“Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.” (1 Sam 2:12)
The high priest Eli had two worthless sons: Hophni and Phinehas. As priests themselves, they were tasked with overseeing the burnt offerings of Israel, making sure God received the best portions. Yet they routinely sent their servants to fish out of the boiling cauldrons their portion before the Lord received His (1 Sam 2:13-14). Any worshipper who protested this corruption was strong-armed: “No. You must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force” (v16). The Biblical writer comments, “the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” (v17). Eli’s sons were also fornicating with the ministering women who worked in the entrance of the tabernacle (v22).
Corrupt, evil, and depraved could all be employed to describe Hophni and Phinehas. Yet the designation of “worthless” is a special kind of indictment. A play on the word “Belial,” “worthless” is also label also used of the devil. After this damning label of “worthless” and the detailed description of their corruption, to say, “they did not know the Lord” seems an afterthought. But with closer scrutiny, we might be surprised by some of our own misconceptions about what it is to “know the Lord.”
Hophni and Phinehas did not know the Lord despite who their father was. Eli was the high priest in Israel. By all accounts he discharged the duties of his office well. He had a familiarity with the Lord that few others had. But did the personal holiness of Eli automatically transmit to his sons? That is not the way holiness works! God is not a respecter of persons. My family may help me know the Lord, but they cannot know him for me. Invoking mom & dad’s faith at judgment will hold no sway over the Lord!
Hophni and Phinehas did not know the Lord despite their proximity to spirituality. As Levites and priests, these boys had access to and familiarity with the spiritual that 99% of their brethren could not have. They grew up around the tabernacle. They knew the rituals. They wore the right clothes. Yet simply being near the trappings of spirituality did not mean that they knew the Lord. Do we ever mistakenly think that way? Is it possible to sit in a church pew without knowing the Lord?
These boys’ lack of familiarity with the Lord should give every churchgoer pause. Knowing God is not something that runs in the family. Being near spirituality is not the same as knowing God. “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” (Titus 1:16). To know God is to listen to Him, love Him, and obey Him.