When we are first introduced to Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, we are told that they are “priests of the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:3). That sounds quite commendable on the face of it, but the next time we encounter them in this narrative they are referred to as “worthless men” who “did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12). A couple of examples are recorded to illustrate the depth of their depravity. First of all, though God has made generous provisions for the support of the priests, such allocations aren’t good enough for Hophni and Phinehas, which prompts them to extort from the people the best of the meat brought to them for sacrifice (vs. 13-17). Secondly, they are also committing fornication with “the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (vs. 22). How exactly did these apples fall so far from the tree?

Eli not only recognizes his sons’ practices as “evil dealings” (vs. 23), but he also scolds his sons for their infamous behavior (vs. 24). That, too, sounds admirable on the face of it, but that’s apparently all he does. In 1 Samuel 3:13, God says to Samuel, “And I declare to [Eli] that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming, and he did not restrain them.” Eli fails to uphold his duty as a father; consequently, his sons have no respect for him (1 Samuel 2:25b), and his household is cursed (1 Samuel 2:27-36; 4:1-22).

Though we know that Eli is a negligent father, we may wonder why such is the case. Perhaps Eli is preoccupied with his work as Israel’s judge (See 1 Samuel 4:18b). One too many fathers have no doubt allowed their careers to eclipse their children. Perhaps Eli is guilty of compartmentalizing his faith, leaving his sons with the impression that devotion to God is not necessarily an everyday, every-hour endeavor. On the basis of 1 Samuel 2:29, one could plausibly argue that Eli had turned his children into idols, preferring their praise over God’s. Whatever reason a father might give for his negligence might very well explain his behavior, but, as in the case of Eli, it will not exonerate him.

Today I will…meditate on the awesome responsibility of a father, and either praise God for my conscientious father or resolve to rise above the failings of my careless father.