1 Samuel 1-3 • How God Deals with Bad Leaders


It’s worth examining the first 3 chapters of 1 Samuel as a whole to contrast and compare all the people presented, who and what they represent, and how they relate to our own calling and ministry. Throughout all these examples a common thread is discovered that regardless of title, office, position or lack thereof, personal obedience is always elevated above all other qualifying factors. Within the lives of these characters we see how God deals with bad spiritual leaders, our own role in the process, and what we should seek to emulate.

Introduction to Eli
Read 1:12-18

Q: What can we learn about Eli by the way he jumped to conclusions about Hannah?

A: He either wasn’t used to seeing people pray, or he’d become accustomed to seeing people drunk. (?) In either case, he seems to lack the ability to discern good from bad behavior. (Note the play on words by Hannah: “I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.”) He easily concedes to her situation, invoking God’s name, without really knowing what her petition is about. (Again, no spiritual discernment on either end of the spectrum.)

Q: What does this say about Eli as a spiritual leader?

A: He wasn’t much of one. As the High Priest he seems to have become more accustomed to worldly behavior than inspiriting spiritual behavior; he might just be “going through the motions” as holder of an office.

Introduction to the Sons of Eli
Read 2:12-18

Q: How are Eli’s sons described in verses 12 & 13?

As “worthless” (NASB) or “wicked” (NIV) men. Literally, the term “Sons of Belial” is applied which was a Hebrew way of saying base, worthless, or wicked men. (Paul uses this phrase in 2 Corinthians 6:15 to refer to Satan.)

Q: What is wrong with the way they handled sacrifices as described in v.13-14?

“Now this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those who offer a sacrifice, either an ox or a sheep, of which they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach.”

— Deuteronomy 18:3

They were taking for themselves whatever they wanted rather than the portions allowed and designated by God.

Q: What is wrong with the references to the utensils such as the fork and pan and kettle, et al?

A: They’re not following the correct priestly procedures for offering sacrifices according to the Law. From their behavior, it’s apparent that they were not acting with ANY kind of priestly or religious pretense at all but they were treating everything—the Tabernacle, the office of priest, the sacrifices—as if it were for them and them alone.

Q: What is wrong with the way they treated the fat in v.15-16?

A: “The priest shall offer up the fat in smoke on the altar, but the breast shall belong to Aaron and his sons.” (Leviticus 7:31) They took what they wanted for themselves before they gave the Lord His portion—IF they gave Him anything at all. But an even greater offense than completely forsaking the law in this manner is their effect on those came and tried to keep the Law. In other words, Eli’s sons—the priests that were supposed to be the highest living example of God’s Law—were causing followers of the Law to stumble. They were offending BOTH God and man.

Q: What is the basic picture of their behavior?

Q: In verse 17, how was their behavior described, and to whom are they contrasted?

A: Their behavior is described as a sin because they despised the offering of the Lord. They are contrasted to Samuel in verse 18 and to Hannah who was not drunk (1:15).

Application: What does “despising the offering of the Lord” mean, and apply that principle to Christians today. How is this different than merely disagreeing on a point of doctrine or theology?

Read 2:22-26

Q: Did Eli confront his sons? What did he do after he confronted them?

A: The text is clear: Eli knew what was going on but used only words, never administering actual discipline. The Old Testament Law itself mandated death not just for disobedient children but for the kind of sacrilege taking place inside the tabernacle as described in this passage. (Contrast this to Numbers 25 when their forefather—also named “Phinehas”—actually plunged his spear through a couple desecrating the tabernacle.) Eli was the kind of parent that, at the most, yelled at the children occasionally but never took any real actions that might have had the chance to change the children’s behavior.

Application: What is the result for our failure to discipline our children?

Q: Again, who are Eli’s sons contrasted to in verse 26?

A: Samuel. There is a stark contrast between the wickedness of the sons of Eli and the son of Hannah; the sons of Eli hated by both God and man, Samuel “growing in stature and in favor both with the lord and with men.”

Q: Was Samuel a Levite like Eli and his sons? (cf. 1:1)

A: No, he was a Ephraimite. Thus the conclusion being drawn here is that the Levitical priesthood is so corrupt God is about to replace them temporarily with a non-Levite.

Application: Why doesn’t God make an immediate change? What is the application for church leadership and how WE should deal with it?

Introduction to the “Man of God”
Read 2:27-36

Q: What is Eli’s sin as stated in verse 29?

A: In verse 27, the “house of your father” refers to Aaron and the Aaronic priesthood, of which Eli is a descendant. The prophet is speaking for God Who is reminding Eli that his status and position are not something he earned or achieved, but was a gift from God by His sovereignty. Eli’s rebuke is for failing to discipline his sons for their heinous acts during worship. In effect it’s idolatry because Eli is honoring his sons before honoring God. It is also clear in verse 29 that Eli is enjoying the fat portions as well. He’s a part of the problem! (How seriously do you take someone that says, “Do as I say, not as I do”?)

Q: What is the curse placed on Eli in verses 31-33?

A: That his family line will eventually die out, and that the sons will die prematurely.

Q: What will be the sign to Eli that this curse will be carried out? (v. 34) Does this take place?

A: Both his sons will die on the same day. (The prophecy is fulfilled in 4:11.)

Q: In verse 35, who is the priest being referred to?

A: In immediate history, he is referring to Samuel; in prophetic history, the reference is to Christ.

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.”

— Hebrews 3:1-3

Q: Why are we not provided the name of “the man of God”? What is the application for us?

A: The first and foremost reason he is nameless is to serve as an example to everyone in the body that it is their duty to speak out against even the highest church official leading a life of sin. There is no special requirement, education, or office that one must hold to speak against sin—just that one is a “man of God” their self.

Q: Everyone in Israel knew and complained for years about Eli and his sons. What is significant about how this “intervention” is handled through “the man of God”?

A: It’s all in God’s timing and according to HIS words, not man’s. The lesson for us is to submit to and seek God’s will even and act according to HIS direction even though things look “obvious” to us.

Introduction to Samuel
Read 3:1-21

Q: What do you think is the reference to “ears will tingle” in verse 11?

A: A total defeat at the hands of the Philistines and the capture of the Ark of the Covenant (4:11). This is one thing no one had ever imagined could possibly happen. There could be few symbols more powerful to the people of this time that had the power to convey God’s personal displeasure with Israel.

Q: What does the Lord tell Samuel He will do to Eli’s house? (vs. 11-13) How long will this curse last, and will there be any way to atone for it?

A: The Lord will judge his house forever, and there will be no way to atone for it.

Application: God and God ALONE initiates judgment. Why does He tell us in advance what He is going to do? What is the appropriate action(s) on our part?

Q: Why is Eli being disciplined so severely?

A: In spite of knowing their sins, he failed to rebuke his sons (v. 13), thus fostering a disreputable priesthood and leading to national calamity at the hands of the Philistines. His choices have inevitably led to spiritual disaster on the personal, professional, and national levels.

Q: How did Eli respond when he forced Samuel to tell him what the Lord had said? (v. 18)

A: Fatalistic, but still not taking action towards his sons. A few biblical figures have repented at this point, some have become even more rebellious; Eli once again displays his complete lack of discernment in knowing how to interpret and apply God’s Word and does nothing.

Q: Why didn’t Samuel immediately assume his appointed role as High Priest? Why did God tell Samuel what would happen so many years before it would actually happen?

A: One cannot enter the priesthood until the age of 30. This is an example of God’s calling and predestination, how He has plans for us far in advance. In Samuel’s case, this also provides him with the time to develop and grow into his calling, and to know from this point on that Eli and his sons are NOT the role models by which to serve God either personally nor as a priest.

Application: It may not be our place to force action, but it’s most certainly our place to publicly identify sinful behavior, communicate the contrasts of a life “going through the motions” of godliness vs. ungodliness, and it our responsibility to learn from bad examples and walk in personal obedience in order to perfect God’s calling in our own life and ministry.

Introduction to Samuel's Sons
Read 8:1-9

Q: It appears that Samuel and Eli have the same problem as parents. Is this true?

A: The righteousness or unrighteousness of a parent is never the “deciding factor” as to how children turn out; ultimately they make their own choices. However, in Samuel’s case, he may have recognized something about his sons in that he did not make them priests, but judges.

Q: What in v.3 shows the difference between Samuel and Eli both as parents and spiritual leaders?

A: Samuel’s sons “…did not walk in his ways, but turned aside…” Whereas Eli was never a good example to his sons—and actually participated in their sin—Samuel on his part provided a good example, which his sons chose to reject.

Q: Samuel does not dispute the people’s assertion either that his sons are not trustworthy or that he himself is in the last days of service to Israel. What is he reacting to and how?

A: Samuel is disturbed at the spiritual ramifications of the people’s desire for a king. But his initial reaction is NOT to speak his mind but to seek the mind of God.

Application: Do we stop to seek God’s counsel first, particularly when all the circumstances just seem so “logical” and in no need of interpretation as to what we should do

Q: How do we know that this is a spiritual issue?

A: “…they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” (v.7)

Overall Application

With whom do you identify most: Eli, Eli’s sons, Hannah, Samuel, the man of God, or the people? Does this suggest something to you that needs to be addressed in your life? In the way your ministry interacts with others?