I remember a cartoon movie of Eli’s sons. I’m pretty sure it was made by Nest. I remember their haughty expressions. I remember them showing off to some women by sneaking them into the sanctuary to show them its beauty. I remember thinking they were pretty awful sons, let alone priests of God.
What I see in the Biblical narrative is even worse than that depiction, though. In 1 Samuel 2, we see how they would completely disregard the laws of God and forcefully take sacrifices in order to eat them. They were already supposed to get a portion as God’s priests, but they bypassed the the preparation of the meat and desired it raw. The audacity. I can’t even.
The Biblical account doesn’t say that their worst sin was sneaking women around. It wasn’t even the fact that they were eating sacrificial meat. It says, “the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord” (v. 17).
The enormity of their sin was that they caused people to absolutely hate coming to offer their sacrifices to God. They made something that was supposed to be sacred, restorative, and a picture of Christ into something to be dreaded and avoided. They quite literally marred the image of the sanctuary in countless hearts and minds. They sure would have ruined it for me. If the priests are like this, what must the God whom they serve be like…? We get an insight that may not have been apparent at the time: “the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord” (2:12). I usually don’t hold people who don’t know God to such a high standard, but it was their one job to know God as priests. Their one. job. And what’s more, it would be sensible for Israelites to assume that they knew God, because that was in their title as priests. Thus, making it easier to be wounded and led astray by them.
The worst kind of Christian is one who claims the name with no connection to God.
It makes me pause and wonder: is there a way that I treat people that pushes them away from God? I’m not talking about people being resistant to truth, or turning their backs on God’s guidance in their lives. I’m talking about: do I profess to be a Christian but then give good reason for people to despise Christians, or the Christ that I love?
When reading through such depictions in Scripture — of very, very bad people — it’s easy to say they’re all bad and I have nothing in common with them. I don’t mess with tithe and offering money. I don’t force people to give me gifts meant for God. I’m not even a pastor. So why dwell here?
Simply this: we fall into the mistake of Peter when we are self-confident that we will never do something so bad. Only hours before denying knowing Christ, Peter swore up and down that he would die with Jesus. I cannot imagine myself turning people away from Christ with my actions, but that confidence can only stem from dwelling in Him, not building myself up in my own self-control.
The only safety is in doing the main thing Eli’s sons did not: to know the Lord. To dwell in His love. To ask Him to search our hearts and lead us in the way everlasting (Psalm 139). To make nothing off-limits for God.
By dwelling in Him, we become loving and lovable Christians — which are the strongest argument in favor of Christianity.