Hophni, Phineas, & Samuel – 1 Samuel 2:12–3:21
Read the Passage: 1 Samuel 2:12-3:21
Sins of the Sons (2:12–26)
In Exod. 29:9 God had declared that Aaron’s descendants would always be priests before the Lord. Therefore, one would expect that Hophni and Phineas—the sons of Eli (who was himself a descendant of Aaron’s son Ithamar)—would succeed Eli in the priesthood. While some descendants of Eli would eventually minister before God, in explaining Samuel’s rise to the priesthood, the author of 1 Samuel documents Eli’s sons’ disqualification from ministry. Note that Samuel was a descendant of Aaron’s forebear Levi, thus qualifying him to be a priest (cf. 1 Chron. 6:33–38). The first sin mentioned is the gluttony of Hophni and Phineas. This is seen in their practice of taking meat from worshipers via a three pronged hook (cf. 1 Sam. 2:13–14). Such a practice shows discontentment with the portion of food that they would have received in accord with Deut. 18:3. Further, it is noted they forcefully took meat with fat on it from worshipers, which was a sin, for Lev. 7:31 specified that the priests were to burn the fat on the altar.
Right in the middle of the description of the sins of Eli’s sons, perhaps in order to foreshadow the hope that was to come in Samuel, the author reports Hannah’s continued care for her son, as well as her birth of five more children after Samuel. Beginning in 1 Sam. 2:22 the author describes a second sin of Hophni and Phinheas, which was that “they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (1 Sam. 2:22). It is unclear if these were prostitutes, tabernacle workers, or worshipers that the brothers seduced; yet, in any event, it was sinful. To his credit, when Eli was made aware of his sons’ actions, he warned them about God’s judgment (cf. 1 Sam. 2:23–25). From the later narrative, however, it is clear that Eli’s warning was just lip service (cf. 1 Sam. 2:29; 3:13). Because of their sins, “The Lord desired to kill them” (1 Sam. 2:25).
Rejection by God (2:27–36)
A second positive reference to Samuel is recorded at 1 Sam. 2:26, “Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and men” (cf. Luke 2:52). Following this, 1 Sam. 2:27–36 reports the prophecy of an unnamed man of God who spoke of judgment on the household of Eli. Interestingly, the unnamed prophet did not address Hophni and Phinehas, but Eli. In his prophecy the man of God identified Eli’s error as “honor[ing] your sons more than the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:29). The prophet then predicted two events that would come to pass. First, Eli’s two sons would die on the same day in the prime of their lives (cf. 1 Sam. 2:30–34). Second, the Lord would raise up a faithful priest “who shall do according to what is in My heart and mind” (1 Sam. 2:35). The fulfillment of this second prophecy came true in Samuel, Zadok, David, and eventually in Jesus Christ.
Calling of Samuel (3:1–21)
While it had previously been reported that Samuel was growing in stature, as well as in his knowledge of God (cf. 1 Sam. 2:26), it was still the case that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him” (1 Sam. 3:7). In the narrative it is recorded that as Samuel was lying down just before dawn, the Lord called to him (cf. 1 Sam. 3:3; Exod. 27:20–21; 30:8). While the text does not give the age of Samuel at this time, Jewish tradition holds that he was about twelve years old. Since he did not know God, and “the word of the Lord was rare in those days, there was no widespread revelation” (1 Sam. 3:1), Samuel did not recognize God’s call, even after it occurred three times. Logically, Samuel assumed that it was Eli who called, for there were likely no other candidates at the Temple who could have called.
The message that God delivered to Samuel was, “On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them” (1 Sam. 3:12–13). The next day Eli asked Samuel to report what the Lord had said, even pronouncing judgment upon Samuel if he failed to report all (cf. 1 Sam. 3:17). Upon hearing the prophecy, Eli simply resigned himself to God’s sovereignty. Of course, Eli was already aware of the coming judgment upon his family, for the unnamed prophet had delivered this message at 1 Sam. 2:27–36. Leaving, then, the account of Samuel’s upbringing, the author reports that Samuel was established as a prophet throughout all Israel (cf. 1 Sam. 3:20–21).
- What do you think it was like for Samuel to grow up in an environment with wicked older siblings, no mother, and a passive father-figure?
- Are the children of Christians more likely to become believers? What are parents responsible for in regard to the salvation of their children (cf. Eph. 6:4)?
- Are those in vocational Christian service held to a higher standard than others (cf. Jas. 3:1)? What disqualifies someone from vocational Christian ministry?
- How does the Lord call people to special ministerial service today? What does Paul mean in writing, “If a man desires the position of an overseer . . . .” (1 Tim. 3:1)?
- How can we explain Eli’s seeming resignation to God’s judgment upon his family? Was it too late for him to repent? Is it ever too late to repent?