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strong could be adopted with reference to such conduct; but their full enormity has not even yet been told. They added also to sacrilege the commission of deeds of impurity of which it is “a shame to speak ;" spreading far and wide the influence of most wicked example ; till men stood aghast at their infamy, and it seemed strange that the earth did not open, or the clouds discharge a deluge of fire.
It is at this stage of the history that mention is first made of Eli as having noticed and reproved the shameful conduct of his sons. Old as he was, failed as his faculties, and dulled as his perception possibly might be, we may wonder that he had not before expressed his abhorrence. The tidings he now heard were such as might have brought down his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave, had he filled merely a private station ; but, responsible as his position was, his heart should have been pierced with deeper and more agonizing sorrow, when he reflected upon the manner in which, by his own neglect, he had actually become partaker in their sins. Instead of exercising his official power to put down their enormities, or even reprimanding them with the severity of censure which they deserved; all he said was utterly disproportioned to what the exigency of the case required. They were his own sons, but dear as they once had been, if the reprimand that ought to have been long since passed had proved ineffectual, they should have been removed from the possibility of farther transgression. In this also Eli lamentably failed — adding to past neglect what was in effect equivalent to a betrayal of that
cause to which, with all his frailties and failings, the issue proved that he was most strongly attached. “He said unto them, Why do ye such things ? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons ; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord's people to transgress. If one man sin against another, the judge will judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him ? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them.” No expostulation, however urgent, was by that time likely to have had effect. Hophni and Phinehas were to be cut off in their wickedness, to be removed from the scene of their violence and crimes. Eli was told of the coming vengeance, that “the increase of his house should be cut off in the flower of their age," and was reminded of this perpetual and most just principle in the divine dealings, “ Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” And the message of the Lord was thus declared to Samuel :-“Behold I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knoweth : because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.”
Close upon the delivery of these dismal tidings, came the predicted vengeance upon Eli and his house; and not on them alone, for along with his two sons,
fell thirty thousand of the men of Israel in battle with the Philistines. This overwhelming disaster was preluded by a defeat at Aphek, in which four thousand had been slain. In dismay at the first of these two events, and apprehensive lest the tide of invasion should roll even to the walls of Jerusalem, the elders of Israel, in superstitious reliance on the presence of the ark, had sent for it from Shiloh. Forgetting that those only are entitled to expect God's protection who are seeking to walk in his ways; entertaining blind and idolatrous confidence ; the approach of the ark was a signal for headlong exultation and fancied resistless power. “ All Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.” How mistaken these anticipations were, the subsequent history shows. What Eli suffered, first in suspense, then in more dreadful certainty, is most vividly depicted. He “sat on a seat by the wayside watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God.” It would seem that he was filled with fearful apprehension of the consequences—and well he might. Ere sunset the destinies of Israel would be decided; the contest over on which all of greatest moment depended, liberty, religion, perhaps life ;--yea, the honour of God, the symbol of whose favour would be exposed to fierce assault; the sanctuary might be desolate, the shrine profaned. The lives of his sons would be in jeopardy; since their place would be beside that ark to which the bravest and most resolute of the foe would press; and he had cause to tremble at the idea of their being cut off so wholly unprepared. But above every other cause of solicitude, it was his anxiety about the ark-his regard for God even more than his parental or patriotic feelings, that rendered him too restless to abide within his house. Feeble as he was, he had gone forward to the road which the expected messenger must pass; and had there sat watching, hour after hour, for tidings—as though the roar of conflict might be faintly borne to him on the breeze. His anxiety was at last but too fully satisfied. A bloody battle had been fought. The messenger appeared—“a man of Benjamin, with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head”—the sign that he was the bearer of evil tidings. Eli's eyes were dim, so that he could not discern the ill-omened sight; but he was speedily aroused by the prevailing tumult and consternation. He enquired into the cause only to find his worst fears more than realized. “ The man came in hastily,” and told him“I am he that came out of the army, and I am fled to-day out of the army.”. And Eli said, “What is there done, my son ?” The tidings were indeed fraught with melancholy reproach for his own misconduct. The vengeance had come upon Eli and on all his house ; it had come upon the nation also, with crushing mightfor God had “ delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the the enemy's hand.” “ Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas are dead, and the ark of God is taken. And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that Eli fell off from his seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died.”.
Human nature remains unaltered; the service of the Lord is still that from which the corrupt heart recoils, madly rushing on destruction, and arming against itself the unslumbering vengeance of the Almighty towards the daring and hardened transgressors of his law. How often has the tyranny of evil habit been suffered, as in the case of Eli's household, to become confirmed, without any adequate attempt to check its growth, to the production of misery in this world, and ruin in the next! The period has been permitted to pass away, during which preparation might have been made against the evil time of calamity and sorrow; when the memory might have been stored with pious precepts, the mind enlightened to discern between good and evil, the affections won over to wisdom's ways of pleasantness and peace. So melancholy a result would not be so frequently exemplified, were parents but faithful to their solemn charge ; were children but impressed with that “ fear of the Lord,” which is the “ beginning of wisdom,” and taught to seek from on high, light for the erring understanding, and strength for the feeble step.
The ages that have passed away since this history was recorded, have witnessed but too many similar illustrations of the consequences of such neglect ; enough to show that the carelessness which operates in the first instance so fearfully in facilitating the ruin of those for whom fathers and mothers are responsible in the sight of God—whose blood will lie at their door, whose souls will be required at their hands, may become instrumental, to an extent which it is impossible to compute,