The Signs of the Times


December 1, 1881

The Sons of Eli


As the sons of Eli advanced to manhood, and entered upon the duties of the priesthood, the evil effects of their early training became more apparent. Though engaged in so important and sacred a work, they were “sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord.” From childhood they had been familiar with the solemn, impressive services of the sanctuary. They had been faithfully instructed in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. Intellectually, they had a knowledge of God; but their hearts had never yielded to the influence of divine grace. They loved not God's character or his requirements. ST December 1, 1881, par. 1

Had these youth improved the privileges granted them, they might have become men of both intellectual and moral power. A faithful obedience to God's requirements will have a surprising influence to elevate, develop, and strengthen all man's faculties. Those who have in youth devoted themselves to the service of God, are found to be the men of sound judgment and keen discrimination. And why should it not be so? Communion with the greatest Teacher the world has ever known, strengthens the understanding, illuminates the mind, and purifies the heart—elevates, refines, and ennobles the whole man. “The entrance of Thy word giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.” ST December 1, 1881, par. 2

Among the youth who profess godliness, there is a large class who may seem to contradict this statement. They make no advancement in knowledge or in spirituality. Their powers are dwarfing, rather than developing. But the psalmist's words are true of the genuine Christian. It is not, indeed, the bare letter of God's word that gives light and understanding; it is the word opened and applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit. When a man is truly converted, he becomes a son of God, a partaker of the divine nature. Not only is the heart renewed, but the intellect is strengthened and invigorated. There have been many instances of persons who before conversion were thought to possess ordinary and even inferior ability, but who after conversion seemed entirely transformed. They then manifested remarkable power to comprehend the truths of God's word, and to present these truths to others. Men of high intellectual standing have considered it a privilege to hold intercourse with these men. The Sun of Righteousness, shedding its bright beams into their minds, quickened every power into more vigorous action. ST December 1, 1881, par. 3

God will do a great work for the youth, if they will by the aid of the Holy Spirit, receive his word into the heart, and obey it in the life. He is constantly seeking to attract them to himself, the Source of all wisdom, the Fountain of goodness, purity, and truth. The mind which is occupied with exalted themes, becomes itself ennobled. Those who profess to serve God, and yet make no advancement in knowledge and piety, are Christians only in name. The soul-temple is filled with desecrated shrines. Frivolous reading, trifling conversation, and worldly pleasure, occupy the mind so completely that there is no room left for the entrance of God's word. Worldliness, frivolity, and pride take the place which Christ should occupy in the soul. ST December 1, 1881, par. 4

To fix the heart's best affections upon any finite object, any earthly good, degrades the soul and weakens the intellect. God alone is worthy of man's supreme devotion. The individual whose heart is placed on worldly gain becomes covetous, selfish, and even cruel, in his efforts to amass wealth. Living for himself, he becomes narrow-minded. All his thoughts and feelings are absorbed in promoting his own interests. Mind and heart are dwarfed to meet his low standard of excellence. ST December 1, 1881, par. 5

Those who seek as their chief good the indulgence of appetite and passion, are never good or truly great men. However high they may stand in the opinion of the world, they are low, vile, and corrupt in God's estimation. Heaven has ordered that the mark of their depravity shall be written upon their very countenance. Their thoughts are of the earth, earthly. Their words reveal the low level of the mind. They have filled the heart with vileness, and well-nigh effaced therefrom the image of God. The voice of reason is drowned, and judgment is perverted. Oh, how is man's entire nature debased by sensual indulgence! When the will is surrendered to Satan, to what depths of vice and folly will not men descend! In vain does truth appeal to the intellect; for the heart is opposed to its pure principles. ST December 1, 1881, par. 6

Eli's sons chose the false, the sensual, the debased, instead of the true, the pure, and the holy. Thus they became sons of Belial,—children of Satan. Standing, as they did, in sacred office, the chosen exponents of the divine will, mediators between a holy God and repentant sinners, the course of these wicked men brought temptation upon all Israel. Again the faith and devotion of the people were tested. Those who had cherished iniquity in their hearts, were inclined to unite with these vile men; and many excused their own sins, because those in high position led the way in transgression. ST December 1, 1881, par. 7

The typical service was the connecting link between God and Israel. The sacrificial offerings were designed to prefigure the sacrifice of Christ, and thus to preserve in the hearts of the people an unwavering faith in the Redeemer to come. Hence, in order that the Lord might accept their sacrifices, and continue his presence with them, and, on the other hand, that the people might have a correct knowledge of the plan of salvation, and a right understanding of their duty, it was of the utmost importance that holiness of heart and purity of life, reverence for God, and strict obedience to his requirements, should be maintained by all connected with the sanctuary. ST December 1, 1881, par. 8

The Lord had, through Moses, given the most explicit directions concerning the sacrificial offerings. But selfish, avaricious priests, to serve their own interests, had departed from these instructions. The sacrifice of the peace-offerings especially, which were made as an expression of thanksgiving to God, and were presented in great numbers when the people assembled at the annual feasts, afforded a favorable opportunity for unscrupulous priests to enrich themselves at the expense of the people. The Lord had directed that the fat of the peace-offering should be burned upon the altar as a type of the great Sacrifice; a specified portion, the breast and the right shoulder, with some minor parts, were given to the priest as his perquisite; the remainder was to be eaten by those who brought the offering. ST December 1, 1881, par. 9

Infinite wisdom had foreseen that the clamors of appetite, and a covetous desire for gain, might lead the priest to appropriate to himself the sacrifices solemnly devoted to the Lord. That there might be no room for confusion or misunderstanding, the most exact and minute directions had been given. ST December 1, 1881, par. 10

Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, disregarded the laws of the sanctuary more boldly than had any of their predecessors. While they arrayed themselves in the sacerdotal garments and ministered before the Lord, they cared only for the gratification of their own debased appetites and passions. The priests not being content with their rightful share of the peace-offerings, it had become customary for one of their servants to come while the offerers were cooking their portion in some apartment adjacent to the sanctuary, and to carry away whatever could be taken up with the flesh-hook. The great numbers of sacrifices offered, made this a considerable addition to the priest's perquisite. ST December 1, 1881, par. 11

But even this departure from the Lord's commands failed to satisfy Hophni and Phinehas. They desired the fat, which the Lord had expressly stated should never be eaten, but burned on the altar as an offering to himself. As they had learned to despise the authority of their father, they now despised the authority of God, and sent their servants to demand the flesh of the peace-offerings before the fat had been separated from it. When the offerer remonstrated, “Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth,” the answer was, “Nay, but thou shalt give it to me now; and if not, I will take it by force.” The people stood in awe of the priests, and submitted to their unlawful claims, robbing themselves of their rightful share of the offering. Thus, appetite, selfishness, and avarice triumphed, exerting their evil influence upon the people at the very time when every heart should have been directed in penitence and faith to the great Sacrifice which was to take away the sins of the world. These things had a telling influence upon the people, and they were fast losing all sense of the sacredness of the sacrificial offerings, and of the importance of attending upon the services of the sanctuary. ST December 1, 1881, par. 12

The recreant priests added licentiousness to the dark catalogue of their crimes; yet they still polluted by their presence the tabernacle of the Lord, and, laden with sin, dared to come into the presence of a holy God. As the men of Israel witnessed the corrupt course of the priests, they thought it safer for their families not to come up to the appointed place of worship. Many went from Shiloh with their peace disturbed, their indignation aroused, until they at last determined to offer their sacrifices themselves, concluding that this would be fully as acceptable to God, as to sanction in any manner the abominations practiced in the sanctuary. ST December 1, 1881, par. 13

The worship which Jehovah himself had ordained was despised and neglected because associated with the sins of wicked men. This was a critical time for the people of God. Ungodliness, profligacy, and even idolatry prevailed to a fearful extent among them. And where now was the priest and judge of Israel? Eli was not ignorant of the course pursued by his sons. Faithful men, who mourned over the corruption of the priesthood, presented the matter in its true character before him. The indignation of the people had been aroused, and complaints were coming to him from every side. He had passed over these transgressions till he dared remain silent no longer. But the aged father still manifested the same partiality which he had ever shown his wayward sons. He took no decisive measures to bring them to justice, but mildly remonstrated with them, as with persons of tender conscience, who had for once fallen under temptation: ST December 1, 1881, par. 14

“And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear; ye make the Lord's people to transgress. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him? ST December 1, 1881, par. 15

Eli had long known that his sons were not what God would have them. He knew that they did not give to Israel an example worthy of imitation. But he was growing old, and the burden of official care rested heavily upon him. Some one must assist him in bearing this responsibility. Should he deal justly with his sons, they would be speedily rejected from the priestly office, and punished with death. He dreaded thus to bring public disgrace and condemnation upon them. By passing over their crimes again and again without punishment, his own abhorrence of sin was lessened, and in his efforts to shield them, he became accessory to their guilt. ST December 1, 1881, par. 16

God held Eli, as priest and judge of Israel, accountable for the moral and religious standing of his people, and in a special sense for the character of his sons. The most severe punishment should have been meted out to them, as due the insulted honor of God, and as needful to counteract the influence of their daring sacrilege and gross immorality. Well had it been for Eli and for all Israel, had the high priest manifested such zeal for the honor of God, and such a desire to avert his wrath, as had been shown by the tribe of Levi in slaying the worshipers of the golden calf. On that occasion the priests at God's command executed justice upon the leaders in transgression, without regard to rank or kindred. Those who faithfully performed this painful duty, were approved and honored of the Lord. ST December 1, 1881, par. 17

Had not Eli's love for his wicked sons surpassed his zeal for the honor of God, he would have pursued a similar course. He should have exercised his authority to repress crime and uphold righteousness, thus saying to all Israel, “Sin is sin, even if found in the sons of the high priest; and although a most painful duty devolves upon me as a father, God shall not be dishonored by my sons before the people. Holiness and iniquity shall not be confounded in the minds of Israel, because men in high position dare to sin.” But the aged priest loved ease and peace, and rather than endure the pain and strife of meeting and resisting wrong, he remained silent, and suffered the work on iniquity to go on and the clouds of divine wrath to gather above a guilty nation. ST December 1, 1881, par. 18