Is it comforting or frustrating to know that for thousands of years, people have been dealing with corrupt religious leaders?
(Usually) Men who take more than their share from the offerings of the faithful?
Who prey on the women who graciously give their time and energy to serve?
Who have no regard for the reasons religious service was invented in the first place, or the God who created them?
Meet Hophni and Phinehas. Sons of Eli. Priests of the LORD at Shiloh. These two are in a special class. Not only are they guilty of everything I just mentioned, but they take, sometimes by force, the fat that belongs to the LORD! Could they possibly sink any lower?
Things get to the point where God will no longer allow it to happen. He sends a “man of God” to Eli to give him a prophetic warning. Said warning takes the form of a Chiasmus. I’ve written about these before but I’ll give you a little refresher.
Chiasmus Crash Course
Similar to a three-point essay, Chiasmi are ancient ways of making a point in writing. The section will start and end with mirroring themes or words that both work their way to the middle, where the main point is. Then the middle and the outer sections will have a special relationship. Let’s take a look at the Chiasmus in 1 Samuel 2.
A) Hophni and Phinehas greedily took food that was not theirs from the offering. Specifically, they “fattened themselves.” (v.29)
B) God promised that Eli’s family line would be priests forever. They would go in and out before the LORD. (v.30)
C) God will honor those who honor him and show contempt for those who despise him (v.30)
D) The strength of Eli’s family will be “cut off.” (v.31)
E) No one in his family will live to old age (v.31)
F) Then, in distress, Eli’s family will look with greedy eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed upon Israel (v.32)
E1) No one in Eli’s family will live to old age. (v.32)
D1) There will be one who is not “cut off” from the altar (v.33)
C1) Hophni and Phinehas will die in the same day. But God will raise up a faithful priest (v.34,35)
B1) The faithful priest will go in and out forever (v.35)
A1) Your family will beg for food from the priest (v.36)
There are a couple of, shall we say, troubling verses in chapter 2.
But they would not listen to the voice of their father; for it was the will of the LORD to kill them.
I promised that you family and the family of your ancestor should go in and out before me forever . . . far be it for me
So these two guys can’t repent because God has decided to kill them and he is going back on his promise. Do you see why this might be troubling?
The important thing to remember is context. The story is incredibly important! The author of Samuel is not saying that God just willy nilly killys people. No. He killed these two jerk-offs because they were the heads of an entirely corrupt system that was robbing people of the chance to worship God properly. They were sexually assaulting servants of the tabernacle. That matters!
And God is revoking his promise on Eli’s (and Aaron’s) family because they have proven that they can’t handle the responsibilities of the priesthood, to put it mildly.
God willed people’s deaths in a certain context. God went back on a promise in a certain context.
In both cases, humans completely refused to obey the system God had set up. They had corrupted and perverted it, heaping injustice on the people they were supposed to serve.
And that matters.
What do you think, am I off here? Should I be making a larger theological point?