“He is Lord, let him do what is good in his eyes,” said Eli.
Doesn’t this seem like a good response to what the Lord says?
Eli was priest over Israel before the kingdom was established and when judges ruled over the nation. We perhaps only hear about his story because his life intersects with a young boy named Samuel, whom God set aside as a prophet, and one of the most influential people in Israel’s history. Eli was ministering in the house of God when Samuel was given by his mother to stay and minister for all of his life before the Lord, and Eli raises and shapes the life of this young man as well as having raised his own sons who served before the Lord.
You might think that, with the same person raising them, Samuel and Eli’s sons would have had a similar regard for the Lord, but that was not the case. Eli received a prophetic warning that his sons would die for their great sin before the Lord, and that his family line would not continue to prosper. After this warning, God gave another warning to Eli—this time through the boy Samuel.
Even after a second warning, there was no repentance from Eli in the matter, and no recorded discussion Eli had with his sons. Eli seemed only to fear the people and not God. (Eli’s only rebuke to his sons came after he heard what people were saying about them, not after what God had said!) Eli’s response to Samuel’s revelation of God’s heart and of the upcoming disaster of his family’s lives was,
“He is Lord, let him do what is good in his eyes,” said Eli.
Though this may seem like a godly response to the Word of the Lord since it does regard the Lord’s sovereignty, it lacks any sort of response or responsibility to what the Lord says. There is a verse in the New Testament that says in James 1: 22-25,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (NIV)
Eli had a mirror placed before him, saw the sin, and then failed to respond to what he saw. His response recognized God’s sovereignty, but he did not honor the Lord by responding!
To put it into an every-day context, I have told my kids that there was a big mess in the living room, and if they didn’t clean it up, they would not receive their full allowance. But what do I really want them to do? Do I want them to fail? Of course I don’t. I want them to clean up the mess and receive their full allowance. I don’t desire their punishment. Neither does God. I believe God just wanted them to clean up the mess of sin.
So, if Eli’s response was not the best way to handle God’s rebuke, what IS a good response to the word of the Lord? Well, let us look at another man who received a rebuke and a judgment from the Lord. King David was known as a man after God’s heart, but he, too, sinned in a way that brought devastation to others. What was his response to the Lord’s correction? On both of the occasions, when he was confronted with the sin, he repented before the Lord, and begged, prayed and fasted humbly for God’s mercy on those whom his sin was affecting. No matter what God’s response was to his pleas, he took God’s words very seriously, and did not let the prophetic words from God he received fall to the ground. He did not look just to his own fate, but loved those around him enough to ask God for mercy on them, unlike Eli.
David’s adultery with Bathsheba was one of those instances. David had sinned, and then seemingly went on with his life, unaware of God’s grievance against him until the prophet Nathan came and gave David God’s words of rebuke and judgment on the sin. The word was that the son born to David would die because of this. David looked into the “mirror” of God’s word and saw himself as God saw him, and David repented. It was a very similar word as what Eli had been given about his sons, and yet the response was so different. David fasted and prayed up until the time that his son died in hope that God would change his mind. David showed concern for the next generation, and fear of the Lord. In another instance where God judged David for a sin, when David repented, God did take action in showing mercy. No matter what the outcome, God wants us to be changed when he gives a rebuke.
Eli’s response is similar to King Hezekiah’s, when the prophet Isaiah told him that everything in his palace and some of his own descendants would be taken away to Babylon because of his sin. Hezekiah’s response was like Eli’s, “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” and it goes on to tell why he responded that way: “for he thought, ‘will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” Did this response take any responsibility for HIS actions? Did it look to the well-being of others around him? And though Hezekiah had walked most of his life in good relationship to God, he grew lazy toward the word of God at the end of his life.
God’s rebukes are not a bad thing.
Hebrews 12:5-6 says, “My (child), do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a (child). It is too much work to discipline those you do not care about. I put effort into my children, because I want to see them grow to have good character, and sometimes this requires rebuke. I take time to discipline them because I love them and care about who they are to become. Do not be discouraged by the Lord’s correction. This is how we grow to be like Him.
How does the word of God come to us? Is it always a rebuke? No! I believe God would rather be talking to us about his plans and what he is doing, not having to correct us. But remember, we will always be corrected as long as we are children of God.
The next sentence in the Bible after Eli said his final remarks of “He is the Lord, let him do what is good in his eyes”, the bible says in contrast that Samuel, however, feared the Lord and “didn’t let any of his words fall to the ground.” Samuel loved the Lord and knew that what God said was precious. He treated what God told him with honor and respect. Samuel walked with the Lord and obeyed him so that the Lord trusted him with many important tasks that were to be done in this important time in the history of Israel. Because of Samuel’s obedience to the Lord, Saul was established as first king over Israel, and then later, David was anointed by Samuel to be king. Samuel had to give some difficult words to individuals and to people of Israel, but he had the joy of a close walk with the Lord, an the opportunity to be in the middle of what God was doing.
Don’t we want to be there too? So let’s look at the words that God gives us, and make certain that we, like Samuel, do not let God’s words fall to the ground.