SCRIPTURE: I Samuel 4-6 Luke 18:1-23
Ark of the Covenant
I Samuel 4:18 “When he mentioned the ark of god, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died for he was an old man and heavy. He had led Israel forty years.”
The fly leaf of my Bible has become a sort of traveling bulletin board. Whenever I have heard or read something that stuck to me, I wrote it down in the flyleaf of my Bible. Here’s one that I am sure I read in some of Jim Elliot’s writing. “When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.”
To be sure, life can become an accumulation of trash and trivia that needs on occasion to be sorted and discarded. What could be worse than coming to the end of a long life and be filled with regret. Will the grudges we hold matter at all when we come to the end of our fleeting lives? What a price one pays for the clenched fist of unforgiveness when it comes time to die.
Our text is a very succinct description of Eli’s life. We learn that this priest was old, he was obese, and he was full of anxiety. How is that for an obituary! Old. Obese. Obsessed.
The story of Eli has always caused a tug of sadness for me. What was this old man doing sitting by the side of the road anyway? At ninety years of age, why wasn’t he being taken care of by his family? After all, the ministry of Eli had touched the lives of several important people in significant ways.
Many years prior, God had promised that the family of Eli would be priests in the House of God forever. Eli’s post in Israel was distinguished. The stewardship of temple worship was solely in his hands.
It was Eli who assured Hannah that the child she desired would be born. That child was destined to become a great priestly judge in the nation. It was in the hands of Eli that Hannah placed her young son, Samuel, to be tutored in the life of Judaism. Young Samuel was taught by Eli the art of listening to the voice of God.
What could have led to this kind of death for a man of Eli’s prominence?
A closer look at Eli’s life reveals that the disciplines he was able to teach Samuel, had not been transferred to his own sons. Consider the description of these young men described in I Samuel 2:17.
“This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.”
While Eli disapproved of the behavior of his sons, he nevertheless failed to remove them from service at the altar. A verbal statement of disapproval was issued by Eli. Again, no attempt to remove them from their positions at the altar.
The wages of sin is always death, death to individuals and death to nations. Israel was weakened by weakness at the altar.
In I Samuel 2;30-32 a prophetic message was delivered to Eli. “Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel declares: ‘I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares, far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel in your family line there will never be an old man….”
Eli was never able to bring his sinful sons under subjection. His inexcusable casualness regarding the altar cost him and his nation a despicable price.
Israel found itself unable to manage an onslaught by the Philistines. In a desperate attempt to ward off their enemies, the Ark of the Covenant was dragged into the war. Surely, no one was about to destroy the Ark. However, the Ark was taken by the Philistines, resulting in a loss of thirty thousand foot soldiers. Samuel’s two sons, Hophni and Phineas, were among them. An agonizing father was sitting by the side of the road when he heart the awful news. Not only did he lose a lot of his army including his two sons, but the Ark of the Covenant which represented the presence of God, had also been captured. He lost his balance and fell backwards from the chair breaking his neck.
Thus this short obituary: Eli was old…He was heavy…He was anxious…He was dead.
Lesson to be learned from this reading? The management of ones life demands attentiveness to God’s wishes.