The Foolish Wise Old Man

Is passivity ever right?

(1 Samuel 3:15–18)

7 to the Synagogue

On the way to Synagogue in Jerusalem; circa 1900 I believe.

I cannot make my mind up. Was Eli wise with a little foolishness thrown in? Or was he mainly the fool, with a little wisdom given to spice up his character?  There are times I like the chap, and other times I am not sure. It is only because of Samuel, and the way he turned out in the end, that one is pressured to give the, “thumbs up,” to surrogate Big Daddy Eli.

In debating with myself about this old man, I always give him a big fat zero out 10 often for what went on the following morning after Samuel’s first revelation.  Domineering, and rude.  Insensitive and loud.  “Tell me!  Tell me!”  And no sign of, “How did it go last night, son?”  After all, it was only the first revelation of its kind in Israel for centuries.  It was only Yahweh Himself manifesting His presence and His word to a young man in the tent.  I am all for keeping spiritual people humble, but Eli’s approach was too crass, too foolish to do him credit.

Then again, perhaps he was afraid of dying any moment. I don’t say that facetiously. With the practices of his sons, with his acknowledgement of his own culpability in their upbringing and lack of discipline, and with the earlier prophetic promise of familial demise of power, and no, “senior citizens,” ever to be amongst their ranks again, it would seem logical that he considered himself as about to, “pop his clogs.”  “Any day,” might have been the word Eli could have used.  With that understanding we could, perhaps, understand the hurried, “Tell me quick, Samuel!  I might not be here to hear it all!” Honestly! I am not trying to be funny with that one.

See what I mean! There! I’ve done it again. Now I condemn the old man; now I exonerate him.

 “Samuel, my son.”  The young man must have dreaded this. Probably the first conversation of the day. Not even waiting for the breakfast table talk, Eli attacks.

Here I am.”  Are there any imperfections to the attitude of this young, “prophet,” in the making?  How many people, especially if they were a child (Remember, I, personally, am not sure he was.) would keep the message to themselves? The excitement! The burning inside! The drama! The interest!  But if Samuel had been that kind of character, he would not have been told what he had been told, would he?

“What is the thing that the Lord has said to you?  I beg you hide it not from me:  God do so to you and more, if you hide anything from me of all the things that he said to you.”  Eli’s words betray him. He had guessed already what the message was. Only if there was heavy destructive judgment in the air could Eli have said, “God do so to you and more if you hide it.” He knew alright!  What had happened is that Eli had been eating, sleeping and drinking the, “Hammer Horror Film” of prophecy that was laid on him by the nameless prophet earlier.  It was profound and shattering, both to his family, and the nation. After all; he was the inter regnum High Priest.  As the bad news he had received from the nameless prophet had not yet been fulfilled, he felt it was surely a repetition, or perhaps even, some appalling enlargement of what had earlier been predicted.

1 yemenite color

Elderly Yeminite Jew in Jerusalem circa 1900. Hand coloured.

This understanding puts me back on Eli’s side very strongly.  I am impressed with the thought that Eli had thought of nothing else since the day the prophet spoke to him.  Surely that was the fact of the matter. Whether it was a week earlier, or a decade previous.  Eli was in a state of agony. Limbo! “Is this the day that I leave this mortal coil?”

Regrets are awesome tyrants when they are left to roam free in one’s memory.  Dictators!  Taskmasters!  I believe they often make people physically and/or mentally ill. If regrets are chewed on too much and too strongly, they are a veritable danger to health. This assumed fact made Eli’s continued existence on planet earth very tenuous.

But how on earth could he have possibly ignored the two sons for so long?  They weren’t always grown men, uncontrollable, lustful and anarchic. They were once on his knee, they were once asking, “Daddy,” to play with them, and tell them stories. They were babies, toddlers, and little children once. Oh, the agony of lost time!  How deep the pain of neglected opportunities!  How bloody are the consequences of missing the greatest of all God’s calls: the call to parenthood?  Anybody with normal physical functions could sire children. It takes a man to be a father. Of all the roles we play on this planet, the key role of being a mother or a father is the heaviest and the most responsible, and Eli had, sadly, fluffed it.

Samuel, being the person he was, did as he was told. He explained to Eli everything and hid nothing, for that is what he was ordered to do.  Picture the pain of the speaker. Feel the pain of the listener. Then listen to the pathos in the old man’s response. I hear the priest as in a daze. I perceive him numbed with grief for his wayward, perverted, yet nevertheless, beloved sons. I feel his heart almost stop beating, and smell the salt of his tears as the words are torn from his guts like some pillaging Philistine tearing out his stomach. “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good.”  

No justification of self. No condemnation of God, or his sons. Complete submission!  One of the greatest gems that God ever whispered in this writers ear was the concept of justifying God first and foremost at the outbreak of any personal catastrophe. The quiet, though agonised acceptance with which the elderly priest received the intimation of certain earthly doom seems to indicate that Eli, so confident of the love of the All-Pitiful Almighty Yahweh, looked for some other means of salvation devised in the counsels of Yahweh, the Eternal friend of Israel. He had his sight fixed on that by which his deathless soul, after the earthly penalty, would be reconciled to the invisible King.  Surely he looked on to the one sure hope.  The blood of bulls and goats could not help him now.  But the blood of a better covenant would. Eli, it seems to me, knew his eternal future because of his faith in the God of Israel.

Eli was probably nought but a pawn in his sons’ dealings since their adulthood.  But Eli was still their father.  Eli was their head.  Eli was the High Priest and spiritual head of the nation.  However, Eli had sown to the wind, and had reaped the whirlwind. Passivity with his own son’s upbringing had brought damnation.

8 Home from Synagogue

Home from the Synagogue in Jerusalem.

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Categories: 1 Samuel 3:15-18, Being a Prophet is a privilege, Definition of a Prophet, Is Passivity ever right?, Samuel's first prophetic word., The Foolish Wise Old man | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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