When Eli’s sons were grown up and married, and Eli was very old, the report of his sons’ shocking conduct kept coming to him. The record states: “Now the sons of Eli were good-for-nothing men; they did not acknowledge Jehovah. As for the due right of the priests from the people, whenever any man was offering a sacrifice, an attendant of the priest came with the three-pronged fork in his hand, just when the meat was boiling, and made a thrust into the basin or the two-handled cooking pot or the caldron or the one-handled cooking pot. Anything that the fork might bring up the priest would take for himself. That is the way they would do in Shiloh to all the Israelites coming there.”—1 Sam. 2:12-14.
The law provided for the sustenance of the priesthood in this manner: In the communion offering, when the worshiper presented his sacrifice from the herd or the flock, the priests were allowed the breast of the animal as their portion. The officiating priest received as his own portion the right leg. But Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s sons, would have their attendants take from the cooking pot whatever their large fork would bring up, thus disrespecting God by violating his arrangement and mistreating the Israelite who brought the sacrifice. Worse than this, they robbed God by taking their portion from the offering before the fat parts were offered on the altar—a violation of the law.—1 Sam. 2:15-17; Lev. 7:32-34; 3:3-5.
Adding to their sins, these wicked men committed acts of immorality with the women who served at the tabernacle, so that all Israel came to know about it. And the report of their terrible desecration of God’s sanctuary came to the ears of Eli.—1 Sam. 2:22.
Herein lay Eli’s greatest failure. As father of Hophni and Phinehas and, with great seriousness, as God’s anointed high priest of Israel, Eli should have taken immediate disciplinary action by removing those two men from their priestly offices and ejecting them from serving at the sanctuary. Moreover, they should have been punished according to the law for their crimes. Instead, Eli merely said to them:
“Why do you keep doing things like these? For the things I am hearing about you from all the people are bad. No, my sons, because the report is not good that I am hearing, that the people of Jehovah are causing to circulate. If a man should sin against a man, God will arbitrate for him; but if it is against Jehovah that a man should sin, who is there to pray for him?”—1 Sam. 2:23-25.
Then Jehovah God sent his prophet to tell him that his family will be judged in a terrible way. This prophecy was partially fulfilled when, a short time later, Eli’s two sons were killed in battle with the Philistines, and the ark, which they had carried into battle, was captured. Eli, on hearing the report, fell backward off his seat by the gate and broke his neck.—1 Sam. 4:10, 11, 18.
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