God Desires to Put People to Death?

Do you notice how slow we are and how difficult it is for us to apologize? Have you noticed how quick we are and how easy it is for us to simply defend our actions or justify our beliefs or intentions? I remember, as a child, I did something that earned me punishment. My mother instructed me to apologize, and I would not. My mom began counting, “1, 2, 3…” Each integer my mom arrived at meant that I would receive another spanking. She counted up into the 20s and I still would not apologize for whatever it was even with the threat of what I then perceived as a severe punishment. Apologizing, to me, seemed worse than punishment.

Last week, we read, in the text, about this doctrinal truth that states people sin because they are unrighteous or wicked. There are people, particularly the sons of Eli, who are what the Scripture refers to as sons of wickedness (or sons of Belial). We saw that the New Testament employs this language to refer to those who are perishing and have not received the love of God unto salvation. This week, we will read the next part of the story as Scripture expounds on this doctrinal truth in the form of this narrative. This doctrine, reprobation, continues to be perhaps the most difficult Biblical doctrine that the people of God must grapple with as we read the text, but we cannot skip any part of the text because it is uncomfortable.

This morning, the text leads us to ask these questions: What is the source of our repentance?  Why are we able to repent? Does God actually will that some people perish?

1 Samuel 2:22-25

Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting.

He said to them, “Why do you do such things, the evil things that I hear from all these people? No, my sons; for the report is not good which I hear the Lord’s people circulating. If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death.

Sin comes from wickedness (v. 22-24)
We read last week that the Sons of Eli were sons of Belial, or sons of wickedness. It was the condition of their hearts that drew them into sin. Their very nature was set against God. They did not know the Lord or God’s Law because they were sons of wickedness. Because they were spiritual descendants of wickedness and under the authority of Satan, they could not know God or honor Him. The Scriptures presented to us this doctrine of reprobation and we began to describe that doctrine as it is presented by the Scriptures.
We don’t know how much time has passed between Samuel’s dedication and this passage. It seems to be a considerable amount of time because Eli is now described as being “very old.” In the passage for today, we read that Eli becomes aware of outward sin, both clerical and sexual. Before this point in the text, we were unaware that the sin of Hophni and Phinehas reached beyond the dereliction of their duties and embezzlement. They were also having sex with the women who served at the doorway of the temple. These women were not Canaanite cult prostitutes but Israelite women who were serving God. Eli’s sons were not only using their positions to gain wealth for themselves but also to take advantage of the women who wanted to serve God.

There is a description here that churches often neglect talking about. The Bible is full of instances in which women are taken advantage of in some way sexually. In this case, it is described as a heinous sin before God. We don’t even know if it was consensual or not.

The sad reality is that sexual sin among the clergy around the world is great. A man named Howard Hendricks interviewed 246 fallen pastors within a two-year period and found,

  • None of the men was involved in any kind of real personal accountability.
  • Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship.
  • More than 80 percent of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.
  • Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”

We don’t know if these pastors were true people of God or not. What we see, though, is that sexual sin was always the aftermath of a degenerating relationship with the Lord. Moral failure follows the condition of the heart. If our relationship with God is degenerate, then our relationship with others will also degenerate. For a person who is saved, sin comes because we are not living in right relationship with God. Men, and especially pastors, we have to make this realization about the nature of sin, and we saw this last week in the text. We are not strong enough to fight sin off. We can’t think that we are. We will fail every time. Instead, we follow hard after Christ and as we grow in our relationships with Christ, we will be brought more and more out of sin- being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Do not neglect the God of your salvation.

Eli’s sons were sons of wickedness. They were not children of God and they would not be. They were slaves to their own desires and they followed those desires further and further into sin.

When Eli becomes aware of his children’s sin, his focus is on the outward sin and not the condition of the heart. When we get to verse 29, we will see that God considers the heart first and considers sin as necessarily coming from the condition of one’s heart.

We see in the text a “root produces fruit” sort of anthropology. Jesus teaches about this in His sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15-20). This is not the “free grace” position, which posits that all someone needs to do is ask for God’s salvation and that works are not important. This is also not the “lordship salvation” position, which posits that one must add works to faith alone. We act in accordance with our heart condition. God either hands us over to our natural unrighteousness, like with Eli’s sons, or He regenerates our hearts and draws us to Himself that we might abide in His righteousness. The Gospel is not about the goodness of our works, but about the condition of our hearts. Since root produces fruit, fruit reveals root.

Repentance comes from God (v. 25)
In verse 25, Eli asks his sons a question that helps us to understand a huge portion of the Old Testament, particularly the Law. He asks,

“If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?”

Eli actually brings up one of the most troubling concepts for people. God is the great intercessor and mediator. God is the one who gives forgiveness and reconciles people. If we sin against one another, God mediates. If a person sins against God, who could possibly intercede; especially if the priests, those chosen by God to offer atoning sacrifices for the people, are themselves sinning against God?

The priesthood was full of sinners, beginning with Levi. I will list a few who are listed in the Scriptures leading up to this point in 1 Samuel:

    • Levi, though not officially part of the priesthood was violent, angry, and self-willed (Gen. 49:5-7).
    • Aaron, Levi’s great-grandson and the first priest under the Law, made a golden idol (Ex. 32) and spoke against Moses (Num. 12).
    • Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, broke the sacrificial laws (Lev. 10).
    • Korah, Aaron’s cousin, Led a rebellion because he sought to elevate people as holy (Num. 16).
    • An unnamed Levite had a concubine and did not protect her (Judges 19-20).
    • Eli committed idolatry (1 Sam. 2:29).
    • Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s sons, broke sacrificial laws and committed adultery (1 Sam. 2:12-17, 22).

The Scriptures are very careful to point out the sins of people. How could any priest who has sinned possibly intercede for any other sinners? It is impossible. The people couldn’t keep God’s standard for righteousness. The priesthood couldn’t offer true atonement for sin because it was full of sin. The judges were unable to deliver God’s people. We will see that the kings will be insufficient to save Israel. The prophets will be unable to bring the people to God. In everything that God is doing throughout the Old Testament, He is proving that people are unable by any method to truly intercede for other people. Christ alone is the one who will make atonement, and it is His throne that is being prepared within creation through the books of Samuel.

God is the one working all things together. He is doing so for His purpose of grace, to show us that we can’t. God has invested much time into showing us that the only way salvation works is by grace alone and not by any work of ours. People always choose that which accords with their nature, sin. People cannot intercede for other people. People cannot deliver other people. People cannot save other people. People cannot guide people to all truth. It must be a work of God and God alone.

Why do so many “Christians” still try and talk about God as if it is our works or our goodness that make us His friend? That is precisely what the Old Testament reveals as absolutely false. God isn’t “good with us.” We don’t “have an understanding” with God because we had a talk with Him. We are unrighteous, insufficient, and incapable. This is why we need God.

But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death.

Eli’s sons would not listen, for, or because (Hebrew, כי), the Lord desired to put them to death. This is a difficult verse for us to read and there is no way to be faithful to the Hebrew and say that the Lord desired to put them to death because they did not listen. In the Scriptures, the destinies of people always result from the divine will. At the same time, people are responsible for their actions. As we have defined the doctrine of reprobation, it is explicitly the handing over of a person to his or her own nature. People choose that which accords with their nature. This means that they are both condemned and self-condemning.

This truth, that God desired (תפע, meaning to take pleasure or delight in something) to put Hophni and Phinehas to death and that God’s desire was the reason for their not listening to the voice of their father, is difficult for us because we perceive one of God’s central character traits to be love and we perceive that this love is such that God accepts all people and will let anyone into His kingdom. We will refer to verses like 2 Peter 3:9, which states that God does not wish “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” How do we observe the Scriptures when in one place, we read that God desired to put someone to death, and in another place, we read that God does not desire that anyone perish? Are the Scriptures self-contradictory, or is God’s character incoherent as it is described in the Bible? Let’s observe 2 Peter together. 2 Peter 3:9 is almost at the end of Peter’s letter. Please read the whole book. I will simply summarize Peter’s exhortation so that we might understand his statement about God’s will concerning repentance.

    • 2 Pet. 1:1- Peter’s letter is addressed to those who have received faith of the same kind as the apostles by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
    • 1:3-4- God’s divine power grants us everything, and by His promise, we escape the corruption that is in the world by lust (επιθυμαι, meaning “desire”).
    • 1:5-15- In response to God’s saving grace, His people pursue holiness.
    • 1:16-21- The apostles trusted in the Scriptures, in this case the prophets, and not even their experience usurped the authority of Scripture but made the word surer.
    • 2:1-11- There will be false teachers, but the Lord reserves a place of judgement, He rescues the godly from temptation, and He keeps the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgement (especially those who indulge in the desires, επιθυμαι, of the flesh).
    • 2:12-22- The unrighteous are springs without water for whom the black darkness is reserved.
    • 3:1-2- The righteous are encouraged to always remember the Scriptures
    • 3:3-7- Mockers will come following after their own lusts (επιθυμαι) and questioning Christ’s return and judgment. The earth is being reserved for the day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly.
    • 3:8-9- The Lord is not slow, referring to the accusations of the mockers, but is patient toward “you” (those to whom the letter is addressed, who have received faith by the righteousness of God), not wanting (βουλομαι, meaning wish, want, or will) any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
    • 3:10-18- Since things are being destroyed, the righteous are to be preparing for the day of the Lord. The righteous are to be committed to the Scriptures without twisting them. They are to be on guard and steadfast, regarding God’s patience as salvation.

In context, 2 Peter 3:9 does not say that God wishes or wills that all people get to heaven. In the same letter, Peter describes how those who are slaves to their own desires are actually being kept under punishment for the day of judgment (2:9). Peter describes that it is only God who guards His people from temptation (2:9). The word for God’s will in 2 Peter 3:9 is not the word that Peter uses to describe mere desire. It is a word that describes God’s will. 2 Peter 3:9 does not apply to every single person. It explicitly applies to those whom the letter is addressed. It is a comfort for those who have received faith by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. God’s will is that His people come to repentance and, by God’s patience, are sanctified, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (3:18). Peter closes his letter by writing, “To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

Context and good exegesis are important. The message of 2 Peter is the same as that of our passage for today, only our current passage presents this doctrine in narrative form.

In 2 Timothy 2:25, Paul writes that even repentance is a gift from God and it leads to a knowledge of the truth. Do we see how unified the Scriptures are? Everything about our faith is a gift, even our ability and willingness to repent. Without God’s calling according to His own will, it doesn’t happen. We might even question God, right? “God, how could you do this?” Scripture’s answer is,

“Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!

For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’

So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?

Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” (Romans 9:13-24).

According to Scripture, God is the one who is glorified. We have no right to say to God, “Why have you made me like this?” We have no right to justify ourselves. God is doing things this way because He is making Himself known. It has never been about what we get out of the deal. Salvation is by grace so that we can’t boast. The salvation of God’s people is for God’s glory, not ours; though it does work out for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Will we come to repentance?

So, repentance is a gift from God. The invitation of the Gospel is the invitation to come and repent (Matthew 4:17). God’s desire is that His people come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The invitation in response to this passage is simple. Will you come to repentance before God today? Will you be saved by God’s grace and be clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone, not by your own perceived righteousness? For those of us who are in Christ- when we examine our own lives, do we observe a lifestyle of repentance as a result of God’s gift? If not, why not? God is patient with us for our good in sanctification as He makes us into complete creatures. Let us give Him the honor and praise He is due. Let Him be glorified. Thank you, Lord, for giving repentance as a gift so that Your people are no longer slaves to our own desires. Amen.

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