did not choose the path that his own sons had chosen, became judge over Israel.
The first mention of Eli is an incident where he accused a god-fearing woman who was praying in the temple of drunkeness. That woman was Hannah. He was hasty in his misjudgement and rebuke, but repented when he realized that he had wronged her. She was childless and had prayed for the Lord to open her womb. Eli assured her that her prayers would be answered. The child born in response her prayer was Samuel. If only Eli had been quick to judge his own sons, restrain them and warn them that their wicked deeds would bring God's wrath upon them.
Joel and Abiah
Samuel served the Lord from his childhood. He was a prophet, priest and judge. The biblical account of Samuel's service as a judge over Israel states that when he became old, he appointed his sons – Joel (or Vashni) and Abiah - to be judges, but they turned aside and began accepting bribes to pervert the course of justice. Is there no one that is immune to the love for filthy lucre? The answer is “Yes”. There are many who can not be corrupted. Samuel and Eli were never guilty of this sin.
As for the sons of Samuel? Clearly, their authority as judges was disregarded. When they started misbehaving, the people went straight to their father, the one they respected and honored as a real judge. Knowing that Samuel truly walked among them as an uncompromising and loyal servant of God, and would likely never respond in the same manner as Eli did concerning his sons, they approached him. Samuel! Those are your kids! You put them in there. You take them out! And give us a king!!
In contrast to Eli, Samuel was not warned about his sons. The indication is that his sons were following the example of their father until they succumbed to the temptation of acquiring ill gotten gain for themselves. The people used the actions of the prophet's sons as an occasion to demand a king. Why? Because the Israelites wanted to be like all the nations around them. Instead of having an unseen Almighty God to fight their battles for them, they wanted to be able to boast about a visible earthly king who could wield the sword and subdue their enemies and make them a recognizable power among the nations to be reckoned with. God told Samuel to give them what they wanted. So Saul, the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, was anointed by Samuel to be the first king of the nation of Israel. The people oohed and aaahed at the very sight of him. What a grand king Saul would be. He was humble and handsome, stood head and shoulders above most men, and was very courageous in battle. The story of the first king of Israel is a sad tale. Though his beginnings were humble and he began his kingship in earnest as a good leader, he ended his reign and his life by falling on his own sword.
What became of the sons of Samuel? They were disregarded and the scriptures barely make mention of them. Once Israel had their king to judge matters for them, there was no need for their "services". Evidently, Saul did see a need for Samuel to remain in service. Samuel was the last judge of Israel. He never retired. Aged or not, Saul kept Samuel near as a constant, reliable and trustworthy judge, counselor and adviser, who could always reveal to him the will of the one true King of Israel. The guidance Samuel provided was so invaluable that even after he died, Saul sought his godly advice from the grave! And received it!
We know the life Samuel lived from his birth to his death and even after death. He walked in favor with God and with man, and when he died, all Israel lamented.
Have you ever read the biblical books of Samuel?
Why Study 1 and 2 Samuel
There are many life lessons which we all can glean from a detailed look at the lives of these two fathers and their sons.
Parents – when desiring to do what is best when dealing with a child who, as an adult, does not make good choices, would do well to remember that at one time in their lives, they too were children, and had to grow up and decide on their own, which road to travel. No doubt, dutiful and loving parents who put their best efforts into raising their children to be productive and valued members of the community can extract wisdom and understanding from the books of Samuel.
Hopefully, this article will encourage and inspire further study.
© 2013 Treathyl FOX