in praise of Eli

Remember Eli? He was the priest of the temple back when Samuel was born. As the story goes he spoke with Hannah, Samuel’s mother when she was praying to God for a child. After birthing Samuel Hannah dedicated him to God and gave him to the temple to serve. Eli’s own sons where scoundrels. They stole from the donations brought to the temple and bullied the worshippers. And so God decided to drop Eli and his descendants and start afresh with Samuel. God came to Samuel in the night and told him exactly that and furthermore he told him to pass the message on to Eli. Samuel, who was still a child, was terrified and did not want to give Eli the bad news. But come morning Eli, who was aware that God had called out to Samuel, asked Samuel what the Lord had said. Samuel finally told him of God’s judgement.

Now here is where my respect for Eli begins. Most folk, upon hearing such news, would start defending themselves, arguing that they were not to blame for their sons’ actions. Or they would argue that they should have a chance at redemption, that it’s not over till it’s over. But Eli did none of that. He accepted the judgement and  continued to serve. He helped Samuel hear God’s call and grow in faith. In short Eli was able to look beyond himself and his family woes to a greater good. That impresses me.

The following will sound like old school whining but it feels like people today rarely look beyond themselves and their own needs. We complain about minimum wage increases because the cost of my cup of coffee will go up. We deny climate change because we might have to make a personal sacrifice. We will not spend more on clothing even if it does mean unfair labour practices in Bangladesh. Eli let God’s will take the lead.

Eli lived to be ninety-eight years old. He served Israel as judge for 40 years. He died upon hearing the news that the ark of the covenant had been captured by the Philistines. I am struck that the author of the story cannot bring himself to condemn Eli in the end. The life is long and the ending tinged with faithfulness despite the condemnation under which he lived.

God bless Eli and God bless all who put the greater good before themselves.

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