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The sin of Eli

As we drill into 7 different sins from parents in the Bible, I hope that these will serve as guard rails for us as we raise our children not to make us feel weighed down, but rather to free us to do what is right without caring what others think about our decisions because we are seeking to follow God’s leading in the way we raise our children.

Eli was the high priest – an important man in his time. It appears he was respected and his office as high priest was valued by much of Israel, but as a parent he sinned. What was his sin and how can we make sure we don’t fall into the sin of Eli?

Eli’s sons’ sin

Eli’s two sons were stealing from the sacrifices that people were bringing to the Lord. As priests they had every right to take the sacrifices – this was part of their support for doing the Lord’s work, but the Lord had laid down requirements.

The most important was that they should not eat the fat or blood of the offerings.

‘And the priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast shall be Aaron’s and his sons’. Also the right thigh you shall give to the priest as a heave offering from the sacrifices of your peace offerings. He among the sons of Aaron, who offers the blood of the peace offering and the fat, shall have the right thigh for his part.’ Leviticus 7:31-33.

Yet Eli’s sons despised the word of God, and treated as normal that which was holy. Their attitude was against the Lord, their role as priests and Israel as a whole. They threatened to take the sacrifices by force and stole offerings to the Lord for themselves.

1 Samuel 2:12 introduces their sin by saying: ‘Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord.’ 1 Samuel 2:17 summarizes their sin as follows: ‘Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord.’

So, Eli’s sons sinned. But how did Eli respond?

Eli’s response

Eli cautioned his sons. He heard what they were doing and told them to stop. He warned them but he did not intervene.

1 Samuel 2:24-25

No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people transgress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” Nevertheless, they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lord desired to kill them.

At this point it looks like Eli’s children are the ones who should be judged (and they will be). But God tells Eli, he will be judged too!

‘Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honour your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?’ 1 Samuel 2:29

What was Eli expected to do? Eli had not joined in with their sin. He had not encouraged their sin. He had even spoken out against their sin. At this point his sons were adults, they had to be responsible for their own actions, surely? Why is this laid at the feet of Eli?

Answer – more than simply talk to them. He should have acted. As the high priest he should have removed them from the priesthood for their attitude. As a father he should have intervened to train his children in the way they should go.

Discipline your children

When we discipline our children, we must follow through or else we are in danger of falling into the sin of Eli.

When we fail to discipline our children, we are not sparing them pain, we are causing them, and those around them, pain for their future. As Proverbs 25:28 says, ‘Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls.’ By discipling our children we help them to grow in self-discipline.

Consistent discipline, with follow through is hard work, but it is part of the work of parenting.

This begins at a very young age. When children are toddlers, they may ask for a cookie. Sometimes we will say yes, sometimes we will say no. (If we never say no, two things are in danger of happening – they never learn to curb their desires and become like a city broken down without walls and they will only eat cookies!)

So, sometimes we will say ‘No’ – it’s too close to dinner, or not until you’ve eaten your vegetables or not for breakfast.

This is as far as Eli went with his sons. He told them to stop. But when they didn’t he failed to act.

Follow through on your discipline

The response from our children will differ depending on personality and previous experiences. For many toddlers this will lead to them asking again more politely with cute eyes looking at you. Others will try the tantrum technique. Either way, at this point it is easy for us as parents to give in and to give up, but we mustn’t. To do so would be to risk replicating the sin of Eli.

Eli should have followed through and so must we. A firm ‘No,’ and then putting the cookies in a high cupboard will often suffice. This does involve us getting up even when we are tired. An ignoring of a tantrum, while you get on with other things helps them learn that you mean what you say. Anything that makes clear that this behaviour is not acceptable.

As children grow older, we have a responsibility to continue to train them. For many families the use of electronics is a clash point. It is easy for us as parents to give up and let them carry on. Sure, we may comment to our friends, ‘I don’t’ like the amount of time they spend online,’ but we do not tackle the issue head on.

We’ve found the best time to tackle issues is not in the middle of a situation, but in a calm conversation afterwards. When our teens have space to think about what is right, they will often choose the best decision. We can then agree boundaries and consequences for failure to keep the boundaries.

When we discipline our children, our attempts must not be feeble but effective. There are many tools in our armour that we can use to help our children. Sanctions, such as being sent to bed early or losing time on electronics are a great way to follow through on a message if our children refuse to listen to our words alone.

We’re not doing this for our sake – we are doing it for their sake. That they will learn to manage their lives.

Remember holy things are holy

Ultimately the greatest sin of Eli’s sons was their attitude to the Lord. If we notice this kind of attitude in our children, it is something we must not ignore. To do so would be to be guilty of the sin of Eli. We cannot say, ‘it doesn’t really matter, as long as they grow up kind.’ We must cry out to God for our children and speak to them about their attitude.

We have had adults come into our house who have blasphemed repeatedly. They were professing Christians. To begin with we were shocked but as time went on we were grieved. Ultimately it reached the point where we could not keep silent any longer. Not for our sake, but for theirs. When we spoke to them about it they denied that they had blasphemed so we agreed to point out to them each time they used God’s name in vain. 20 minutes and 5 slips of blasphemy later they had no doubt and had to repent. Had we kept silent with our brothers and sisters in Christ we would have been guilty of the sin of Eli.

Indeed, I would take this a step further and encourage our children to see as holy the things that are holy, not allowing them to mock the things of God. This does not mean you can’t laugh at funny things in church. It does mean that you draw a distinction between this and laughing at the things of God.

With much emphasis on the love of God it is easy to forget that the Lord is also righteous and holy – the judge of all the earth.

God’s word is holy. God’s name is holy. God’s kingdom is holy. God will not be mocked. We have a duty as parents to speak to our children about the honour of worshipping the Lord and the importance of honouring Him in every detail of our lives.

Let’s avoid the sin of Eli and instead discipline our children promptly, consistently and effectively; instilling in them the fear of the Lord.

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