When we hear the name of Eli Samuel, it brings to mind a man who served as a mentor and teacher. He was a man who had great faith and courage. He was a leader who was loved and respected by the people he led. He was a spiritual father who helped many young people through difficult times. And he was a prophet who was called by God and gave clear messages to the people of Israel.
The story of Samuel begins with Hannah, a formerly barren woman who had prayed to the Lord for a son. His answer came in the form of a newborn boy who was dedicated to the service of the tabernacle by his mother. Hannah took him along each year when she went to Shiloh to offer her sacrifices.
Over time, Eli became very successful as a priest and judge of the people of Israel. He was even given the three highest offices in the land, those of high priest, president of the Sanhedrin, and ruler over the entire nation of Israel.
But despite his success and wealth, he was not happy. He was troubled by the way his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were dishonoring the Lord. They had violated the Law by stealing meat from the sacred offerings and having sex with the women who served in the tabernacle. Eli tried to stop them but was unable to do so. Eventually the Philistines defeated the Israelites in battle, killed both of his sons, and destroyed the Ark of the Covenant.
When the Lord approached Eli, he told him that He had brought about this terrible judgment on his family because of their wickedness. He also said that His blessing on his lineage of priests would no longer continue. The only priest to survive the slaughter of the sons of Hophni and Phinehas was Abiathar, and he later died and was dismissed by Solomon (1 Samuel 2:27-36).
God told Eli that He was going to raise up another prophet, a man who would serve as a priest, a judge, and a prophet. This was a very serious and sobering message. It is hard to imagine how painful it must have been for Eli to receive such a word from the Lord.
Despite the harsh word of judgment against his surrogate family, there was something about the love that Eli had for Samuel that enabled him to accept the call from God to train his successor. This is one of the characteristics that makes Eli a model for us as we consider how to lead and teach others. He loved the next generation and was willing to give them the best instruction that he could while not trying to take their place as his peers. In doing so, he placed what was in their best interest above his own pride and jealousy. This is a lesson that we need to learn and apply in our own lives.