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The Priesthood of Eli: Part 3

May 05, 2006

There is no biblical evidence that Eli was anything but a good, kindly old man who fulfilled his duties faithfully in the temple. There is no doubt that he was a true believer as well. We do know from 1 Sam. 3:2 that "his eyesight had begun to grow dim, and he could not see well," which seems to be symbolic of his spiritual condition. But this would have more to do with the "blind servant" theme of Isaiah, rather than a condition of real unbelief.

We do know that God was judging Israel during the entire time that Eli was high priest. Judges 13:1 says,

"Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, so that the Lord gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years."

Eli died just before the end of this captivity. He had been high priest forty years (1 Sam. 4:18). Thus, Eli was the high priest during Israel's captivity to the Philistines. The Philistines allegorically represent the carnal mind, which takes control when one is in rebellion against God in some way. God was judging Israel for her rebellion, and Eli was the leader responsible and accountable to God.

Eli's sons not only were corrupt, they were not even believers. They were "sons of Belial," as the Hebrew text of 1 Sam. 2:12 tells us. As their father, Eli was responsible for their upbringing. As high priest, Eli was held liable for their actions. When he failed to correct his sons, he ought to have removed them from the priesthood. He did not do so, and so God held him accountable and judged him according to the law.

The elders of Israel did not understand why God had allowed Israel to remain in captivity so long. They apparently saw no connection between the captivity and the corruption in the temple with Eli's sons. Like so many people, they thought that the problem was in the forms and rituals, rather than in the character of the people and the leaders. So they took counsel, saying in 1 Sam. 4:3,

"Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies."

They brought the ark to the battlefield, along with Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phineas. No doubt, when they took up the ark from the tabernacle in Shiloh, they did as Moses had done (Num. 10:35), praying,

"Rise up, O Lord! And let Thine enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Thee flee before Thee."

Israel fought the battle against the Philistines, who, they supposed, hated God and were God's "enemies." They found, however, that from the divine perspective, the situation was quite different.  1 Sam. 4:10 says,

"So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent; and the slaughter was very great; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers."

Thus, God's "enemies" fled, as Israel had prayed. But Israel discovered that THEY were God's enemies--not the Philistines. From the divine perspective, Israel was the nation that hated God, as proven by their rebellion and lawless priests. The Philistines were not the problem. The Philistines were part of God's solution--the judgment that God raised up against Israel.

In the battle, the Philistines killed Hophni and Phineas and captured the ark of the covenant (4:11). When the news came to Eli, verse 18 says,

"And it came about when he mentioned the ark of the covenant, that Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. Thus, he judged Israel forty years."

Eli was judged according to the law found in Exodus 13:13 and Exodus 34:20, which says,

"And you shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the first-born of your sons."

This requires some explanation. When Abram took Hagar the Egyptian to produce Ishmael, the angel of God said to her about her son in Gen. 16:12, "And he will be a wild donkey [pareh awdawm] of a man." Symbolically, Ishmael was a "wild donkey," and this had to do with his character. Years later, Jeremiah called Israel a "wild donkey" as well. (See Jer. 2:24.)

Ishmael had an Egyptian mother, and Egypt represents the house of bondage. Allegorically speaking, Ishmael was a believer, a "son of Abraham," but he was also a product of his mother and had a mixed character.

The situation with Abraham was repeated on a national scale when God became the Father of Israel, for "out of Egypt I called My son" (Hosea 11:1). In other words, God was Israel's Father, and Egypt was his mother. Egypt gave birth to Israel, with the pains of childbirth that we know as the ten plagues, and the umbilical cord was cut when Israel crossed the Red Sea.

The implication of this is that Israel, like Ishmael, was a "wild donkey," having God as their Father and Egypt as their mother. For this reason the law (quoted above) specified that the first-born Israelites all had to be redeemed with a lamb. If they had already been lambs, they would not have needed redemption. This is why Israel came out through the feast of Passover, in which they redeemed by the Lamb. Without Passover, they would have been wild asses, and God would have had to break their necks.

Thus, Israel became "the sheep of His pasture" (Psalm 100:3), not because they were born so, but by virtue of their redemption by the Lamb. Any genealogical Israelite who thinks he is a sheep by virtue of his genealogy is a donkey in sheep's clothing.

The point of this is to show that Eli the high priest died when he fell over backwards and broke his neck. This manner of divine judgment in his case was to remind us of the law in Exodus 34:20. Though he was high priest of the lineage of Aaron, God considered him to be an unredeemed wild donkey in his character--not so much his personal character, but as representing the people and being accountable for his two sons.

So Eli died and was replaced by Eleazar, the nearest surviving relative. His son was Abiathar, who was high priest during the time of King David. He outlived David, but backed Adonijah to be the next king, rather than backing Solomon, the rightful heir to the throne. Because of this, Solomon replaced him with Zadok, as we read in 1 Kings 2:27 and 35,

"So Solomon dismissed Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord, which He had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh ... And the king appointed Zadok the priest in place of Abiathar."

So finally the prophecy against Eli came to pass after about eighty years. It did not happen during the forty years of Saul's rule, nor did it happen during the forty years of David's rule. Only in the early part of Solomon's reign did Zadok replace the house of Eli as high priest.

Solomon's name means "peaceful." As such, he is a prophetic pattern of the peaceful reign of Christ in the Kingdom. In that Kingdom, the Church's house of Eli will be replaced by the overcomer Melchi-Zadok priests. This is the prophecy of Ezekiel 44, which I will discuss next.


This is the third part of a series titled "The Priesthood of Eli." To view all parts, click the link below.

The Priesthood of Eli


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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones