Now the sons of Eli were wicked; they had respect neither for the Lord, nor for the priests' duties toward the people . . . . When Eli was very old, he heard repeatedly how his sons were treating all Israel (and that they were having relations with the women serving at the entry of the meeting tent) . . . So he said to them: ". . . it is not a good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading about you (1 Samuel 2:12-22).
Eli’s sons, priests themselves, scandalized the Jewish congregation with their sins. And Eli did little to stop them. So God took the discipline into His own hands, and in a very short time, Eli and his sons were dead.
As I once again read this story I wondered why the great prophet Samuel, who’d been raised in Eli’s home and witnessed the scandals – as well as God’s judgment – did not discipline his own sons when they, too, “turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:3).
And so, I suppose it should be no surprise that the Jewish people, scandalized by their religious leaders, sought something new. No longer satisfied with a theocracy, they clamored for a monarchy. No longer wanting – perhaps no longer trusting – their priests or prophets to lead them, they demanded instead a political leader to guide them (1 Samuel 8:6).
I wonder what Israel’s history would have looked like if Eli – and later, Samuel – had disciplined their sons when they persisted in their sins, if they had removed them from their positions of title and office. Would the congregation have sought others to lead them? Would Israel’s history been less pock-marked by loss of faith? Would the nation have suffered the devastating division that struck them within only two generations?
If only the religious leaders had done it differently.