Nathan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “As Samuel told you, by the time he was twelve, word had already spread throughout the tribes that Hophni and Phinehas were seducing the young women whose fathers were offering sacrifices for the people in Shiloh. So God spoke to my father in a dream, telling him to give a word of rebuke to Eli for refusing to discipline his sons and to declare them as unfit for the priesthood.”
“This was before Eli heard the same stern warning from Samuel. God sent my father to tell him that his family had been rejected by God and that his line would be cut off. 84 No longer would his family minister as High Priests in Israel, even though God had promised their ancestor, Phinehas, son of Eleazar, that from his line would come the High Priests indefinitely. 85 Eli’s family was disqualified.”
“Further,” Nathan said, “the sign that this was truly a word from God was that both of Eli’s sons would die on the same day, for God intended to raise up a faithful High Priest to take their place.”
“And what was his reaction?” I asked.
“He was disturbed and angry, but he did not dare rebuke my father, for he seemed to know that the word was true. Yet because his sons denied the accusations, he was forced to set up a formal hearing. He did not entrust this case to Abdon, knowing that his sons would certainly lose the case, so he decided to judge the case himself, claiming that it was an internal priestly matter.”
“So,” Nathan continued, “Eli sat in judgment upon his own sons, which could hardly result in an impartial verdict. No one dared to witness against the sons of the High Priest, and it is whispered that the witnesses were threatened. Neither did the young women who were involved want to admit their sin, lest they be stoned. So there were no witnesses who testified against Hophni and Phinehas.”
“What then?” I asked. “Was not God a witness to their sin?”
“Yes,” Nathan replied. “God bore witness through my father, and Eli knew this. But he chose to dismiss the divine witness as being insufficient, because my father could not prove it legally. After all, the sign proving the word had not yet come to pass, for Hophni and Phinehas were yet alive and standing in the court.”
“What then? What was Eli’s ruling?” I asked again.
“As the judge, Eli claimed that he was required to enforce the law against false witnesses. 86 Further, he claimed that my father had cursed and reviled the rulers of Israel. 87 To curse the family of the High Priest who represents God, he added, was to blaspheme God, so he condemned my father to death.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “Did he not appeal the case to the divine court for judgment? Since he was the boys’ father, he should have appointed another to judge the case impartially. But if he wanted to judge the case himself, while knowing in his heart that the accusation was true, he should have appealed the case to God Himself and let God judge your father.”
“He did not do so,” Nathan said. “nor did he allow my father to appeal the case to the divine court, for he was quite anxious to execute my father, lest he should spread discontent among the people.
“So what happened then?” I asked.
“Hophni and Phinehas, claiming to be victims of false accusation, were the first to cast the stones.”
“I am so sorry to hear that,” I said. “Your father was a man of God and will receive great reward for the word of his testimony. This was surely a very painful experience for you.”
“So it was, and for all who knew the truth. But God comforted me with a song, which was born, as it were, out of the pain of childbirth.” With that, Nathan picked up the harp, closed his eyes, and after a moment of silence, began to sing:
I took His presence with me
To where grass and flowers grow,
He took me to His canopy,
Where words of life can flow.
A place where grows the tree,
Forbidden by the Cherubim,
Whose fruit is yet for free,
To worthy ones of Ephraim.
These pass the test of fire—
The Watchers with the sword—
These come with pure attire,
With Him in one accord.
He took the broken-hearted,
And healed me by His touch,
Never to be parted;
His comfort meant so much.
In the dark, expectant stillness,
In a place I could not see,
I saw Him in His fulness,
And felt His love for me.
The song transformed the sukkah into a holy canopy, a shelter from the storms of life, a refuge for those fleeing injustice, a strong tower for those in danger. The table was our tree of life, on which a banquet had been spread, a feast of life-giving spiritual fruit and strong meat, by which we might grow into maturity and be equipped to do the work for which we had been created.
It was a canopy of love for those who seek to know God intimately, to understand His heart and His ways, to merge heaven and earth, and to come into full union with Him. In that moment, we all felt the deep presence of God, and we were undone, overwhelmed by His joy and sadness, holy laughter and sacred tears, mingling as one.
We were stunned into silence, unable to say anything that could possibly add to the comforting word that God gave to Nathan. There is nothing like music to mend sorrowed hearts. Tears dropped one by one to the cool ground of the holy sukkah.
In that moment we knew that we could not separate the pain from the joy, for they came as one body, contrasting opposites. One could not be known without the other. One had no meaning without the other. And out of the light shining in the thick darkness of hidden deity, we saw it. The Creator Himself had suffered pain—every pain of the world’s self-inflicted wounds throughout the ages of history—for He too, somehow, if it were possible, sought to achieve greater joy.
Perhaps, He, being the very embodiment of joy already, with no way to increase His own experience, could only enhance His joy through others who were in union with Him. Perhaps the Law of Unity was the key to all things in heaven and in earth. Perhaps joy was its original purpose, and that pain was the only path to such enhanced joy.
For a long time we sat on holy ground at the Creator’s feet, visions and inspired words flowing freely from the heavens opened by Nathan’s harp. At last, the torrent from the heavenly river slowed to a silent stream and finally to a reverent trickle, and I broke the silence.
“I told Eli many years ago that he would outlive his sons, and that for this reason they would not succeed him in this office. But now I understand why. The death of his sons will be the sign that he has been rejected as High Priest—and he must live to see that sign.”
“Eli himself will die shortly after receiving this sign. God will judge all three of them on the same day, along with Shiloh itself. The Ark of God will be removed from Shiloh and will never again return. In fact, His presence will leave the tribe of Ephraim and will be given to Judah to see if that tribe is a more worthy host.”
“If the sons of Eli are killed, who will replace him as High Priest?” Nathan asked.
“None of Phinehas’ sons,” I said, turning to him, “but his grandson, Ahijah, the son of Ahitub, will replace Eli. He will die young, and his younger brother will then wear the ephod until he is killed unjustly for doing good. After this, only one more generation will wear the ephod, and then the family of Eli will be no more.”
“On account of your father’s untimely death,” I said to Nathan, “Yahweh is willing to reveal to you one of His secrets. Samuel will replace Eli as God’s true High Priest, but this will not be known, nor will Samuel be recognized on earth, except as a prophet and judge. Yet in the sight of God, Samuel will be the true High Priest of an Order that is unknown to most Israelites—the Melchizedek Order.”
“There will be many changes when Shiloh is overthrown,” I continued. “Before the Ark is given to Judah, Samuel will minister as God’s anointed prophet, priest, and judge. As a faithful priest, he will prefigure the coming Messiah in every way except as a king, for the time of kings has not yet come.”
“Knowing such future things is enlightening, but can be dangerous. Shall we keep this a secret from Samuel, seeing that he is our good friend?” Nathan asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Do not tell him. God will tell him in due time, for He has already placed in his heart the desire to see God’s glory in the Most Holy Place. But you will be able to watch as he develops. Men already know him for his prophetic gift, and now he begins his duties as a priest.”
“He knows too,” I added, “that he will be a judge as well, for I told him this after I redeemed him from the Philistines. Samson will begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines, but Samuel will complete this task when this forty-year captivity is complete. So there is not much he does not know already. The only thing that you should keep secret is his role as God’s High Priest, for God Himself must appoint him and reveal this calling to him. There is a time for every revelation, and we are often troubled when our curiosity is satisfied too soon. It is best not to know future things before we are ready to hear them.”
“There is another matter of great importance that I must tell you,” Nathan said. “It was shortly after my father was condemned and stoned that God gave Samuel the similar message for Eli. Samuel was my father’s second witness to establish the truth. Eli was shaken by this, for he knew in his heart that he had done a terrible wrong and had brought shame to the house of God.”
“Samuel told me that the glory of God then departed from the Most Holy Place. On the following Day of Atonement, Eli’s hands shook and he seemed frightened about entering into the Most Holy Place. It was as if he did not expect to survive God’s presence at the ceremony.”
“What did he do?” I asked.
“Samuel said that Eli’s hands were shaking and his expressionless face was ashen as the priests tied the rope around his ankle and put the bells on his robe. It was as if he was certain that when he beheld the glory of God, he would be struck dead, and the priests would have to drag his body out of the tabernacle.”
“But he yet lives,” I said, “so obviously, that did not happen.”
“Yes, and that is where the story becomes even more serious,” Nathan said. “Samuel said that even though Eli survived the ceremony, he seemed to be in a state of shock when he emerged to give the blessing to the people. In fact, he could hardly speak, and when he did, his voice quavered with emotion—perhaps fear.”
“What does Samuel believe was the cause of this?” I asked again.
“He believes that the lamp of God had departed from the house of God. 88 Where it went, no one could say. But Eli would not talk about it, for if men discovered the truth, they would immediately know that he and his sons had been rejected by God. They would soon realize that they had stoned my father unjustly. So there was no way that Eli could admit the truth without destroying his family and the house of God.”
It occurred to me that the glory of God, which hovered over the sanctuary in the wilderness, had been seen daily by all of the people. However, after carrying the Ark into the midst of the Jordan River, the glory of God remained between the Cherubim only. Hence, when the tabernacle was set up at Shiloh, the glory was no longer seen hovering above the house. Only the High Priest would have seen the shekinah once a year on the Day of Atonement.
“So no one knew what had happened,” I said, “because no one was able to see into the Most Holy Place. No one knew that the glory had departed, nor do they know even to this day, though perhaps some might suspect it, if they have spiritual eyes to see beyond the veil.”
“That is what Samuel believes, and I concur with his conclusion,” Nathan said. “We have been asking ourselves for the past few years what happened to the shekinah.”
“Well, that explains why Eli did not die when he entered the Most Holy Place with an unworthy heart,” I replied. “Perhaps God had mercy on him by leaving before Eli’s arrival.”
“I had not thought of that,” Nathan said. “Surely, the mercy of God is beyond understanding!”
Eleazar and Pegasus arrived just then with beautiful branches, and we helped them build an extension to the sukkah that would include the horses during the reading of the law. But as we were putting the final branch on the roof, I heard a familiar voice behind me.
- 1 Samuel 2:27-36
- Numbers 25:11-13. God promised him “an everlasting priesthood” (KJV), or “perpetual priesthood” (NASB). However, the word olam refers to an indefinite, hidden, or unknown period of time, not unending time. The root word is alam, “to hide or conceal.” Hence his priesthood might end.
- Deuteronomy 19:18, 19
- Exodus 22:28
- 1 Samuel 3:3