Samuel and Eli
There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. (1 Samuel 1:1,2)
Hannah desperately wanted a son and promised God that if he gave her a son she would give him back to God to serve him.
And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11)
God answered her prayer. God gave her a son and she named him Samuel. When he was old enough she brought him to the house of God and gave him to Eli the priest.
And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young.Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. (1 Samuel 1:24,25)
I don’t think I would have considered Eli a suitable guardian for Samuel. He had two sons, named Hophni and Phineas, and although they served as priests, they were evil.
Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD.
The sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt. (1 Samuel 2:12,17)
Eli tried unsuccessfully to persuade his sons to change their ways.
Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people.” (1 Samuel 2:22,23)
God finally sent a man of God to pronounce judgment but he spoke not to Eli’s sons but to Eli himself.
Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel? (1 Samuel 2:29)
Apparently when his sons were little Eli had cared more for them than for his responsibilities as a priest. By doing this he condemned his sons to death. Does this sound like a person who should be entrusted with bringing up a future prophet?
Yet this is the man to whom God gave the responsibility of raising Samuel, and apparently he did a good job. Samuel grew up obeying God and the first message God gave to him was one of judgment on the house of Eli. God often chooses those whom we would consider unqualified to carry out his work.
It is also possible that Eli was chosen for this job because he had repented of his sin and undergone a change of heart. Hophni and Phinehas carried the ark into battle against the Philistines in the hope that this would give them victory. Instead they were killed and the ark captured. Notice how Eli responded when he heard the news.
A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head. When he arrived, Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?”
Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see. And the man said to Eli, “I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.”
And he said, “How did it go, my son?”
He who brought the news answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”
As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. (1 Samuel 4:12-18)
Eli had been told that his two sons would die, and yet his concern was not about them but about the ark. It was the fact that the ark had been captured, not that is sons were dead, that caused him to fall and be killed. At one time his sons had been the most important thing in his life; now it was the ark. It is unlikely that anyone else realized how his thinking had changed but God certainly knew.