|Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 23 So he said to them, "Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 24 No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD's people. 25 If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?" His sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke, for it was the LORD's will to put them to death. (1Samuel2:22-25)|
Once again, the sin of the sons is serious:
- They are sleeping with the women who serve at the temple. These poor women would have had no choice and are left defiled as they serve the Lord.
- These actions have not been secret, the people have come to hear of them.
- People have been talking about it to such an extent that Eli their father comes to hear of it.
- Eli makes it clear - they are not only sinning toward the women - they are sinning against God.
Such is the arrogance of Eli's sons that their hearts are so hard.
Our passage contains a difficult statement: "His sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke, for it was the LORD's will to put them to death."
There are two ways to interpret this passage:
The first interpretation is that God wanted to put them to death and so He caused them not to listen to their father's rebuke. This makes God the causal factor in their sin. Some argue that Pharaoh's heart was similarly hardened. But this interpretation should be rejected.
The other interpretation is that God's decision to put them to death is simply based in His knowledge of their hard hearts. In the verses that follow in the remainder of this chapter, we will see pendulum keep swinging: On the positive side we're told that Samuel "continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men." Then back on the negative side we're told that a prophet visits Eli and rebukes him for his failure with his sons and foretells the death of the sons who have continued their sin in spite of numerous warnings and Samuel's devout example.
Although God's decision is that they should die, the opportunities to repent keep coming^ - unfortunately sometimes there are none so blind as those who will not see...
^ We see this same phenomenon in Pharaoh who is given TEN opportunities to let God's people go and he chooses evil every time. God "hardens" his heart by giving him numerous opportunities to do the right thing.
Furthermore, in Isaiah 6, the prophet is called to "make the hearts of the people callous..." but when you look at Isaiah's message it is overwhelmingly a call to repent and a message of hope. And so, once again, God "hardens" a heart by exposing it repeatedly to grace. When repeatedly offered grace is rejected then the person's heart is shown to be hard and we understand why judgment has to fall.
This is what hardening is: a gracious and compassionate God repeatedly offers people a chance to encounter forgiveness and grace and repeated rejections of this grace make it clear that the person has made their choice.