15 December 2009

God kills Eli's sons

There was an old priest name Eli, who had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Like Eli, his sons were priests, but they were bad priests who didn't know God, stole meat from burnt offerings, and had sex with women at the door of the tabernacle.
The sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD. 1 Samuel 2.12
If any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force. 2.16
Eli … heard all that his sons did … how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. 2.22
Eli talked to his sons about it and tried to get them to change their ways, but they wouldn't listen to him since God had already decided to kill them.
They hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them. 2.25
Before killing Eli's sons, though, God tormented Eli a bit. First, a "man of God" tells Eli that God will "consume his eyes" and "grieve his heart" and make sure that all of his descendants will die young.
A man of God ... said unto him, Thus saith the LORD ... I will cut off thine arm... There shall not be an old man in thine house for ever ... I shall ... consume thine eyes and ... grieve thine heart. 2.27-33
Then, just in case the first message didn't get through, God sends another one to Eli through the boy prophet, Samuel. It takes God three tries to deliver the message, but he finally does. And it's the same nasty message: God will make everyone’s ears tingle by punishing all of Eli's unborn descendants for the sins of his sons.
The LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken … I will judge his house for ever … because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. 3.11-13
Samuel delivers the message to Eli and he responds the way believers always do. (God can do whatever he wants -- however absurd, cruel, or unjust -- and they will call it good.)
It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good. 3.18
So now God had to figure out how he was going to kill Eli's sons.

And that's where the Philistines came in. God used them to kill Eli's sons, along with a 34,000 Israelite soldiers.

In the first battle, the Israelites lost 4000 men.
The Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men. 4.2
Which surprised the heck out of the Israelites, since God was supposed to be on their side.

So they went to get the ark of the covenant, figuring it would protect them from the Philistines.
When the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of … that … it may save us out of the hand of our enemies. 4.3
Along with the ark, they also got Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas.
So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD … and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 4.4
When the ark came to the Israelites’ camp, they all shouted at once, causing an earthquake.
When the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. 4.5
The earth shook so much that the Philistines felt it at their camp, and they knew just what it meant. God was with the Israelites and he was on their side.
The Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. 4.7
The Philistines had heard what God did to the Egyptians and they were afraid that now he’d do it to them. So they all said together: “Woe is us.”
Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. 4.8
Then they snapped out of it and started to act like Philistines, and killed another 30,000 Israelites.
The Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. 4.10
And, in the process, they also killed Eli’s sons.
The ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain. 4.11
Just as God said he would do in 1 Samuel 2.25 (I gave God credit for 34,002, 34,000 Israelite soldiers and Eli’s two sons: Hophni and Phinehas.)


Matthew Blanchette said...

Yes, Steve; they should be included.

When I was a child, I always thought God punished Eli because Eli was stupid; he kept thinking Samuel was an idiot until the third time he woke him up in the middle of the night (though, that's probably just Bible-logic in action). God's a nasty bastard, so, boof! Sons get killed, Ark gets captured, and Eli keels over and dies.

Oh, what a happy day it must have been for God, to make an old man die so horribly.

Brucker said...

Ah, I was wondering what the deal was with the numbering system.

Tough call; I think it's clear God was judging the Israelites for something, if only for using the Ark in an irreverent fashion. That being said, I'd go for a "yes" on the 30,000, but unsure on the 4,000 in the first wave. That may have just been bad luck. (Yeah, looking back, that's pretty much what I said when I covered chapter 4.)

twillight said...

Isn't this the 58th killing instead of the 55th?

Steve Wells said...


Yeah, in a way it should be the 58th killing (since it is the 58th that I've discussed at the blog), but since I'm trying to number them in the order that they occur (the Biblical order, anyway), it is the 55th.

I know it's a mess and it's an accounting nightmare for me, but I can't see any other way to keep track of things.

busterggi said...


Don't forget to count all those naughty priest's descendants.

Don't shortchange Yahweh.

skanksta said...

Seconding the 30,000 but not he first wave of four thousand.
It's not clear enough that they're yahweh's imo.

Steve Wells said...

I'm still not sure what to do with the 34,000 dead Israelites. Unlike Brucker and skanksta, I'm a bit more confident in ascribing the first 4,000 to God than the second 30,000. The Bible doesn't say that God was responsible for either killing, but it does say that the Israelites thought the first was God's doing.

I think if God hired a good Bible lawyer, she could make a fairly convincing case for "not guilty" for the deaths of the 34,000 Philistines. So I guess I'll let God off on those. (But he gets full credit for Eli's sons.)

Brucker said...

Well, if you're going to give credit for Eli's sons, you might as well toss in Eli himself, as well as his daughter-in-law. They're pretty much a package deal.

Anonymous said...

What is interesting to me is that these events were recorded for an example. The skeptic is torn between not acknowledging them as ever having taken place or that it is a pretty good idea not to mess with God. Eli and his sons and the Israelites and the Philistines should have known better. Especially the Israelites.

Steve Wells said...

Daystar: "The skeptic is torn between not acknowledging them as ever having taken place or that it is a pretty good idea not to mess with God."

I can't follow you here, Daystar. What are the two things I'm torn between?

Brucker: "you might as well toss in Eli himself, as well as his daughter-in-law.

Did God kill them too, Brucker? Where does the text say that?

Brucker said...

I tend to read 1Sam 2:33 as implying all the people in Eli's family (including Eli himself) died as a result of that curse.

busterggi said...

Absolutely include them!

Don't shortchange yahweh's bloodthirstiness.

Steve Wells said...

Yeah, you're probably right, Brucker. God probably killed Eli and his daughter-in-law, but the 1 Sam 2:33 isn't very clear about it. So I think I'll leave it off the list and just add a note about it.