I was reading through the beginning of 1 Samuel with a friend yesterday, and I was amazed by how applicable these stories could be if I just meditated on them for a while. There’s the inspiration of the surrendering Hannah in chapter 1, who took joy in giving her child to God, and there’s the pointing to the Messiah in 2:25 and 2:35. But even more mind-blowing to me was the story of Eli.
To give some context, Eli was an old priest, and he had two sons who were very disobedient in their priestly jobs. So Eli confronted them and tried to reason with them, and just check out what the Bible says about his sons in the second part of 2:25. “But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.”
That’s insane. And that’s not all. In chapter 3, God appears to Samuel, a young boy at the time, and gives him a message. “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
That scared me out of my skin. God swore that the sins of Eli’s family would not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever. We often refer to Jesus as our substitutionary atonement. It seems pretty clear that this did not apply to Eli’s family. In other words, Eli’s family is going to hell. God swore it. And so I wonder, what would be the proper reaction to such a message from the Lord? Let’s look at what Eli did. Starting from v15…
“Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, ‘It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.’”
Eli’s response was, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” That is the true recognition of God’s sovereignty. Even when God has pitted it all against you, simply recognize that God is in control, and comply with his plan. If it is the Lord’s will, how can we run against it? How can we cry “injustice” into the face of the God of justice?
I’ve heard people say to me that they could never follow a God who condemns people to hell. But the issue isn’t God but us. God has told us in the Bible that he condemns people to hell. That’s been the case ever since the world began. The issue is whether or not we are going to follow such a God. If God told me somehow that my parents were going to hell, or if my brothers were going to hell, it would definitely be something I would wrestle with, but at the end of the day, I would have to admit, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” Does not Jesus say in Matthew 10:37, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”? It’s a hard truth, but Jesus asks for our all. Even if God’s good runs contrary to what we believe is good, it must pass. And we must watch it pass.