Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord. And the priests’ custom with the people was that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling. Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; and the priest would take for himself all that the fleshhook brought up. So they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Also, before they burned the fat, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who sacrificed, “Give meat for roasting to the priest, for he will not take boiled meat from you, but raw.” And if the man said to him, “They should really burn the fat first; then you may take as much as your heart desires,” he would then answer him, “No, but you must give it now; and if not, I will take it by force.” Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for men abhorred the offering of the Lord. (1 Samuel 2:12-17)
Israel during the time of the Judges was a land filled with chaos, rebellion, wars, and a world where everyone did what was right in their own eyes. No king ruled over the people and for many years a cycle of God’s wrath followed by deliverance by the Lord defined the early history of the people of God. During the final days of the judges, Eli was High Priest and his sons Hophni and Phinehas served as priests. Their gross misconduct disgusted the people with their bully tactics of forcing the worshipers to give them meat beyond what was prescribed in the Law of Moses. The Law defined the portion of the sacrifice that was to be given for the food of the priesthood but Hophni and Phinehas took more than the law allowed. They forced the worshipers to stop while the servant took the meat out of the pot with a fleshhook.
Eli served as High Priest for forty years and lived to the age of ninety-eight. However, he did not restrain his sons and while he admonished them for their wickedness, Hophni and Phinehas did not heed the voice of their father. The immorality of the two priests was so gross the scriptures describe how the sons were seducing the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle. This was a terrible time for the people of the Lord as those who were in the position of spiritual leadership were filled with corruption, wickedness, and bullied the people with their carnal demands.
The reason Hophni and Phinehas were corrupt is they did not know the Lord and had no respect for the Lord or the duties of priests of the Most High God. They treated the sacrifices of the Lord with contempt and abused their power. Life for the sons of Eli was filled with their desires and wants and no one was able to stop them. Their father’s pleadings fell on deaf ears. The people could not withstand them. It seemed hopeless. Then came the day Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. At the end of the first battle, four thousand men of the army of God lay dead in the field. Appealing to the elders of Israel, the Ark of the Covenant was brought from Shiloh by Hophni and Phinehas. When the people of Israel saw the Ark of the Covenant coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud it made the ground shake! They knew that victory would theirs against the Philistines. So the Philistines fought against Israel and thirty thousand soldiers of God’s army died by the hand of the Philistines. Included in the carnage were the sons of Eli who were guarding the Ark of the Covenant. Hophni and Phineas would no longer be a scourge among the people. The Philistines killed the sons of Eli and captured the Ark. When Eli heard the news he fell over backward and breaking his neck, died.
Bullies are those who believe they can run roughshod over others with impunity. Sadly, the sons of Eli abused their office as representatives of God for their own purposes. For a time they had free reign to do as they pleased. What they failed to understand is that their days of oppressing the people would come to an end by the hand of God. The Lord told Eli by the word of a man of God that his two sons would die on the same day. Hophni and Phineas died as determined by the counsel of God. In a field between Ebenezer and Aphek, two men felt their lives slipping away by the hand of a Philistine sword. They were no longer bullies but pitiful men moments away from meeting the Lord God Almighty. When they stood before the Judge of all men they would not demand anything but eternal grace and mercy and find none. The days of their bully tactics came to an end.
The remarkable conflict of a man is to think he is the most powerful being on the planet. Many abuse their positions, their power, and their wills upon others. They will be able to subdue their victims for a time but when death calls these despots will come to know a power so great they cannot fathom its breadth. Hophni and Phineas were priestly bullies abusing their power as spiritual leaders of the people. Their reign of terror ended as all plans of men will come to naught. The greatest need of the world is for all men to realize how great and powerful the Creator of the world is and how all that has the breath of life will one day stand before one throne and be judged. Bullies are misguided and misinformed. God is not.