Sprung from Ithamar, Aaron's younger surviving son (Leviticus 10:1-2; Leviticus 10:12). (Compare ABIATHAR.) (1 Kings 2:26-27; 1 Chronicles 24:3; 2 Samuel 8:17). Compare Eleazar's genealogy, wherein Eli and Abiathar do not appear (1 Chronicles 6:4-15; Ezra 7:1-5). No high priest of Ithamar's line is mentioned before Eli, whose appointment was of God (1 Samuel 2:30). His grandson Ahitub succeeded (1 Samuel 14:3). Abiathar. Ahitub's grandson, was thrust out by Solomon for his share in Adonijah's rebellion and the high priesthood reverted to Eleazar's line in Zadok (1 Kings 2:35). The transfer was foretold to Eli by the unnamed man of God first, and by the child Samuel next (1 Samuel 2:3): a punishment from God, because though Eli reproved his wicked sons Hophni and Phinehas in word he did not in act, put forth his authority as a judge to punish, coerce, and depose them, "because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not."
Another part of the curse, "I will cut off the arm of thy father's house that. there shall not be an old man in thine house," was being fulfilled in David's days, when "there were more chief men found of the sons of Eleazar (16) than of the sons of Ithamar" (8) (1 Chronicles 24:4). Eli's grace shone in the meekness with which he bowed to the Lord's sentence, "It is the Lord, let Him do what, seemeth Him good." His patriotism and piety especially appear in his intense anxiety for the safety of the ark; "his heart trembled for the ark of God." The announcement after the battle, of the slaughter of the people and even of his sons did not so much overwhelm him as that of the ark of God: instantly "he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck broke and he died; for he was old and heavy." The Hebrew Scriptures make his term of office as judge 40 years; the Greek Septuagint 20 years.
Some reconcile the two by making him co-judge with Samson for 20 years, and sole judge for 20 more years. He was 98 years of age at his death. His failing and its penalty are a warning to all parents, even religious ones, and all in authority, to guard against laxity in ruling children and subordinates in the fear of the Lord, punishing strictly, though in love, all sin, jealous for God's honor even at the cost of offending man and of painting natural parental feeling. Condoning sin is cruel to children as well as dishonoring to God. Children will respect most the parent who respects God. Perhaps Eli clung to office too long, when through age he was no longer able vigorously to fulfill it. He who cannot rule his own house is unfit to rule the house of God (1 Timothy 3:5).
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