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Failures of Eli — Part 4

Failures of Eli — Part 4
Posted on July 2, 2021  - By Sherry Thomas

Sometimes, it is the absence of a thing that highlights a problem.

As a mother of five, I have learned that when there is an unexplainable silence among the younger ones, it tends to be an indication that they are doing something they shouldn’t. When my usually playful husband is reserved and quiet, it tells me he might be angry or upset about something. Likewise, while reading through the life of Eli and considering his struggles with his children, it’s strange that there is no mention of him praying.

In this last post on Eli’s parenting, we will look at Eli’s failure to intercede for his sons. As high priest, it was part of Eli’s job to plead on behalf of Israel before the Lord. He was the only one that was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place and offer sacrifices for his own sin and the sins of the people. No one else had the privilege to enter this area of the tabernacle where the Lord would descend in physical form. 

However, even with unparalleled access to the Lord, there is nothing written about Eli praying for his sons. Though Scripture doesn’t have anything to say regarding Eli’s prayer life, it has plenty for us to consider as we pray for our own children. 

When rock bottom is an opportunity

On three different occasions, Eli was informed of the evil his sons were engaged in. 

  1. 1 Samuel 2:22 — The people told Eli that his sons were threatening violence and sleeping with the women at the temple.
  2. 1 Samuel 2:27 — God used an unnamed prophet to tell Eli that his family was about to face judgment because they dishonoured the Lord.
  3. 1 Samuel 3:12 — God used Samuel to detail God’s judgment against the house of Eli.

When the people came to Eli, he confronted his sons about their behaviour — but when the Lord came to Eli on two occasions through the prophets, Eli didn’t do anything. He didn’t confront his sons, and he didn’t beg the Lord for mercy. In fact, Eli’s response to Samuel carried a tone of resigned acceptance. “It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him” (1 Samuel 3:18).

It’s not uncommon when a situation seems hopeless for humans to retreat to a state of despair, apathy, or self-pity. “It’s too late”, “There is no hope now”, or “God has forgotten me” are tempting statements to meditate on when desperate — but what if each of Eli’s warnings were meant to be a call to prayer? 

What if each of Eli’s warnings were meant to be a call to prayer?

As an Israelite, Eli would have known its history. There were multiple occasions when God said He would judge people for their sin but later relented because of someone who prayed on their behalf. Eli would have known how Abraham pleaded on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah for his nephew’s sake (Genesis 18) and how Moses pleaded on behalf of the Israelites when they sinned (Numbers 14). In each of these situations, God’s mercy followed the prayers of an intercessor.

As the Lord allows your children or loved ones to hit rock bottom, will you see certain defeat or a call to prayer? 

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. Isaiah 59:1

When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to deliver you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? Isaiah 50:2a

Jesus was sent to save sinners. There is no one outside of the bounds of God’s saving grace, but first, we must be willing to admit there is a sin problem. 

Whether your child suffers because of circumstance or because of his own sin, consider the possibility that each painful revelation may be God’s reminder to pray, so that your intercession can become the eventual conduit for His saving grace. While our prayers do not guarantee a desired outcome, they can align our hearts with the Lord’s and give us understanding and peace in an otherwise hopeless situation. 

Intercede as a steward

Thy will be done. There is no harder prayer request for me to make concerning my children than, Thy will be done. If I’m being brutally honest, when I consider my kids, I want my will to be done. Like Eli, I know that God is in control (1 Samuel 3:18), but I struggle to give Him my blessing to carry out His will in His way when it comes to my children. 

Amazing prayer warriors have taught me the importance of fervently praying for my kids. There are aspects of their lives that I had never thought to pray for, but learned due to their example. Because of them, I pray for my kids’ health, academics, future spouses, friendships, salvation, spiritual walk, personality flaws, behavioural issues, struggles, etc. 

However, there is another dimension of prayer that is much harder to express. While many of us find it easy to let the Lord know what happy blessings we want for our children, we find it extremely difficult to ask the Lord what hard blessings He wants for them. Do we give God the freedom to let our children grow through pain and sorrow or are we indignant when the Lord allows them to learn through trials? 

While it’s easy to ask God for happy blessings for our children, it’s extremely difficult to ask what hard blessings He wants for them

He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom. And gently lead those who are with young. Isaiah 40:11

This is one of my favourite parenting verses for two reasons. On the one hand, I like being reassured that Jesus is ultimately taking care of my children. On the other hand, this verse serves as a gentle reminder that the lambs don’t belong to the sheep; they belong to the Shepherd. 

Parents have been given the gift of stewardship, not ownership, of their children. Just as parents belong to Jesus and are meant to fulfil His purposes, the same is true of our children. Are you faithful in your role as steward to submit to His will and provision for your children or will you attempt to limit them by doing what seems right to you? 

Unfortunately, Eli’s disobedience to the will of God led to the eventual destruction of his family. What would have been if he had asked the Lord to help him trust the provision God had already appointed for them?  

Where might you be stepping outside of your God-given role as a parent? If you suddenly realise that you have been reluctant to submit your children to Him, repent and ask for help. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) is a powerful prayer for those of us who want to trust Him, but don’t know how. Our doubts and worries neither offend nor surprise Jesus.

Call to prayer

As we wrap up this series on Eli’s parenting, it’s important to understand that what made Eli an ineffective — and even dangerous — father was His lack of dependence on the Lord. Eli disregarded God’s Word and he neglected to ask Him for help, even when he knew there was a problem with his sons. 

Biblical parenting is just as hard today as it was in Eli’s time, because it requires us to submit to God’s plan and way. Like Eli, we are also easily distracted by what we see which is why prayer is essential. When our children make bad decisions (because they will), we can acknowledge that God has revealed it to us so we can pray. 

When we pray, we can try to tell God what to do based on our own limited wisdom or we can acknowledge His sovereignty and ask Him to fix what is broken. Finally, we can limit our prayers to protection and success, or we can ask God to help us raise them up in the way that most glorifies Him. 

How would God describe your level of dependence on Him in this regard?

Sherry Thomas

About Sherry Thomas

Sherry Thomas describes herself as a late bloomer when it comes to being a child of God. She knew Jesus as her Saviour from a young age, but didn’t develop a passion for Him or His Word until well into adulthood. She is grateful for her husband with whom she shares five children, whom she homeschools. Sherry is active in women’s and children’s ministries at both her church and Bible Study Fellowship.



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