Text:1 Samuel 3:1-21
It is hard to really get a grip on poor old Eli. I guess the picture is just of a weak man in an office much bigger than he was. His kids ignore him and do despicable things. He assumes that drunk people normally stagger into the Tabernacle (Samuel’s mom), and quickly rushes to cover his mistake. He lives and works in the place of worship, is the chief worship leader, and yet the Word of the Lord was rare in those days.
In the Lutheran tradition we speak of Law and Gospel proclamation. The Law is what bring terror while the Gospel is God’s peace for us. I wonder if when Samuel told Eli what God said – that his house would be cut off – if Eli took that as law or as Gospel. If it was law you’d expect a personally pious man to repent and be grieved (think David when confronted by Nathan and Psalm 51). Proclaiming the law is tough and Samuel doesn’t have an easy first assignment – hence the hesitency and Eli’s insistence. Maybe for the first time in his life Eli is forcing “his son” and himself to do the hard thing. Eli’s response is – “It is the LORD, let him do what seems good to him.” I can’t help but think he took it as a Gospel proclamation – God would deliver his people from all of Eli’s faults. No tearing of the clothes. No sacrifices or attempts to save himself, his son’s and his line. But a sense of consigned happiness. The weight of it all, the office, the misbehavior, that lack of the Word, would be removed.
I can’t help but think of Eli as something of a symbol for much of our leadership both national and in families – too weak a people to carry out the duties assigned and expected. 40% of children in America are born outside of marriage. Fathers are too weak to accept the role their bodies signed them up for. Mothers too weak to admit picking poorly. Those parents bring up children who run loose and behave like Eli’s children with any amount of power. Religious leaders afraid of preaching and teaching the gospel with personal lives too screwy to do so effectively. And if they are too afraid and live like that, why should parents teach their own kids. Political and cultural leaders who behave as children and cry when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. But the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the Word of the Lord. So is our prayer – Lord reveal yourself again by your Word in our lives.