The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 13. Inadequate Grace (2)
1 Sam 3:18 Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
Recap: We are considering two examples in the Old Testament that reveal a shortfall in understanding God’s grace by God’s people. The first one was Jephthah, a warrior, used to deal with enemy attack, but unfortunately extremely foolish in the way he tried to bribe God to be on his side, without realising He already was. This was in the early days of Israel’s life in the Land, in the day when judges ruled. We move on from that period until a little later when the leader of the people appears to be Eli the priest, by now an elderly man.
Eli: So what do we know about him? Yes, he was the priest who watched over the sacrificial system at the Tabernacle that was located at Shiloh (1 Sam 3:9) but the administration of the sacrifices were overseen by his two worthless sons (1:3, 2:12) who abused those who brought sacrifices (2:16) and slept with women who also served at the Tabernacle (2:22). Although Eli remonstrated with them they ignored him (2:23-25) and he failed to do anything about it.
A Corrective Word: Now a ‘man of God’ came and brought Eli a prophecy that challenged him over this behaviour (2:27-29) and then went on to bring a corrective word that said his family would be cut off and, specifically, his two sons would die on the same day (2:30-36). This word is reiterated when Samuel receives his first prophecy (3:11-14). Now we have to accept that that word included, “Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’” (3:14)
An Inadequate Response: When Samuel conveys this word to Eli, we find, “Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.” (3:18) Now that sounds very spiritual but I have already pointed out the Lord’s heart in respect of sin from Ezekiel: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked…. am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) I have to suggest that this is just giving up on life and failing to appreciate the grace and mercy of God. Eli is clearly an old man (2:22), with poor eyesight (3:2) and is heavy bodied (4:18) i.e. over-weight. It is perhaps easy to excuse him for he has allowed himself to deteriorate physically and spiritually, and morally in respect of his sons.
However, when you consider the words of the Psalmist, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree …. they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green,” (Psa 92:12-14) you realise what a sad person he has become. When Moses was confronted with failure in others of his people, again and again he fell on his face before the Lord and pleaded with God. We’ve already seen how he did that on Mount Sinai. What should Eli’s response have been here? To take leaders of the people, remove his sons from service and pray and fast and seek God for His mercy and a further opportunity. But he does none of those things, he simply acquiesces to the situation, submitting to it as if nothing can change.
The Grace of God: Yes, the warnings are out there. The word had come to Eli, “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained,” (2:30) and yes, it is a strong word of warning, but we have already been shown the bigger picture: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” (Ex 34:6,7) This is God who forgives wickedness – when there is repentance! He wants to see repentance; He doesn’t delight in the death of anyone – anyone! The disciples of Jesus got it wrong again and again, but their hearts were for God and received forgiveness and Jesus’ acceptance. Even Peter who denied Jesus three times, repents, and is made a key leader in the church. This is the grace and mercy of God. No, as we’ve noted before, he does not clear the guilty, pretending they are fine and, yes He will punish such people – unless they repent.
And Us? We cannot drive this point in strongly enough: we live in the light of the wonder of the Son of God dying for us, to redeem us. The picture is quite clear: “God so loved the world,” (Jn 3:16) that He sent Jesus for us. We are part of those all-encompassing words, ‘the world’. When we sin willfully and knowingly God holds us to account but the moment we confess and repent, He forgives and cleanses us from sin (1 Jn 1:9) and there is no sin too bad to be covered by the blood of Christ when there is true repentance.
God can declare His judgment, as we saw on Mount Sinai, but He is watching for our right response, He is watching to see our hearts turning to Him, pleading with Him, seeking forgiveness. Eli didn’t do that and when he heard of the death of his sons in battle, the shock made him start and fall backwards off his seat so his neck broke and he died. How tragic, how unnecessary. We perhaps need to see someone who did respond rightly to help this lesson be established in us, and that we’ll do in the next study.