Serving the Lord Faithfully

Explore the Bible Series

September 14, 2008


Background Passage: I Samuel 2:12-4:1a

Lesson Passage: I Samuel 3:1-10, 15-4:1a




Samuel never sought religious prominence or influence.As a child he simply, humbly served the Lord, even in the unfortunate environment of Eliís household.Eliís sons, Hophni and Phinehas, horribly denigrated the worship of the Lord, and aged father did little to restrain the wickedness of his kinsmen.The situation was grave; nevertheless, Samuel seemed unshaken by the circumstances.


This passage provides a stark contrast between the wickedness of Eliís sons and the righteousness of Samuel.Where did these sons go wrong, and how may they serve as a warning for all of the Lordís servants?


  1. These sons were guilty of terrible greed and abuse of privilege.They had received great blessing and honor; yet, they saw their station as a means to take advantage of the very people they served.Many ministers, in our day, labor under difficult circumstances and receive inadequate provisions for the proper support of the families; however, some ministers use their status as a means to unholy ends.For many years, a dear member of my family has worked in the loan department of a bank.Sadly, this person has become painfully aware of the business reputations of many ďservantsĒ of the Lord.May the Lord preserve his people from this kind of unseemly clericalism
  2. In addition, these unworthy priests had a sinful disregard for their heritage as servants of the Lord.Our text says that Hophni and Phinehas disregarded the custom of the priesthood concerning the collection of meat from the sacrificial altar.The Mosaic Law regulated some of this distribution, but the priesthood had some established some helpful parameters for their work, and these sinful men had little respect for the servants who had gone before them.The Lord took notice of this disrespectful behavior.
  3. The sons also engaged in unspeakable acts, in the name of God.Temple prostitution characterized much of the pagan religion of Canaan, and these sinful sons incorporated this practice into the worship of Jehovah.They committed two sins: adultery and wicked compromise with false religion.
  4. Finally, Eliís sons refused to listen to the rebuke of their father.Perhaps years of leniency and compromise had dulled the boysí ears to their fatherís plea. Whatever the case, Eli evidently compromised so much that he lost the moral ground to correct his sons, and they refused to listen to his counsel.




Lesson Outline:


I.                   Contrast Between the Sons of Eli and Samuel (2:12-2:36)

A.    The greed and irreverence of Hophni (name means ďpugilistĒ according to Smithís Bible Dictionary) and Phinehas (name means ďbrazen mouthĒ): The first paragraph of our text, verses 12-17, describe one aspect of the unseemly character of these two priests.The Mosaic Law provided for the dietary needs of the priests by allowing them a portion of the sacrificial meat; however, the Law also forbid them to consume the fat of the sacrifice (See Leviticus 7:1 f).In addition to their disregard for the Law, the text indicates that they ignored the custom of the priests by insisting on the best cuts of meat.Because of this greedy disregard for Law and custom, the text concludes that Hophni and Phinehas were ďworthlessĒ (ESV).This term translates a Hebrew word that means ďsons of Belial.ĒIt denotes persons given to idolatry and sexual misconduct.Unfortunately, some men of religious vocation still use their position to court favored status.These wicked men believed their vocation allowed them certain privileges and favors, clericalism at its worst.

B.     The contrasting faithfulness of the boy Samuel (vv. 18-21): These expressive verses describe the events of Samuelís boyhood and adolescence.Eli clothed the lad with a linen vestment called an ephod, a simple garment related to the Hebrew priesthood (See Exodus 28:4).Hannah, Samuelís devoted mother, sewed a robe, each year, and brought the garment to Shiloh when her family came for worship.God blessed Hannah and Elkanah, and this dear woman bore three sons (I presume in addition to Samuel) and two daughters.

C.     The sexual immorality of Hophni and Phinehas (vv. 22-25): Temple prostitution was a common practice among the Canaanites, and Eliís sons had clearly compromised their moral integrity by adopting, for their own lascivious purposes, the practices of their idolatrous countrymen.Eli, to his credit, confronted his wayward sons with a sobering warning of the judgment of God.Like many rebellious sons, they disregarded their fatherís council.

D.    Another contrast with Samuel (v. 26): The author of I Samuel included another reference to the spiritual growth and purity of Samuel.We do not know what responsibilities were assigned to Samuel, but he carried out his tasks with reverence and care, unlike the sons of Eli.His physical growth served as a reference point for his progress as a man of God.

E.     Godís rejection of Eliís household (vv. 27-36)

1.      the privileged status of Eliís family (vv. 27-28): An unnamed prophet confronted Eli about the old priestís failure to preserve the sanctity of the tabernacle.Among the charges the prophet accused Eli of sinning against privilege, privilege that dated to the time of Eliís ancestor, Aaron.

2.      the specific charge against Eli (vv. 29-30): Though vv. 22-25 record Eliís rebuke of his sons, apparently the correction was too little, too late.The prophet held Eli, at some level, responsible for the denigration of worship in the tabernacle.Perhaps the old man had indulged his sons, thus failing to deal decisively and stridently with their gross irreverence.Whatever the case, the prophet accused Eli of putting his sons before the Lord.Also, the text indicates that Eli benefitted from his sonís abuse and greed concerning the meat offered in the tabernacle.

3.      the sentence upon Eliís house (vv. 31-36): The prophet made a series of judgments on Eli an his sons: their strength would be cut off, they would cut off from the altar of God (the place or redemption and grace), their descendants would die by the sword, and Hophni and Phinehas would die on the same day.God promised, through his servant, to restore the priesthood through a faithful man.Several commentators believe this prophecy as fulfilled in Zadok, during the reign of King David.


II.                The Lordís Message to Samuel (3:1-21)

A.    The general silence of the Lord (v. 1): The sins of Eliís household contributed to a spiritual malaise among the people of God, and the Lord judicially withheld his voice from the people.

B.     Samuelís confusion at hearing the voice of the Lord (vv. 2-9): Eliís advanced age dulled both his sensory faculties and, apparently, his spiritual discernment.As the old priest and young Samuel slept in the tabernacle, God spoke to Samuel.The youthful man mistakenly thought Eli had called him.Eli assured Samuel that he had not called and encouraged the boy to return to bed.Three times the Lord called to Samuel, and, only after the third call, Eli realized that the Lord had spoken to the young man.Some commentators believe Eli should have more quickly realized that God had spoken to Samuel.

C.     Godís message to Samuel (vv. 10-14): The Lord called to Samuel for a fourth time, and the young man received the divine message.As previously promised, Eliís house would soon come under judgment. ††In a terrifying statement, God pledged that no sacrifice would atone for the sins of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas.

D.    Samuelís reluctance to relay Godís message to Eli (vv. 15-18): Samuel loved and respected Eli; therefore, he had some reluctance in sharing the horrible message with the old man.Nevertheless, Samuel faithfully recounted precisely what the Lord had revealed.

E.     The beginning of the public life of Samuel (vv. 19-21): To this point in the narrative, Samuelís ministry had centered on assisting Eli in the tabernacle, but the story makes a significant turn in this paragraph.Samuelís reputation as a man of God and faithful prophet spread to all of Israel.The key to Samuelís success did not rest in the prophetís skill or personal charisma; rather, the dynamic of his strength lay in the presence and power of God.