Why do you honor your sons more than me?
By all accounts, Eli was a kindly old man. He was a judge and the high priest during the closing of the period of the judges. Hannah brought her miracle child, Samuel, to live with Eli at Shiloh, where the Tabernacle was. Samuel ministered to the Lord with Eli and grew in stature and favor with the Lord. Eli’s two sons were a different story. Scripture plainly says they did not know God and behaved like it. Because of their birth into the priestly family, they served as priests, but not in an honorable fashion. They took portions of sacrifices not rightly theirs. In disobedience to specific Biblical command, they took portions before the sacrifice was properly offered to the Lord. Further compounding their sin was the fact that it was common knowledge that they took advantage of female servants at the Tent of Meeting. These worthless men refused to repent when the people pointed out their sin.
Word of his sons’ conduct came to Eli, who spoke with them. However, Eli spoke too gently; he failed to adequately confront them. Thus, they ignored him. As their father, Eli had the ability and authority to come down hard on these two wayward sons and put a stop to their evil ways. As judge and high priest, Eli could have done anything he pleased including calling on the rest of the nation’s resources to enforce his decree. Eli failed to do what was so desperately needed for their sake. The result was tragic for Eli, his sons, and the nation. Nonetheless, we can be sure: God will not be mocked. His judgement and punishment came swift and sure.
In 1 Samuel 2:29 God asked Eli, “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?” (NASU) I am sure that Eli was surprised by this question. I doubt if he ever considered that failing to discipline his children was honoring them above God. Surely, he thought he was being a good and loving parent. I have no doubt that he believed that he was doing the right thing. He tried to give them everything they wanted and shield them from all discomfort, didn’t he? When public pressure got strong enough, he spoke to them about their misbehavior, didn’t he?
In my many years teaching in public schools and pastoring, I have seen hundreds if not thousands of similar cases. Parents hear of misdeeds. Parents say please don’t do that anymore. And that’s the end of it. Children ignore the parents’ gentle pleas. The parents look the other way. The child’s behavior invariably gets worse. Tragically, families, churches, schools, towns, states, and the country suffer as a result. Failing to discipline children is bad parenting. It is the parent’s responsibility and duty to correct wrong behavior. If a gentle reminder is ignored, the parent must move on to more forceful methods. The parent must continue to increase the pressure of discipline until the child responds appropriately.
Please learn from the mistakes of Eli. Please correct the problem before it is too late for your children, our churches, our communities, our schools, our country. Don’t wait for the police to discipline your children. More importantly, don’t wait for the Lord to ask the question you really do not want to answer, “Why do you honor your child more than Me?”
Pastor Steve Ellison is the director of the Ouachita Theological Training Institute in Mena, Ark.