At church last week, the preacher was preaching about I Samuel 3, in which God calls the child Samuel at night.
The preacher said that the high priest Eli failed to rebuke his two
sons, Hophni and Phinehas. According to I Samuel 2, Hophni and Phinehas
kept the best part of the sacrifices for themselves, taking it by force
if they deemed that necessary. They also slept with women at the door
of the Tabernacle. Although Eli actually does rebuke his sons in that
chapter, they do not listen to him, and God through a prophet accuses
Eli of honoring his sons ahead of God and of making himself fat with
The preacher was saying that we ourselves may need to rebuke people
who are closest to us, otherwise God will punish us along with them. Or
he said something like that: his point may have been that we may suffer the consequences of the sins of the people closest to us.
Yet, the preacher also commended Eli, for all of Eli’s flaws. The
preacher said that Eli did not take himself too seriously when God
called Samuel. Eli was not upset that God called Samuel instead of
him. Eli wanted Samuel to be receptive to God’s voice, and Eli wanted
to know what God said.
The preacher also said that God does not just want to be heard, but obeyed.
Here are some thoughts:
A. There may be cases in which rebuke is necessary. But suppose
that people close to us are not Christians, or adhere to other religious
practices? Should we continually rebuke them for that, in fear that
God will punish or withhold favor from us if we fail to do so?
In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to kill close
family members who recommended the worship of other gods (Deuteronomy
13:6-11). And a single sinner in the community could bring down others,
even the innocent. Consider the case of Achan in Joshua 7! Achan’s
sin caused Israel to lose a battle, and God was appeased when Achan and
his household were stoned (or so many interpret vv 24-25). At a church
that I attended over a decade ago, that actually scared the pastor, for
he thought that God still may operate that way!
That was how God operated in Old Testament times with Israel, which
was a covenant community under the authority of God. Does God still
operate that way in New Testament times? Two New Testament passages
come to mind.
First, there is I Corinthians 7:14-15: “And the woman which hath an
husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let
her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the
wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were
your children unclean; but now are they holy” (KJV).
In some manner, the believing spouse sanctifies the unbelieving
spouse and the children of the household. Here, at least, the sinners
are not contaminating everyone else, but the believer is sanctifying
others through his or her presence.
Second, there is I Peter 3:1-2: “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection
to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may
without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they
behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear” (KJV).
Leaving aside the question of what “subjection” to husbands means and
whether that is a fair or positive organization of the household, the
passage does offer insight about how believers can approach the
unbelievers in their lives: by living a virtuous life. I Peter does not
tell believers to nag or to rebuke continuously the non-believers in
The Old Testament was one nation under God, and everyone was part of
the covenant and obligated to keep it. In the New Testament, by
contrast, a number of Christians found themselves married to
non-believers, and they wanted to know how to behave in that situation.
All of that said, the prospect of believers having a patronizing
attitude towards non-believers in their lives does repel me. I should
be an example to the non-believers in my life? They are an example to
me! They are stronger and more virtuous than me, in many cases!
I also have problems rebuking people over their religious beliefs, or
lack thereof. Religious beliefs are personal, they cannot be forced,
and they seem to me to be matters of taste and opinion (but evidential
Christian apologists will probably disagree with me on that, thinking
Christianity has an evidential basis).
B. According to the preacher, Eli failed to rebuke his sons
sufficiently, and yet Eli deserves credit for not taking himself too
Could those two personality traits actually go together? Maybe Eli
was a passive, laid-back man. That would lead him to tolerate his sons’
sinful behavior, but it would also influence him not to take himself
too seriously and to let someone else share the stage. Our temperament
can contribute to our strengths and weaknesses!
On the other hand, Eli’s attitude towards God was arguably
contradictory. Eli wanted to know what God had to say and had reverence
for God. Yet, Eli did not respect God enough to stop his sons’
behavior, and Eli even profited from it by becoming fat off the
sacrifices. Eli may have meant well, but he was rather weak, or he was
unwilling to follow through on his commitment to God where it mattered.
I have difficulty condemning Eli for this, but many in society judge
those who are weak or fearful.
C. The preacher said that God not only wants to be heard, but also
obeyed. Obedience is a concept that troubles me, since I am imperfect
when it comes to living God’s standards. But the preacher makes sense:
God’s word is brought into the realm of real life, and has its effect,
when it is obeyed.