God's Family Values

1 Samuel 3:1-21
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, June 16, 1996
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew

Many people, especially modern politicians, speak about family values. Yet the truth is, whether the speakers are politicians, judges, governors, or presidents, few, if any, advocate the biblical idea of family values.

I recently heard a speech by Dr. Amitai Etzioni, who is the father of several children and a professor of sociology at a major university. Dr. Etzioni expressed his unhappiness with the prevailing views of our culture that people are born good, that everything a child wants to do is good, and therefore parents and others must allow and enable children to do whatever they want because it is good. Professor Etzioni recognizes that social reality does not substantiate the "man is born good" idea, and thus he no longer believes it. However, he thinks the biblical view of original sin--that man is born a sinner and grows up practicing sin--is too pessimistic, so he subscribes to a mediating position that society should let children express themselves but not so freely. Children should be controlled, brought under some discipline, and taught some kind of social and family values.

Dr. Etzioni's speech demonstrates that at least some people are veering away from the secular orthodoxy that all are born good. But the truth is that since the fall of Adam and Eve all people are born twisted and practice sin moment by moment. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David wrote of man's real condition, saying, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Ps. 51:5) and "Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies" (Ps. 58:3).

God's Requirement for Fathers

In view of the true condition of all people, including children, what should a Christian father do? He must read the Bible. Christian family values do not come from politicians, judges, or professors, but only from the one book which is in accordance with reality--the Bible, the very word of God. Therefore, a Christian father should study the Scriptures daily and diligently so God's family values will be coming from God the Father through the human father into a family. If a Christian father refuses to study the word of God daily and diligently, he will have nothing to offer his family in terms of family values. He will instead subscribe to and teach the secular orthodoxies prevalent in the world.

In the book of Deuteronomy, God gave divine instruction several times to fathers. In Deuteronomy 11:18-20 we read, "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds." Why did God say this to fathers? Before a father can teach God's family values and require his children to come under them, he himself must come under the regulation of the Scripture. A father must study God's word, love God's word, embrace God's word, and do God's word. So we read, "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and your gates. . ." Why did God instruct his people to write his words on the gates and doorframes of their houses? Because by doing so, they would be declaring to the whole world that their homes were holy homes whose residents were separated from the world and living under the regulation of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

What would be the result of following these instructions? "Your days and the days of your children [will] be many in the land that that Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth" (Deut. 11:21). God himself promised that families who did these things would be blessed, successful, and wise.

Parents, we are to fix God's words on our hearts and minds, and impress them upon our children, as we are told in Deuteronomy 6:7-9. Do we try to impress them with bigger houses, bigger cars, and bigger everything else? What about impressing our children with Scripture, which points to an eternal, infinite, almighty, all-glorious Creator/Redeemer God?

The Example of Eli

In the early chapters of the book of 1 Samuel, we read about a father named Eli. Eli's name means "God is high," which speaks about a transcendent God. This man Eli was also a priest as well as a father, meaning he was responsible to read, study, teach and counsel from the word of God both to his children and to the people of Israel.

Did Eli do this? No. In 1 Samuel 2:27 we read, "Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, 'This is what the Lord says: "Did I not clearly reveal myself to your father's house when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh?"'" In other words, God was asking Eli, "Did I not give you a book? What did you do with it?" Christianity is a religion of revelation, meaning God reveals it to us through his book, the Bible. Of all the world religions, Christianity is the only revealed religion; every other religion is manmade. Only the Bible gives us God's revelation as to what reality is, who God is, who people are and how they can be saved, what family values are, what husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and children should do. It is all in the book.

So God asked Eli, "Did I not clearly reveal myself . . .?" Yes, Eli had the Pentateuch, the first five books, with him. He was supposed to study it, meditate upon it, love it, embrace it, teach it, and counsel with it. Did he do these things? No. He neglected the specific, peculiar duties given to him by God. Even though he was the high priest, the one appointed to stand between God and man, Eli was fascinated by the world and secularism. In fact, rather than giving his children names with God in them, like Abijah, which means "my father is Jehovah," he gave his children Egyptian names, such as Hophni, which means tadpole. Every time he saw Hophni, he then could say, There is Tadpole! Eli was fascinated by tadpoles, but not by the word of God.

Fathers, I must ask you, what are you are fascinated by? Are you governing your families with secular philosophies and worldly nonsense? Or are you teaching them God's ways and God's values?

Because Eli was not reading or meditating upon the Bible, he was not thinking about God's ways. When a woman named Hannah came to the house of God to deal with her sorrow and grief before God, Eli observed her praying and weeping. As Hannah poured out her heart to God, what Eli noticed was that her lips were moving but no sound was coming forth. Did Eli interpret her behavior properly? He looked at Hannah and asked, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine." Like many preachers who completely conform to the patterns of this world, Eli was confused, unwise, and not able to discern. Here was a godly woman praying in deep distress and sorrow to God, and this preacher, this priest, this so-called man of the book, was looking upon her as a drunken, worthless woman. Eli's words displayed the deep degeneracy of this father to whom God had entrusted his book. How had he fallen so low? He neglected God's book, day in and day out.

How did God respond to Eli's unfaithfulness? In 1 Samuel 2:35 he told him, "I will raise up for myself a faithful priest." God was saying, Eli, you are unfaithful. Not only that, your children are also unfaithful and disloyal to me. You neglected the book that I gave you. You have been an unfaithful father, too busy to study my book from which my family values come.

What about us? Are we too busy making money, watching television, entertaining ourselves, or adding onto our houses, to study the word of God? Do we do everything else, but neglect the one thing that is needful, which is to be witnesses to the eternal, almighty God and his law? God told Eli, "I will raise up for myself a faithful priest." We must remember that no person is indispensable. God can always raise up a faithful priest. When we do our own thing and neglect witnessing for God and being the light of God in the world, God abandons us and raises up a Samuel.

The Problems of Eli

In 1 Samuel 2:29 God asked Eli, "Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling?" In the Greek it reads "Why do you kick my sacrifice. . ." Deuteronomy 32:15 says "Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior." Eli scorned and kicked God's sacrifice, which is a dangerous thing to do, because sacrifice is God's way of salvation.

By scorning God's sacrifice, Eli and his sons were rejecting the way of the cross. Why did they do that? They hated it. The cross represents the salvation God offers us through the death of his Son. It is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the world. But Eli and his sons were saying, "We don't need salvation. We are okay. We all are good. There is no problem with us." That is what kicking is.

What about us? Have we grown sleek and fat? Have we become so powerful with the money and strength God has given us that now we kick God and his sacrifice? What about our children? Do they have any interest in God or fear of God and his word? Or do they merely tolerate church, having no desire or love for it? If the latter is true, they are kicking. Oh, fathers, mothers, young men and women, we need to think about these things! We are to love, cherish, embrace, and thank God for his sacrifice. Are we doing that, or are we kicking it and treating it as despicable and contemptuous?

Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins. What if you have a Ph.D.? Many brilliant people look at the Bible, which speaks about sin, salvation, Christ's blood, and God. If they do not like those things, they kick, and then they support their arguments against God with some ideas they learned in school. But if you kick against God in this way, remember what God told Saul of Tarsus: "It is not good for you to kick against the pricks" (Acts 26:14, author paraphrase). You will find God as strong and powerful as pricks. You will not survive when you kick against God's plan of salvation.

What else did Eli do? He forgot the Bible and indulged in the world. Look at 1 Samuel 2:29: "Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?" This question reveals an important fact, that Eli was a self-indulgent, hedonistic glutton. He forgot about God, and, therefore, he despised God's sacrifices. When people brought their meat for sacrifice, Eli's servants asked for the raw meat even before it was offered to God, as was prescribed. If the worshipers did not give it to them, the servants took it by force. Then Eli and his sons ate and ate and ate. They became corpulent. This can happen to us as well. We may neglect God, prayer, Bible study, and family devotions, but we will be eating, won't we? We can easily fall into a gluttonous, self-indulgent, hedonistic, pleasure-loving lifestyle. If we do so, it means we have learned the taste of another kind of joy, not the joy of serving the Lord.

Eli had another problem resulting from his neglect of the Bible. The Bible says one should worship God alone. But in 1 Samuel 2:29 God asked, "Why do you honor your sons more than me?" In Hebrew the word for honor is chabod, heavy. It means, "Why do you make your sons heavy and not me?" God is the glorious, heavy, all-worthy one. Think about his perfections and attributes--his infinity, wisdom, transcendence, omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, holiness, justice, and goodness. He alone is the heavy one whom we should honor.

Eli honored his sons more than God. When we don't read and study the word of God, we stop seeing God and we put all our value in our children. Do you worship your children and treat them as glorious? Do you live and slave for your children, thinking they are so cute or so great? We might consider our children as worthy to be worshiped, but let me assure you, there is only one who truly is worthy to be worshiped. "Thou art worthy, God Almighty, Creator of the ends of the earth and the Upholder of all reality." God alone must be worshiped. If we worship our children and make them more honorable than God, God will deal with that which we worship. He is a jealous God and will become an enemy of our idols. In Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11 God says he will not share his glory with another. He will not put up with any man, woman, or child who takes away from the manifest glory of the eternal God. If someone tries, God will wage war against that person. He opposes all idols.

The Consequences of Neglect

First Samuel 3:13 tells us what happened when Eli abandoned the Bible. God said, "For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them." Eli never restrained his sons. Is that true of you? When children are very young you can restrain them, and that is the time to require them to respect you and God Almighty, and to require them to obey God the first time he gives a command. But Eli failed to restrain his children. He had been told many times to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but he failed.

The Septuagint says Eli failed and then uses the word noutheteo , which means to put the word of God into his children's minds to make them love it, obey it, and walk in the light of it. He failed to impress the word of God upon them exactly. Fathers, you can be impressed by many things--toys, cars, houses, computers--but let me ask you, are you impressed by the word of God? If you are, you will impress your children with it. You will place it into their minds in such a way that it makes an indelible impression upon those children forever and ever. Such children will never let the word of God fall to the ground.

Eli should have done this when his children were very young, and many of us should have done so also. I know this sermon will cause some to feel grief and regret because you were busy watching television, and now your children want nothing to do with God. If this is so, we cannot do much now. What you sow, you reap. Eli should have removed his sons from their priestly office, but he did not. In fact, he indulged them, perhaps, as one commentary said, because he was afraid of them. But he should have dealt with his sons. God made provision in the law for children who treated parents and others with contempt. In Deuteronomy 17 and 21 he said that such children should be killed. But Eli did not do that. Rather, he favored and worshiped his own children and neglected God.

What a pathetic situation! Eli's sons were indulged when they were babies and they grew up into monsters. He had failed to bring his children under the authority of the Lord by teaching them to obey their parents. He failed to learn the total depravity of man. He thought children were born good and he allowed them to express themselves freely. So you read their story. These children despised God's sacrifices. They despised worship. They became gluttons and introduced temple prostitution. They were called wicked men (1 Sam. 2:12). They did not fear God. They did not love God. They had no relationship with God. Eli was scared and could not restrain them. When he told them that he heard of the wicked things they did, including sleeping with the women who served at the Tent of Meeting, all he could say was that this was not a good report. And how did his sons react? They did not listen (1 Sam. 2:25).

In view of these things, I must ask all fathers to examine yourselves. Are you indulgent? Are you gluttonous? Are you self-serving? Are you kicking the sacrifices? Are you raising up monsters? Are you afraid of your own children? If these things are true of you, I grieve with you.

A Faithful Priest

What does God expect Christian parents to require of their children? First time obedience performed in the fear of the Lord. Because God expects this, we have no authority to change his requirement and engage in an indulgent lifestyle.

In the context of rampant apostasy of that time, and especially found within Eli's family, we see a little boy, Samuel, who was given to Hannah in answer to her prayer. Samuel was a Nazirite, meaning he was devoted to God all of his life. Samuel could never cut his hair, he was forbidden to eat grapes or any grape product, and he could never touch anything that was dead. In other words, Samuel was raised up by God to live his entire life in obedience to God's law. This should encourage us. We may deplore secularism, moral darkness, and all kinds of terrible situations in our modern world, but should we despair? No. In times of extreme darkness, God has his people, his children, who want to live in holiness and separation for God all their lives.

In 1 Samuel 3 God called Samuel, who was then about twelve years of age, while he was sleeping next to Eli, the corpulent, despicable priest. Samuel had learned first time obedience, and when God called his name, Samuel woke out of sleep, saying, "Here I am" (1 Sam. 3:5). What did he mean by "Here I am"? Samuel was accustomed to obedience "Here I am" meant he acknowledged the authority of another and his own servanthood. Samuel woke up, ready to serve, and then what did he do? He ran to serve. Let me ask you, when you call your children, do they say, "Here I am," run to you, and stand, saying, "Here I am; you called me"?

This was Samuel's response even when he was first roused from sleep. This is what God expects from all of us--fathers, mothers, and children. When he calls, we need to rise up and say, "Here I am," and then run to him, expecting to receive further direction. Why should we do that? The characteristic of a servant of God is obedience. In Genesis 22, when God called, Abraham said, "Here I am." In Exodus 3, when God called Moses, he responded, "Here I am." When God called Isaiah in Isaiah 6, what did Isaiah say? "Here I am." God cannot put up with people who will not respond to him as servants. Servants hear and run.

When Samuel woke Eli, Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down." Samuel lay down and God called him again. How did Samuel respond? He said, "Here I am," and ran to Eli. You see, this is what we need to learn. Children need to learn to obey their parents because that is the only thing God is requiring from them, and that is the only thing that we, as parents, should require from them. God requires parents to teach this to their children. If children are taught to respond to parents, they are happy children. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Eph. 6:1).

Fathers, have you required obedience of your children? Or have you become marshmallows, just wanting to eat, relax, lie down and not be bothered? When Samuel came to Eli the second time Eli said again, "I did not call; go and lie down." When God called a third time, what did Samuel do? Again, he responded,"Here I am," and ran to Eli: "Here I am; you called me."

Samuel obeyed every time. Every time! We need to notice that. And as he came again and again, it finally occurred to Eli that God was speaking. You see, God had long since refused to speak to Eli. When God does not speak to a person, it means he has abandoned him. When we read the Bible, come to church, or pray, but nothing happens, it means God has abandoned us. That is a serious situation. It is a famine of the word of God, as we read in Amos 8:11-12, when people stagger and wander about, looking not for bread but for the word of God. God had abandoned Eli and no prophet had spoken to him for a long time. Why had this happened? Eli had refused to listen to God. But finally it occurred to him that God was speaking. As Eli thought of this, I am sure that he felt great grief as he realized that God was speaking not to Eli but to the boy, Samuel. Eli the priest had been abandoned by God.

"So Eli told Samuel, 'Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening."'" Again, a fourth time God called: "Samuel!" Samuel's first time obedience, which he had practiced throughout his life, now was very useful. Samuel replied to God, "Speak, for your servant is listening." And now for the first time in his life, Samuel heard from God directly with his mind. What did God say? He told Samuel he was going to destroy Eli and his children.

God's Judgment Comes

After God spoke to him, Samuel lay down again. In the morning, as he went about his duties, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and Eli called him: "Samuel!" What was Samuel's response? "Here I am." That was the fifth time we read this: "Here I am!" What a benefit to train children to obey the first time! Every time Samuel was called, he responded, "Here I am!" Do you require that from your children? You should, because that is the stepping stone for them to hear from God. A child's respect for a parent's authority is the stepping stone for them to hear from God.

Eli put Samuel under an oath and asked, "What was it he said to you?" and Samuel told Eli everything God had spoken. He told Eli how God was going to destroy him because he had neglected God's word, and glorified and worshiped his children. God had seen how Eli had indulged his children and had even been a party to their indulgence, as evidenced by his own corpulence.

Was this word from God a joke? No. In 1 Samuel 4 we read that the Israelites went to war against the Philistines. In the first battle, how many Israelites died? Four thousand. Did this cause the Israelites to stop and pray to see if there was any sin among them that they needed to repent of? No. They had become a pagan society. They sent for the ark of the covenant. They reasoned that God was somehow tied to the ark, and if the ark was present, God would help them. So they brought the ark and fought again against the Philistines. How many people died in the second battle? Thirty thousand. Who else died? Tadpole--Hophni--and his brother Phinehas were killed.

A Benjamite ran to Shiloh with news of the battle. Eli, who was now blind and very heavyset because of his indulgent lifestyle, was sitting by the side of the road. The Benjamite gave his report: "Israel fled," he began. Then he continued, "The army has suffered heavy losses. Also, your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead." But the final news was the worst: "The ark of God has been captured," meaning God himself was gone. When Eli heard that, he fell backward, broke his neck and died.

That was not the end of God's threats. In 1 Samuel 2:31-33 God said that because Eli had honored his sons more than God, he would cut short Eli's strength and the strength of everyone in his clan. The descendants of Eli would not live to old age. We read later in 1 Samuel 22 how Saul's servant Doeg destroyed eighty-five priests in the town of Nob, as well as all the other men, women, children and animals in that town. This destruction was part of God's judgment on Eli and his house.

Are We Honoring God?

It is not good to kick against God and his Scriptures. I must ask you, fathers: Are you working so hard that you neglect God's word? Are you so busy luxuriating and indulging that you do not not require your children to obey you the first time? If so, you are kicking against God. If this is true of you, soon you will see God as an enemy, and it will not be good for you. If you neglect God and do not honor his word, one day you will be filled with regret.

There was another father in the Old Testament named Joshua. In Joshua 24 he gave his people the choice of serving foreign gods, such as the gods of the new land of Canaan, or the gods of Ur of the Chaldeans, or the living, true God--the Creator, Redeemer and Lord of the covenant. They had a choice! "But," said Joshua, "as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15).

Think about it. Fathers, are you functioning as a prophet in your home, representing the Prophet, Jesus Christ? Do you articulate God's word to your family and require obedience to it from them? Are you a priest, representing the High Priest, Jesus Christ, in your home? Do you minister to your family about salvation through Jesus Christ and forgiveness of sins? Do you pray and intercede for them? Are you a king, representing the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ? Do you control and restrain your children? Is there order in your home?

When we worship our children, they become Ichabods, which means people without glory. But when we worship God and honor him, our children become glorious. Samuel served the Lord under Eli and learned first time obedience. We are told he received favor from man and God and lived in the presence of God. Even though everyone else was living in great darkness and apostasy, Samuel enjoyed great communion with the living God, and his fame spread from Dan to Beersheba.

At the beginning of 1 Samuel 3 we read that "in those days the word of the Lord was rare," but it concludes by saying that "the Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word." The word became plentiful. Let me assure you, when you read the word of God and it grips you, what does that mean? That God is pleased with you. When you pray and you delight in doing so, it means that God is communing with you.

May we soberly examine our ways. Do we want the favor of God, the presence of God, and the fame of God? If so, let us learn to revere the word of God and the God of the word. May we be delivered from self-indulgence, from gluttony, from the love of this world and from laziness. May we become people of the book and practice true, biblical family values, that we and our children will bring glory to God and in the process become glorious ourselves. Amen.

Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew

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