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Eli's House Cut Off

Scripture - 1 Samuel 2:12-36
Psalters - 278, 398, 360, 213



Eli honored his sons above God according to verse 29. This passage ought to cause all of us, especially fathers, to shudder. The result of Eli's faithlessness as a father was that God cut off his house. God judges those who depart from the path of obedience. The word of God in His law is true: "I the Lord God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." 

In the face of this dark and terrible reality, God also here testifies of His covenant faithfulness toward His remnant. God will take from unfaithful parents the privilege of having the covenant continued in their generations, but God's covenant will not fail. God's covenant is not dependant upon the faithfulness of the people, not even of the leaders. God will maintain His covenant on the basis of the cross of Jesus Christ. God's covenant will be maintained in the way of obedience, not on the basis of obedience. Despite the sins present among the leaders in Israel, Jehovah God would preserve His people and would raise up a faithful priest to do according to His will (verse 35).

You parents here who have stood before the baptism font have vowed to raise your children in the fear of Jehovah, according to the doctrines of Scripture, as taught in this Christian church. You have pledged before God to maintain your part of the covenant. God takes serious your pledge. Should you fail to rear your child in the truth of God's Word, you have no reason to expect God's blessing on your generations. On the contrary, you have every reason to fear God's judgment in your generations. Eli failed in his responsibilities as Father. He esteemed his sons above God. He did not want to offend his sons. The result was that he committed a far greater offense - He offended the living God.

We do not judge the eternal destiny of Eli. He was a godly priest, and we have no reason to doubt that Eli was forgiven and went to heaven. But he suffered the consequences of his parental negligence as his house was cut off from the priesthood.


Eli was of the priestly house of Aaron (I Samuel 2: 27,28). According to I Chronicles 24:1 Aaron had four sons- Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Nadab and Abihu were killed by the Lord for their offering of strange fire on God's altar. Numbers 3:4 and Leviticus 10 record this incident which occurred in the wilderness of Sinai. Nadab and Abihu were cut off to such a degree that they had no offspring that survived. The line of the priesthood of Aaron was continued through his other two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar. 

After the death of Aaron the high priestly office was filled by Eleazar, but later was transferred, for a reason not revealed, to the house of Ithamar. Eli was a descendant of Ithamar. I Chronicles 24:4 records that there were 16 sons of Eleazar and 8 sons of Ithamar. The line of Eleazar continued through Zadok, the faithful priest, unbroken till the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, according to prophecy, was not a priest after the order of Aaron, but rather a priest after the order of Melchizedek, testifying of Christ's eternal priesthood. God preserved only one line faithful through the generations. 

Our text conveys the reason why the line of Ithamar was cut off. "I will cut of thine arm, and the arm of thy Father's house" (I Samuel 2:31). God's anger is expressed toward both Eli's household and his descendants, as well as against the whole of his father's household, all Ithamar's seed. There is scriptural ground for understanding Eli's father's house as going all the way back to Ithamar, and including all the descendants of Ithamar. 

The house of Ithamar was considerably smaller than that of Eleazar. The curse of God was operative throughout the seed of Ithamar. Eli's cousins were in active service in Shiloh and later at Nob. Both of these groups were also involved in disobedience to God and experienced God's judgment. Bible history records the house of Eli and Ithamar being cut off completely. I Samuel 4 records that Eli's two sons were killed in battle. After Eli's death the Philistines came to Shiloh and murdered the priests, all descendants of Ithamar serving under Eli, who was the high priest. Psalm 78 speaks of this massacre in verse 60 and 64: "So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men. . . Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation." Ahitub, the brother of Ichabod, son of Phinehas is read of in I Samuel 14:3

The next slaughter was by Saul in his frenzy after David had been given the show bread by priest Ahimelech, Eli's great-grandson, in Nob (I Samuel 21, 22). Saul was furious and he commands the high priest and his colleagues to answer to the charge of conspiracy against the king. Doeg the Edomite killed 85 of the priests, then went to Nob and killed everything that breathed. Only one escaped, Abiathar, who went with David. But later on when David was old this Abiathar and his son Ahimelech supported Adonijah who wanted to be king, and Solomon thrust Abiathar out. We read at that time in I Kings 2:27 - "So Solomon thrust out Abiathar from being priest unto the LORD that he might fulfil the word of the Lord which he spake concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh." 

The priesthood of Shiloh was an unfaithful priesthood. It would seem quite remarkable if only Eli's sons were involved in wickedness. The other priests were involved in the same corruption and they were unwilling to condemn the two priests. The priesthood of Ithamar was permitting the priests to do with Israel's sacrifices as they pleased. The curse of God upon Eli, therefore, was also on his father's house, the house of Ithamar, and involved the entire house being cut off from the position of high priest and priest in Israel.

We read here God's word concerning this disobedience: "The man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart" (I Samuel 2: 33). Those who would be allowed to live would be a disgrace and source of continual grief. They would plead to be priests merely in order to be fed (verse 36). Their heart would be motivated by selfishness, and not at all by love for God. Eli would be the last of the faithful priesthood from Ithamar. There would be no organized priesthood again after Eli, and certainly not after the slaying of the priests at Nob. Eli's house was cut off.


Verse 29 reads: "Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering." The sons of Eli had little regard for the regulations of the law. The first perversion was that they did not handle and divide the meat of the sacrifice properly. Leviticus 7:29-34 was very explicit about how the meat was to be handled. The fat was to be burned while the breast and right shoulder were to be given to the priest after they were roasted on the altar. The sons of Eli, however, had no regard for the law. Hophni and Phinehas looked upon the sacrifices not as a means of worshiping God, but as something which was there for their own personal use and pleasure. They would boldly take anything they wanted by thrusting their three-pronged fork into the meat (I Samuel 2:14). This was a blatant disregard for God's commandments. 

As time went on they became more bold and began to send their servants to those who came to sacrifice even before the sacrifice was brought to the altar (verse 15). The servants would cut the choice portions off the animals before the animals were offered up. This meant that when the sacrifice was brought to the altar, it was only partially there- it was mutilated. This went against all the rules of the sacrifices. The sacrifice had to be brought to the Lord unbroken and unmutilated. For Hophni and Phinehas it was of real advantage to take the meat when still raw so that it could be sent to the marketplace and sold, the money their own. They became so bold that they started to take meat by force. The whole spirit of worship was destroyed. Understandably, sensitive believers turned away in disgust. 

Finally, it became known that these men were seducing and committing immoral acts with some of the women who came regularly to help in the service of the tabernacle. This is mentioned in verse 22. The tabernacle of God was beginning to resemble the pagan temples. The sons of Eli had corrupted the true worship of Jehovah. 

One would expect that Hophni and Phinehas would have gone out of their way to keep their father ignorant of these things. They may have tried at first, but then they became bold, as is always true of sin. The sins were so blatant that they could not be hid, even from their aged and perhaps naive father. Eli learned what was going on. He realized how serious their sin was and it hurt him more than anything else he experienced. Eli was a true child of God and was not indifferent to such wickedness, especially when it came from his own sons. Eli said in verses 23-25 - "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 intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them." 

God directs his words of rebuke toward Eli. Eli was at fault before God. What he said to his sons was true. The sins they committed were of the most serious sort. They were sinning against God. Eli made clear the serious nature of their sins, then dismissed them to their duties again. Eli's sin was a failure to discipline his sons. This was a sin typical of Israel through the period of the Judges and later again after the time of the captivity. Eli knew the difference between good and bad and taught his sons, but did not go further. He did not punish them! You may argue, but the passage does not say that. It may be that he did punish them, but you know what these sons needed: they had to be thrown out of the tabernacle! No strange fires may be offered before God. The name of God was being blasphemed before the whole congregation, and Eli knew it. Eli did not bring an end to it. Eli gave occasion for the faithful remnant to despair all the more! Eli never enforced the things he talked about. He never brought his sons to see what it was to tremble before the justice of the living God. He could talk with weeping and grieving heart, but talk was not effective. His sons needed to be excommunicated from the priesthood and put out of the temple. They showed no sign of repentance. They repeatedly returned to their same sins. The Old Testament law would have required that the sons be driven out of the city and stoned for their blasphemous actions in the tabernacle of Jehovah. 

"They that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (verse 30). God would not allow Himself to continue to be mocked in worship. This was a trouble that plagued Israel during the time of the judges. There were always some that were God-fearing from the heart. These loved God, respected His law, and even taught God's principles to their children. But, in one serious matter they failed: They did not properly discipline their children. When their friends and neighbors violated God's law and broke His commandments, they did not condemn and punish. When their children desired to marry outside of the covenant, they did not do anything about it. Wickedness grew and grew. It came to the point where the worst of sins were being committed with no discipline being administered. 

Nehemiah, years later expresses his judgment of the sin of taking heathen wives. He took matters into his own hands so that we read in Nehemiah 13:25 - "And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves." Eli was an example of this same unfaithfulness. God made Eli's house an example to all of Israel in their generations. They that despise God's covenant will be cut off. They who allow their children to despise God's covenant will also see their generations cut off. There would not be an old man in the house of Eli any longer.

Are you honoring your children above God? Fathers, God places a weighty responsibility on your shoulders. Are you so busy with your work and your own activities that you do not know what your children are doing? Do you know how they are dressing? Do you know how they are spending their time? Do you know where they are hanging out? It is easy to take for granted the obedience of your children, only later to find out that you were being naive and refusing to face the reality of their sin. You may not look the other way. Are you more concerned about your children's reaction to you than about the reaction of the Living God to your permissiveness? Are you more tolerant of the sins of your children than Jehovah God is? God does not wink at sin. God does not turn the other way. God rebukes, judges, and condemns. 

As you seek to rear your children in God's fear you must uphold the honor of God above everything. Your children need to see that God means everything to you, and because of your love for God you will not tolerate lack of respect. You may not put up with a big mouth and talking back. You may not allow your children to thumb their finger at the worship of Jehovah, but you must put your foot down and discipline them for their failure to attend catechism, societies, or church. Will you honor your children above God? Note: God will not be mocked. If you don't discipline your children, God will! The consequences will be grievous.

The fundamental purpose for the curse of God was that God had not chosen these men to be His own. Verse 25 states that. We read this - "Because the Lord would slay them." Election and reprobation runs through covenant homes. Eli did not cause these men to be destroyed, God brought it about. God ordained from the beginning that the sons of Eli would be godless men. Their lives would show it. Nothing Eli did could have changed that. As parents we need to acknowledge God's sovereignty and submit to His rule in our families.

We pray for our children, but also for the grace to be content with the fact that God may not have chosen all our children to be His own. We pray that we may not continue to wallow in self-pity and blame ourselves for their unfaithfulness. We need to repent, pray for forgiveness for our failures, and then leave the matter in the hand of Jehovah, assured of His forgiveness. 

At the same time, God holds parents accountable for their rearing of their children, and therefore, Eli was held accountable before God. God uses the means of the faithful instruction of parents to continue His covenant in their generations. Our discipline itself is not going to make our children turn out good. A parent can become proud and believe they have done all things right, therefore their children are doing good. A parent may boast in his accomplishments, rather than in the grace of God. God can so quickly turn our boasting into sorrow, showing that He is in control of all things and that all good we see in our families is only by His grace. God mercifully punished Jesus Christ for the sins of Eli. Although Eli escaped the punishment of his sins, he had to live with the devastating consequences of his sin as it affected the priesthood of Israel.

Are you seeking to be faithful and firm in your instruction of your children? You can not expect God's blessing if you are not teaching and instructing them in every aspect of their life. You can not expect God's blessing if you are knowingly allowing them to continue in sin. You need to admonish them, rebuke them, and if necessary discipline them. If you harbor sin in your children, then you are guilty of the sin of Eli- honoring your children above God. Your children will not be prepared to be priests, prophets, and kings for God. God will not be able to make use of your children. He will cut off your generations and will work through others who are faithful. Again: If you will not discipline your children, God will. Although God forgives us our sins in the way of confession, God will make you live with the devastating consequences of your sin.


God expresses His promise in I Samuel 2: 35 - "And I will raise me up a faithful priest." First, historically Samuel would arise as the priest of God from the house of Ephraim. God would work in the young Samuel and train him to walk according to the love of God. Samuel saw all the sin of Eli's sons. He would not walk in their footsteps. The few years He spent with his godly mother, and the rich grace of God were used to preserve him in an impossible situation. We raise our children in similarly perilous times. All around us they are tempted to blaspheme God in worship. The temptations are great. By the grace of God, we pray that God will use our faithful discipline and instruction to prepare our children to be prophets, priests, and kings for God.

Secondly, historically Zadok was given the office of High Priest during the reign of David. Abiathar, the offspring of Ithamar was put out. God's curse to Eli was finally realized as the priestly office was now through the house of Eleazar. Even this line was in time cut off to make the way for the Priest of God.

Finally, Jesus Christ is the promised priest whom God sends. "He shall walk before mine anointed forever" (verse 35). The Lord would build the everlasting priesthood. Regardless of human sin, God would establish the true house of Israel. In the way of sin God would demonstrate the inability of men to ever bring about reconciliation between God and His people for the forgiveness of sins. God would show the impossibility of man keeping covenant- God alone would preserve His covenant in and through men. Even Samuel could not maintain the priesthood in Israel. Tragically, his sons turned out no differently than did the sons of Eli, although we have no reason to believe that Samuel fell into the same sins of Eli. Samuel admonished and disciplined his sons, but God's blessing was not upon them. Israel later used this as an excuse to seek a king. 

The weakness of the human priesthood pointed to the faithful Priest who would be the eternal God of heaven and earth. Jesus Christ did all that was in the mind of God. He obeyed perfectly. There was nothing within His heart that desired to walk contrary to God's commands. Jesus Christ offered the perfect, unblemished sacrifice that covered Eli's sins and that covers your and my sins of disobedience. The "sure house" is the church for which Jesus Christ laid down His life! Christ made that house secure by His own blood and poured out His Spirit on His people to preserve them in the path of obedience. By His grace we will honor God above our children. We pray for that strength as we seek to raise our children in God's fear.


Last modified on 12 February 2013

Additional Info

  • Passage: 1 Samuel 2:27-36
Brummel, Allen

Rev. Allen J. Brummel (Wife: Crysta)

Ordained: November 1995


Edgerton, MN - 1995; South Holland, IL - 1998; Missionary in Sioux Falls, SD - 2007; Heritage, Sioux Falls, SD - May 2010

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