The book of 1 Samuel begins with a contrast between Samuel and the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. Whereas Samuel would grow to be a godly boy and young man (cf. 1 Sam 1:28; 2:11, 18–21, 26; 3:19–4:1), Hophni and Phinehas were very sinful.
Notice the sins of these sons. They were generally “worthless men” and “did not know the Lord” (1 Sam 2:17). They showed themselves irreverent bullies and gluttons by eating sacrificial meat with its fat and taking it by force (1 Sam 2:13–16; cf. 2:29; Lev 3:17; 7:22–27). They slept with the women who helped at the tabernacle (1 Sam 2:22). They refused to listen to rebuke (1 Sam 2:25). As it was still Israel’s era of rule by judges, perhaps the lawless spirit of the day encouraged their sins as well (cf. Judg 21:25). It is no surprise, then, to find their sin described as “very great in the sight of the Lord” and that “it was the will of the Lord to put them to death” (1 Sam 2:25). As promised, they died on the same day, and God exterminated Eli’s descendants from the priesthood altogether (1 Sam 4:1–22; cf. 2:27–36; 1 Kgs 2:26–27, 35).
Notice also the sins of the father. He honored his sons above God by refusing to restrain them from their blasphemous life described above (1 Sam 2:29; 3:13). In fact, he joined their sins by fattening himself with the meat that his sons so wrongfully took (1 Sam 2:29). Hophni and Phinehas would answer for their own sins, but Eli would answer for letting them live unrestrained. When he learned his sons had died, he “fell over backward,” and the fat from his unrighteous diet was too much for his elderly spine to sustain—he died when he hit the ground (1 Sam 4:18).
Parents, if you’d like a primer on how to raise a worthless child, follow the example of Eli. Let your children’s sins run wild, and even participate in some of them yourselves. As you train your children to go such a way, as with Hophni and Phinehas, they will not depart from it when they are old (cf. Prov 22:6).
But, obviously, no Christian parent would ever want such a thing. Instead, we desire to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Col 3:21; Eph 6:4). From morning to evening, we want them to hear the words of God (Deut 6:7). We hope that they would listen to our instruction and follow our guidance even when we are old (Prov 1:8; 23:22). As God is gracious, we would even hope that our households might teach others by example (cf. 1 Tim 3:4; Titus 1:6).
May God be with each of our families to raise our children as we ought, and may they each come to the knowledge, joy, and growth of their salvation in Jesus Christ.
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