The Priesthood of Eli: Part 1
May 03, 2006
Even as King Saul is the foremost prophetic type of the political side of the Church in the Pentecostal Age, so also is Eli the foremost prophetic type of the priestly side of the Church in the Pentecostal Age.
Saul and Eli were contemporaries, although Eli died a year before Saul was crowned. One cannot really understand the Church of the past 2,000 years unless one understands both Saul and Eli. Church government has its roots in Saul, while its religious practices have their roots in Eli. In fact, it was partly the religious corruption of the house of Eli during his high priesthood that added to the discontent of the people, motivating them to demand a king. But since Eli had died, along with his two corrupt sons (one of whom would have succeeded his father as high priest), that problem had been divinely solved.
Eli was 98 years old when he died (1 Sam. 4:15) after forty years as high priest and judge in Israel. 1 Samuel 2:12 says, "Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the Lord." The passage proceeds to tell us that they were guilty of stealing the sacrifices and having sex with the female servants or employees (2:22).
Samuel was born during these days, and he was dedicated to God as a boy. So he was raised in the temple surroundings as one of Eli's servants. But he was also a prophet of God and was destined to be one of Israel's greatest judges.
Finally, an unknown prophet, "a man of God" (1 Sam. 2:27) came and pronounced judgment upon the house of Eli. The sign of judgment was that Eli's two corrupt sons would die in the same day (2:34) and would be replaced by "a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart" (vs. 35).
There are many layers of meaning to this replacement prophecy. The most immediately fulfillment was when these corrupt priests were replaced by Eleazar, the son of Abinadab (1 Sam. 7:1). Eleazar's name means "God helps," and he is therefore a prophetic picture of the Holy Spirit--much the same as Abraham's servant by the same name who went to find a bride for Isaac. The Holy Spirit is a paraklete, a "Comforter," that is, an Advocate (Helper) in a court of law (John 16:7).
So Eleazar, the new High Priest, is a picture of the Holy Spirit who acts as our priest, as we read in Romans 8:26 and 27,
"And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."
Besides being a "help," a priest is an intercessor between God and man. Paul says that this is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit. So while Eleazar himself was the most immediate fulfillment of the prophecy of the "faithful priest," his name prophesies of a deeper meaning that was yet to be revealed in the New Testament.
Another layer of meaning is that Samuel himself was the faithful priest. But this requires some further explanation.
The man of God who prophesied judgment upon Eli's house and priesthood also said that God was going to "cut off his arm" (1 Sam. 2:31). This was an idiom that meant his strength, authority, or calling was to be curtailed. The man of God did not define it, but there is a striking clue in verse 36,
"And it shall come about that everyone who is left in your house shall come and bow down to him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread, and say, "Please assign me to one of the priest's offices so that I may eat a piece of bread."
Eli's "arm" therefore has to do with "one of the priest's offices" that he would lose. In time it would become apparent that the high priest lost the office of the prophet. The priesthood and prophetic offices were originally united, because the high priest wore the ephod and had the urim and thummim by which he determined the will of God. But the office of the prophet was stripped from the priesthood because of its corruption. God then created a separate, distinct office of prophet--and Samuel was the first to hold that distinct office. Hence, Peter says in Acts 3:24,
"And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days."
To put this in context, in the beginning all authority was resident in Adam, who was the king of the earth. It was his Birthright. Later, in the days of Jacob, he separated the Scepter from the rest of the Birthright. The Scepter went to Judah; Joseph got the rest of the Birthright. Jacob also separated the priesthood from the Birthright, giving it to Levi--specifically to Aaron and his sons. Now, in the days of Samuel, the priesthood itself was being divided, as God was taking the prophetic authority away from the priesthood and creating a new Office of Prophet.
The verse quoted above implies that there would be priests who formerly held this office who would desire to get back this office. But this would put the prophet back under the authority of the priesthood. The reason for its separation was because of the corruption in the priesthood. It is necessary that the Prophet be distinct and accountable directly to God, rather than accountable to the priest (or pastor), at least until the priesthood is perfected.
Nowadays, in the Charismatic churches which believe that prophets are important in the Church, they tend to demand that the prophets submit to the Church leadership--the priesthood. This is a direct violation of what God did in the days of Samuel. The prophets must be in submission to God alone in order to retain their independence from the corruption factor. When they submit to the Church, they become Church prophets, rather than God's prophets. When they submit to the king (as so often happened in the Old Testament), they became the king's prophets. In so doing, they became "false" prophets, not because their prophecies were necessarily false, but because they betrayed their true Head by submitting to men.
This problem overlaps the problem that we have already seen with King Saul. It is a problem of government and the idea of submission to men, rather than to God. When the people reject the direct rule of Jesus Christ and desire to be in submission to men, God certainly grants them the desire of their heart, but they get a "Saul" to rule over them, who usually thinks that the people are there to serve him, rather than the other way around.
Thus, there are churches whose leadership and staff are forbidden to mingle with the rest of the church people. They have established their own petty religious aristocracies in the church. Such leaders collect tithes through guilt or greed. Either God will punish them for not giving ten percent of their income, or they convince people that God will double their money as a kind of divine investment strategy.
Tithing is a biblical principle, certainly, if it is taught properly. But as I show in my article, "The Law of Tithing," most people today do not owe tithe. A tithe is ten percent of income derived from God's labor (creation), not upon the wages one earns by working for Walmart. Churches tend to make everything "taxable income" in order to increase its revenue, but such policies are often fraudulent or done in ignorance.
Yet this is all part of what it means to demand a king to rule over us. This is the kind of Church government we were to have. Saul is a taker, not a giver. The people owe him, and he has an aristocracy complex.
So Saul and Eli must be understood together in order to understand either one.
This is the first part of a series titled "The Priesthood of Eli." To view all parts, click the link below.