Our Pages

The failures of Eli – Part 2

The failures of Eli – Part 2
Posted on June 11, 2021  - By Sherry Thomas

Last week, we asked the question: how could Eli miss the mark so badly as a parent that it provoked the Lord to wrath? This week, we explore the first of three failures that resulted in his downfall.

The ineffective parent is not necessarily the one whose kids have turned out “badly” — but rather the parent who has failed to lead well. Proverbs 22:6 states: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. The emphasis is placed on the process not the product. 

Eli’s sons were corrupt, so God judged them (1 Samuel 4:11). God also judged Eli — but not for his sons’ mistakes. God held him accountable for his own choices. 

How well are you leading those that God has made you steward over? Whether you are in a season of active discipleship or distant guidance, parents and mentors should be directing others back to God. Good leaders do not point to themselves as the ultimate authority, but always submit themselves in word and in deed to the Lord. 

Good leaders do not point to themselves as the ultimate authority, but always submit themselves to the Lord

Do you lead the ones the Lord has entrusted to you back to His Word or do you allow them to use you as their Holy Spirit? 

Model submission

As high priest over Israel, Eli held the highest position possible among God’s people. His job description included authority over all the priests in Israel, entrance into the Most Holy Place, and the ability to discern the will of God in specific situations. 

Yet, even with this much authority and privilege, the high priest’s role was not autonomous. God had given Moses detailed instructions on how the high priest was to serve Him. Unfortunately, though Eli had the knowledge and position, he lacked a heart that was in submission to the will of God. Without it, he was unable to lead others to the Lord. 

For whoever eats the fat of the animal by which men offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, the person who eats it shall be cut off from his people. Leviticus 7:25

In 1 Samuel 2:29, God pointed out that Eli and his sons were making themselves fat with the best of the people’s offerings. Later, at his death, Eli is described as old and heavy. 

Highlighting Eli’s weight seemed to indicate that Eli’s casual disregard for God’s portion of the offering was a lifestyle choice, rather than a moment of weakness. He had made a conscious decision to ignore a direct command from the Lord to satisfy his own desire. 

Ironically, Eli scolded his own sons for their adulterous acts, but by what authority did Eli determine which sins could be overlooked and which ones needed to be addressed? 

For who in the heavens can be compared to the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him. Psalm 89:7-8

Instead of pointing to God’s authority, Eli put himself in God’s place by putting emphasis on some of God’s commands and ignoring others altogether. However, his sons could not blame their disobedience on their father’s example because they also knew what God expected of them. 

Eli put himself in God’s place by putting emphasis on some of God’s commands and ignoring others altogether

Parents should always be the first to model reverence to the Lord until their children are able to make the spiritual connection. We do not wait to teach our children to bathe or brush their teeth until they can fully comprehend the importance of good hygiene.

The assumption is that understanding comes later and the benefit of bathing and brushing now far outweighs the harm associated with not doing either. God’s holiness should be approached in the same way. 

Teaching our children Biblical truths from an early age is essential in training children up properly. From their youth they should know that they are sinners, and that God is holy. They should be taught that God’s own Son Jesus Christ was sent into the world to save them because He loves them. 

Submitting to the Word

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). 

Christian parents sometimes unwittingly forbid their children from going to Jesus. Today, many children’s books based on the Bible have been simplified and reduced to a moral lesson. Other books take out the concept of sin altogether. 

For example, Genesis 6-8 is the story of an entire world full of wicked people that had become so sinful, God determined to drown every living thing on earth — save one man, his family, and an ark full of animals. 

Have you ever considered the danger of teaching children from a young age that Noah’s ark is about a giant boat with a family and a bunch of animals who miraculously survived a bad flood — versus a moment in time when Holy God was unwilling to ignore sin? What about the danger of painting Noah as a sinless man, rather than one who was shown grace by God? 

While there is room for children’s Bible story books (namely, those that stay faithful to Scripture), they should never be a substitute for the Bible. Understanding the Bible is not an academic exercise but the work of the Holy Spirit. 

Take your children to God’s Word, read it with them, explain what you can, and trust the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts in His time. “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer to any question your child may ask about the Bible. Model what it looks like to desire to understand God’s Word so much that you pray for deeper understanding and seek godly counsel. 

Understanding the Bible is not an academic exercise but the work of the Holy Spirit

Model repentance

Every time Eli had been confronted with his sin and his sons’ sins, he had been given a chance to change the trajectory of their lives. Every notification and confrontation could have resulted in a recognition of his own part in the problem. 

However, not only did Eli fail to repent, he seemed to fail to even consider if any blame belonged to him at all. Eli’s sons’ flesh-driven lifestyle was clearly a result of their upbringing, but Eli never seemed to take the onus and admit his own wrongdoing. 

One of the most fundamental ways a child can understand the gravity of sin is when they witness their own parents repent. A child whose parent cannot admit to wrongdoing will also find it more natural to explain away their sins, rather than confess them. 

Scripture tells us that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. Parents who cannot apologise to their child for a moment of impatience or apathy will confuse a child’s understanding that “none can stand righteous before God”.

Those who have been given others to guide must lead them to something greater than themselves. If you are leading well, you are not the final authority. God is the final authority. If you are leading well, you will not avoid or soften the difficult portions of Scripture but wrestle with them in those things. 

Lastly, if you are leading well, your child will not assume he or she is the only sinner in the household but will clearly understand that you both need the grace and mercy of God.

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.



Get a notification in your Inbox

A weekly brief of new resources and Scripture-based insights from our editorial team.