Today’s reading is about Eli (1 Samuel 2:12-4).

Coming back to the books of Samuel, it was difficult for me to remember much of Eli’s tale beforehand. He himself acts as sort of a footnote in the origin story of the wise prophet Samson, last in the line of Judges who ruled over Israel in their more tribal days, high priest and target of Samuel’s servitude. This line of judicial rulers reflected as a darker period in Israel’s history, where their reflection of God’s will towards His people and the strength of leadership were at historical lows.

At a glance, Eli’s work as spiritual leader is just as one would expect the high priest to be. He is a reverent family man who performs his duties well and fathers a new generation to engage in spiritual leadership for Israel. His main downfall though, and the driving force of this passage, is his handling of his “wicked sons”. His sons, priests and direct servants of God in their own rights, steal undue portions from offerings from the Israelites before offering them up to God, threaten and bully the Israelites into compliance, and sleeping with the women serving at the tents of worship. Not great examples for God’s people. When hearing about this himself, Eli confronts them and asks them to stop, but pursuing the issue no further after trying once.

This passage contains valuable insights into the love displayed by the Lord’s gentle rebuking of our wrongdoings. Ultimately though, as someone young enough to not have children of my own, yet old enough to realize how wise my own father(earthly and heavenly) was and how difficult we could make it for him to properly discipline us, I realize I lack expertise and knowledge in this form discipline. Yet this passage offered valuable insight into where and how I equate my relationship with God to the world around me.

When Eli’s sons Phineas and Hophni carry off the Ark of the Covenant into battle, the very presence of the Ark incites the Israelites’ joy and the Philistines’ fear. However, God had considered the men wicked and it was His will that they would be put to death for their wickedness. Eli (before his untimely death, at least) and the other Israelites likewise mourn the loss of the Ark after battle, claiming the Lord has left them, when He’d told them it was their own wicked ways that would cause disdain for Eli and his lineage. Throughout this passage, the notion becomes more and more plausible that the Israelites have more respect and concern for the Ark itself than the God who it should have reminded them of. With no regard to their own relationship with the Lord, these people celebrated the presence of the Lord’s symbol and mourned the loss of it, not concerned with what the Lord Himself had said.

In this train of thought, I have found much self-reflection. How easy is it for me to put what reminds me of the Lord in front of the Lord? Out of reverence and tradition it can be easy to store our Bible neatly on the shelf when not in use, when it should be close by instead, turning to Him and His word whenever a moment of weakness strikes. How easy it can be to get caught up in a beautiful song, or a touching story, or someone’s testimony, rather than consider the Lord it glorifies. I’m not saying it’s wrong to enjoy these things; celebrating and glorifying the Lord in the way you can best is good. But it can be easy to forget that beyond and above the rituals, symbols, and feel-good moments, the God we worship holds a very personal relationship with each of us. There is nothing we can or should put above the Lord; even good things that point to God can become idols if we forget Who they symbolize. As Eli and all the Israelites fixated on the symbolism of the Ark instead of God, it is possible for us to fixate on our religion instead of our relationship. God wants you to know Him for who He is – as He knows and loves you for who you are – not the temporary things we use to represent an Eternal Lord. I pray that God alone can reside in your heart today, that you could think along with me about why and for whom your thoughts and actions are for.