17 And he said, What is the thing that the Lord hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that he said unto thee.

18 And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good. (1Samuel 3:17)

In the Book of 1 Samuel, Eli was a Levitical High Priest and the 15th Judge of Israel. His primary duty was the responsibility to offer sacrifices to God as outlined in the Mosaic Law.  He also played an essential role in preparing Samuel for his remarkable ministry as judge, prophet, and presumably priest.

Unfortunately, Eli had two wicked sons, Hophni and Phineas.  They were also priests, but they did not know God.  These sons of Eli were greedy men who took the best of the people’s sacrifice intended for God.  They would bully the people who resisted them, telling them that if they did not give them the sacrifice immediately, they would take it by force.  Their behavior caused the people to despise the worship services of God because they took the best of the sacrifices for themselves.  Also, as unbelievable as it might seem, they had sex with females who assembled at the temple door.

22 Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

23 And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people.

24 Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord’s people to transgress.

25 If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them.

Eli heard about their disgusting behavior and rebuked his sons, but he did not make them stop what they were doing.  He put his love for them ahead of his desire to please and honor God, for which God was very displeased.  God sent a prophet to Eli, telling him that no one in his house would die of old age because God would cut them off.  God also told Eli that his sons, Phineas and Hophni, would die on the same day.  Samuel confirmed this same message to Eli.

With this kind of warning, the question has to be asked, why didn’t Eli immediately rebuke his sons, warn them about what God told him, remove them from their office, encourage them to get saved, and seek God about a successor as a priest over Israel?  Why didn’t Eli respond more actively to his twice-delivered warning?  Instead, he did nothing.

When God got tired of Hophni and Phineas and their evil behavior, He planned their demise. Israel was in a backslidden state and was so far away from God that they did not know the seriousness of their condition.  They went to war against the Philistines, fully expecting to be protected by God and victorious as their forefathers had been.  They lost 4000 men in the first battle against the Philistines and were disturbed but not as concerned as they should have been.  Therefore, instead of fasting, repenting, and seeking the face of the Lord as their forefathers had done, they devised their plan for victory.  What was their plan?  They decided to take the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred item from God, into the battle.

And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.

And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us from the hand of our enemies.

 The Ark of the Covenant was the most sacred relic of the Israelites.  It was a box overlaid inside and out with gold which was used as a container for the stone tablets upon which were written the ten Commandments, the rod of Aaron that budded (Nu. 17:1-13), and a pot of manna (food with which the God fed the Israelites during their 40-year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.).   It’s cover, the Mercy Seat, was surmounted by two cherubim with outstretched wings.  Between the cherubs, God’s Presence, His glory,  was manifest.  And yes, Israel took the Ark of the Covenant with them to war, thinking it would protect them.  They didn’t ask God if they should take it to battle; they just took it.  The people were so happy to see the Ark of the Covenant that they shouted.  And along with the Ark went Hophni and Phineas.

Yep, Hophni and Phineas went into battle with the Ark of the Covenant, not realizing that they couldn’t hide from God in their sins.  They had no idea that God had arranged their deaths because of their devilish behavior.  In my mind, I imagine that the Israelites rejoiced when they saw the “priests,” as though God was on their side.  Unfortunately, Hophni and Phineas did not know that they could not hide behind the Ark, and their days were numbered.

The battle’s outcome was that the Philistines prevailed over Israel, took the Ark of the Covenant, and Phineas and Hophni died on the same day.  The glory of God left Israel that day, and the evil “priests” were judged by God and recompensed for their actions.  Their judgment was death.  They discovered that their evil actions were seen and judged by God.  God can get those of His House in His House.  1 Peter 4:7 says:

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

Grievously, Eli, the priest, heard the bad news.  He did not react when he heard of the death of his sons because he had been told twice that they would die, once directly from God and again through Samuel, the Prophet.  But, when Eli heard that the Ark of the Covenant had been taken by the Philistines, at ninety-eight years of age, nearly blind and overcome with grief, he fell backward, broke his neck, and died.

Now, let’s bring this lesson home.  How does this story relate to us today?    2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV) states:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

1 Peter 4:17 tells us that judgment must first begin at the House of God.

 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

 Some unsaved people, even church leaders, live in open sin daily but never miss church service.   Like Phineas and Hophni, who tried to hide behind the ark, they attempt to hide behind their faithfulness to the church and their duties.  They don’t want God.  They want to look like they love God.  Do they realize that God sees and knows all?  Do they know God can get them, even in His House?  This lesson is especially applicable to those in leadership positions.  God requires Holiness of those who call themselves men and women of God.  We must do it right or get out of the way.  Jer. 13:26 says:

26 Therefore will I discover thy skirts upon thy face, that thy shame may appear.

Know this one thing:  God will show the unrighteous up!  We should all learn from the lessons of the Bible, such as the lesson concerning Eli, Hophni, and Phineas.  Yes, the unsaved should continue in their faithfulness to their church and to their duties in the church.  Why?  Because there is nowhere else in the world that true deliverance can be found.  Please keep going to church.  You’re in the right place for salvation in the House of God.  But you have to get delivered.  My closing words to those who are hiding from God in His house are these:

You’ve got your hips in the House,

Now, let your feet walk you to the altar

So that you can get Jesus in your heart.

Then, receive the Holy Ghost’s power

So that you can be the saved person you are pretending to be.

Don’t try to hide from God; hide in Him.

Repent quickly before your foot slides, and you wind up in a burning Hell.

Don’t be a Hophni, a Phineas or even an Eli.

God loves you, and He wants you saved.

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