Eli - The Failure of the Priesthood
William Trew, Cardiff
We continue to draw attention to the Historical Rooks because we believe that the neglect of their significant lessons helps to explain why so many seem unable to discern the import of present day trends.
The summary of Samuel’s faithful ministry (1 Sam. 7. 15-17) forms a very fitting conclusion to the first main section of this book, and points the way of blessing under the acknowledged rule of God. The priesthood was the normal channel of communication between God and His people, but when the priesthood failed, God called to office the prophet, through whom to speak with authority and power to their hearts. We have already observed that priestly ministry speaks of our sanctuary life of holy fellowship, so that the failure of the priesthood in Israel typifies failure on our part to maintain holy fellowship and vital contact with God.
In retelling the story of failure recorded in these early chapters, we would remind our readers of the words of the apostle, “These things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come” (1 Cor. 10. 11, R.V.).
1. The Causes of Failure.
The moral corruption of the two sons of Eli is described in detail in 1 Sam. 2. 12 and 22. It had already been laid down as a principle of approach to God, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me” (Lev. 10. 3). The contracting of defilement such as is here described, made priestly service impossible. The principle here exemplified is applied in a most striking way in the New Testament. “Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God” (James 4. 4, R.V.). How solemn it is that such words should be addressed to Christians! Unholy traffic with the world that has expressed in the plainest and most unmistakable terms its undying hatred of God and of Christ, is described as adultery. Fellowship with such a world is possible only when we have forgotten that at its door lies the guilt, as yet unavenged, of the murder of God's Son, our Saviour and Lord.
What we have seen above may help us to understand the significance of what must now be before us. These wicked priests were robbing God of His portion in the sacrifice, appropriating it for themselves in selfish indulgence. In the solemn charge to Eli (ch. 2. 27-36) the careful reader will note the use of the personal pronouns: “My Priest”; “Mine Altar”; “My sacrifice”; “Mine offering”; “My habitation”; “My people.” These expressions indicate plainly enough that the practical observance of God’s claims gives character to all true, priestly ministry. There are professing Christians whose ideas of “deliverance” are such, that the sacrifice of Christ is made an excuse for continuance in sin. This is surely to “rob God of His portion in the sacrifice.” The death of Christ was primarily for God. The perfection of all His attributes was revealed in that sacrifice by which sin was put away for ever. The unutterable hatefulness of sin was exposed in the outpouring of God’s wrath upon the Sin-bearer, while the infinite merit of the sacrifice covered the Throne of God with eternal glory. To realise this, and to share God’s appreciation of it, will teach us to hate sin, and to love holiness, by which the enjoyment of fellowship with God is conditioned.
2. The Consequences of Failure.
The immediate consequences are told us in ch. 3:
(a) “The Word of the Lord was precious” (v. 1). God was silent.
(b) “There was no open vision” (v. 1). No spiritual illumination.
(c) “Eli was laid down” (v. 2). No priestly energy.
(d) “His eyes began to wax dim” (v. 2). No spiritual discernment.
(e) “Ere the Lamp of God went out” (v. 3). Testimony feeble.
The picture is a sad one, but it is, in all its features, the inevitable consequence of failure in our life of fellowship with God. Men characterized by priestly energy, living in the sanctuary of the Presence of God, receive communications from God, and have God’s message for His people. But how seldom is God’s Voice really heard, even in these days of many and large gatherings and of much sermonizing! Those who are priestly, not in office only but in experience of God, bear before God the burden of the testimony. For lack of such men the lamp burns but dimly.
The more ultimate consequences were revealed when the people of God were arrayed against the Philistines (ch. 4). These were the bitter enemies of the testimony of God in Israel, and speak to us of the world of ecclesiasticism in its opposition to the people of God upon whom today comes the burden of responsibility to maintain that testimony in purity and power. It was inevitable that Israel should suffer ignominious defeat, because their confidence was in machinery instead of in God. There was an “IT” amongst them, but tire Presence of God was not there in power. How could it be? After the first defeat the people said, “Let us fetch the ark . . . when it cometh ... it may save us.” When it was brought “All Israel shouted with a great shout so that the earth rang again.” The Philistines were afraid and said, “God is come into the camp.” It had been good for Israel if it had been so; then they had been invincible. Instead, the Presence of God had been shut out of the camp, for the confidence of His people was in “IT” not in “HIM.”
The Ark of God was the Throne of God, symbolic of the rule of God in the midst of Israel. The lesson that this would teach is one that we should take to heart. In 1 Corinthians, the theme of which is Divine order for the local assembly of the saints, the Saviour’s title of Lordship is used no less than 68 times. That is surely because the assembly is intended to be a fellowship of those who, in devotion of heart, have yielded all to Christ. But is the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ only a doctrine with us? Or is it a living, practical reality? For doctrine held out of communion, be it held ever so tenaciously, is our sorest, severest condemnation. In our hands Divine things are so easily reduced to empty forms, and the Lordship of Christ becomes mere doctrine. Unless truth is vital in our souls and practical in our lives, “The Glory is departed”— “Ichabod” is written large. If, on the other hand, the truth of the Lordship of Christ is held in communion with God as a living, powerful idea, it will affect our every action. Its fruit will be seen in our lives individually in every sphere; the assembly will become a concentration of surrendered wills; and the Presence of God will again be manifested amongst us in glory and power.