Above all else, I think I fear worthlessness. I want my life to mean something in the grand scheme. I believe that worry is a sin and that we don’t accomplish anything by worrying, but if I am to be honest, I do sometimes worry that I might waste so much of my life away without being of any benefit to people, especially regarding the things of God and of eternity. This is why I can’t even watch an entertaining movie or television show without questioning how my doing this is going to benefit anyone. It is an irony in my life that those things meant to entertain us actually cause me to feel like I’m just wasting that part of my life most of the time. It’s not usually very entertaining. I don’t want to be worthless, and right or wrong, that’s simply how I feel.
In the first chapter of First Samuel, we saw the truth of God’s providence, especially in His work of redemption through atonement. In response to God’s redemptive providence, Hannah praised God in Spirit and in truth. This narrative continues to unfold upon this premise that the praise of our lives derives from God’s atoning work.
1 Samuel 2:12-21
Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the Lord and the custom of the priests with the people. When any man was offering a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand. Then he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. Thus they did in Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Also, before they burned the fat, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest meat for roasting, as he will not take boiled meat from you, only raw.”
If the man said to him, “They must surely burn the fat first, and then take as much as you desire,” then he would say, “No, but you shall give it to me now; and if not, I will take it by force.” Thus the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for the men despised the offering of the Lord.
Now Samuel was ministering before the Lord, as a boy wearing a linen ephod. And his mother would make him a little robe and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.
Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you children from this woman in place of the one she dedicated to the Lord.” And they went to their own home.
The Lord visited Hannah; and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew before the Lord.
The worthless person (v. 12-17)
We have already seen the sons of Eli mentioned in the story (1:3). In this part of the story, we get to know some things about Eli’s sons. They were present during Eli’s thanksgiving offering, though it is unclear as to whether or not they were the ones offering up the sacrifice. Eli is the one who explicitly offered up Hannah’s sacrifice later in the first chapter.
Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the Lord and the custom of the priests with the people…
The very first detail we are given in this text is that the sons of Eli were worthless men. In chapter 1, verse 3, we learned that they were priests. They were members of the priestly family. They were advanced in their religious status and their status within the community, even having priestly servants (v. 13). They were chosen from all the tribes of Israel to be priests (2:28). Yet, the Scriptures identify them as worthless men. Does it surprise you that God, in the inspiration of His own word, would refer to anyone as worthless? What makes a man, or any person at all, worthless in God’s eyes?
“Worthless” is translated from בני בליעל, which literally means “sons of Belial” or “sons of destruction” or “sons of wickedness.” In 2 Corinthians 6:15, the Hebrew “בליעל” was transliterated into the Greek “Βελιαρ,” which is pronounced “Beliar.” It is used as a proper name for the one who is the opposition of Christ, the devil or Satan. Belial was, or would become, a personification of wickedness and Paul used the term as a name for Satan. The sentence structure of 1 Samuel 2:12 makes it clear that Hophni and Phinehas were sons of Belial in a manner which paralleled the fact that they were sons of Eli. The same phraseology is used to describe their sonship under both Eli and Belial in the Hebrew. They were in the spiritual lineage of wickedness, born of wickedness.
We think about this in light of the theological truths that have already been presented in the text, particularly in Hannah’s praise, “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (2:6).
We could say that it was because Eli’s sons refused to obey God that they were considered to be wicked people, but that is neither what the text states nor what the context indicates. Eli’s sons did not know the Lord because they were sons of Belial; they were not worthless (or wicked) because they refused to obey God. Eli’s son’s condition led to their sin. They were both condemned and self-condemning. They did not know the Lord or God’s instruction because they were sons of Belial. They were wicked because they did not know the Lord.
This brings up an interesting question about salvation and about the nature of good and evil. It is specifically the condition of the person that leads to his or her wickedness or purity before God. It is not by our being a good enough person. It is by our nature. This is why Jesus would teach that one must be born of the Spirit to even see the kingdom of heaven (John 3:1-8). Jesus would use similar language as the text in 1 Samuel in reference to some of the Pharisees, calling them “sons of snakes” (Matthew 23:33). He called Judas the “son of perdition (or destruction)” (John 17:12). Paul would use this language, “son of perdition,” to refer to one who would come (either a specific person or a type of person) and was under the control of Satan; he would state explicitly that those under Satan’s control were deluded because they had not “received the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
Regeneration precedes faith precedes godly works. Those who do not and will not know God or God’s Law, like the sons of Eli, do not know God because they are sons of wickedness.
This wickedness is something very different from the inherent value human people have because they are created by God and have some matter of resemblance to God in God’s creation (Gen. 1:26-27, Matthew 6:26). The worthlessness presented in this text has to do specifically with the condition of wickedness.
This causes us to think about a vast majority of the worlds religious systems or irreligious viewpoints. I have been watching an interesting documentary series on A&E, titled Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. Leah describes the belief system of Scientology as a system by which “You save yourself, and you are the one who makes the world a better place.” This is synonymous with, I think, ninety-nine percent of worldviews as they are expressed. People do certain things in order to accomplish a certain outcome. People who departed from Scientology have something in common with people who escape from any number of cults or religious systems. Religion didn’t work to accomplish whatever it was they were trying to accomplish. In this text, it is clear that any religion that promises you will be able to meet your goals or fulfill your desires by your dedication and practice of that religion is wicked and a fraud. In the same way, if our goal is to use religion because we expect it to work in one way or another for us, the Bible calls us out as wicked and exposes us as frauds. The source of our wickedness is our own nature, our own evil desires.
We, The Church at Sunsites, her members and pastors, are not here to make false or empty promises. We cannot tell you that, by coming and being a part of some religion, your life will “work out” by any definition. That is not the point of the Gospel. God is doing His work. He is the one who provides. He is the one to be praised. We come here to celebrate His mercy and grace, not to expect Him to cause our lives to “work out.” That is wicked! We will, though, care for you unconditionally and always work for your good the best way that we know how according to God’s instruction.
After describing the Spiritual condition of Hophni and Phinehas, that they were sons of Belial, the text describes their sin. They were basically using the sacrificial system to embezzle from the people. They were causing the nation to sin because sacrifices were not being properly performed according to the Law. Their nature as sons of Belial caused them to seek to gain from religion rather than praise God. This is the opposite of what we saw with Hannah.
Thus the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord, for the men despised the offering of the Lord.
The sin of the young men was very great because they despised the offering of the Lord. They despised the offering of the Lord (repentance and praise to God for God’s glory) because they were, by their nature, sons of Belial.
The message is clear. Those who try to gain for themselves or presume that they are good enough to merit something show that their condition is basically wicked. Their sin, which comes from their own self-righteousness, is great because they despise the need for repentance and praise to God for God’s glory. Perhaps the greatest sin of our time is our tendency to claim that we are basically good. The truth is that there are sons and daughters of wickedness who have not received the love of the truth and so are being deluded. There are also those who have been or will be born again, who have received the love of the truth, and who are sons and daughters of God.
This is why the Scriptures say, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). In fact, we can consider the context of this verse. It explicitly concerns salvation, the giving of life, and the ability to abide in God. It is all because God FIRST loves us. This verse is the other side of what we saw in 2 Thessalonians 2:10, which states that those who perish, perish because they did not receive this love. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, we see that the Gospel is veiled to those who are perishing because Satan has been given authority to blind those who are unbelieving. The doctrines of election and reprobation are presented side-by-side in 1 Samuel. Here, we need to address a misconception about Biblical Christianity, what is formally known today as Calvinism or Reformed Theology. In election, God saves His people even though their wills are opposed to Him. This is saving grace. In reprobation, God does not overcome the will of a person in order to predestine that person to Hell. God hands the person over to that person’s own will, which is unrighteous and opposed to God (Romans 1:18-2:2). That person is both condemned and self-condemning. If you are wondering about the Biblical view on the freedom of the will, please check out this sermon, also available in the helps-evangelism section of the church website. The great philosopher, Priscilla Dutcher (one of our church members), would say it this way, “The best way to get a hug is to give a hug.” That reflects Gospel truth!
Will you repent and worship the Lord, Jesus Christ, today? Will you receive the love of God leading to salvation?
The servant (v. 18-19)
The word for “minister” means to serve. Samuel served before the Lord. The fact that he wore a linen ephod was symbolic of his service as a little priest. Whereas earlier Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli (v. 11), he was now ministering directly before the Lord.
Here we simply see another contrast between pride or selfishness and selflessness, between the unrighteousness of people and the righteousness of God. Eli’s sons were sons of Belial, and Samuel was provided and chosen by God.
Every year when Samuel’s parents would come up to make the yearly sacrifice, here referring to the explicit praise sacrifice described in 1:3-5, Hannah would bring Samuel a little robe that she made for him. This annual pilgrimage and sacrifice was an offering explicitly for God’s providence, as we saw in chapter 1. The proper response to God’s providence is worship and service to God. How can we do anything else? In response to God loving us first, how can we be anywhere else than with the gathering of believers? How can we justify all of these things we do only to serve ourselves? How can we possibly spend all the money that we do building our own kingdoms? We serve God, not self. How can we do anything else?
A note about glorification by grace (v. 20-21)
Hannah’s life, as briefly as it is described in Scripture, is a parable of the life of every child of God. Whereas the sons of Eli were cursed as sons of wickedness, Hannah was blessed as a child of God. God does not provide materially or biologically for everyone like He did for Hannah. God has all authority to bless in whatever way He sees fit.
The story of Hannah has presented us with the Gospel. God provides all things. People are insufficient. God chooses and saves. People are brought to true praise through sanctification. Then God provides all things in glorification. This picture of Hannah receiving even more children from the Lord is a picture of the glorification by God’s own grace. God did not bless Hannah even more because of Eli’s blessing, just as He did not bless Hannah with Samuel because of Eli’s blessing. Eli was a sinful man who did not, Himself, honor God (2:29) from the very start of this narrative (Hophni and Phinehas were present from 1:3 onward). Blessing and curse come from God, just as we saw in Hannah’s praise.
Jesus talks about this reward system in Matthew 19:27-30:
Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?”
And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.
The apostles would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Everyone who follows Jesus will receive an exponential return according to what was given up for Christ’s name’s sake. We are so interested in holding on to what we have. Christ has called us explicitly not to seek self-gain or expect religion to work for us. That is wicked. He has called us to give up what we do have for His name’s sake and promises great reward in the life to come according to what we have given up for His name’s sake. Our current condition is deprivation. We are in the wilderness and we are being made into complete creatures. God will complete us in sanctification, and then comes the glorification.
Don’t be afraid to give Christ everything. If we are being saved, that is precisely what we will do, gladly and not out of compulsion. We won’t have to be forced because we actually love God. He promises great rewards by grace for those who are His by grace.