A Case Study In Fathering
Responsibility, Leadership, Instruction, Discipline, Priorities, Faith
When I was in Seminary it was required that we do a semester of Clinical Pastoral Education. In other words we needed to work in a hospital for a semester as a Chaplain. During this semester we spent time in the Psych Ward, the De-toxification Ward, the Surgical Ward, and the Medical Ward. Each place was different but the assignment was the same . . .visit the patients and write one “verbatim” a week.
A verbatim was a “he said, I said” account of one of your visits. Then this “case study” would be presented to the class. The purpose was to learn by evaluating what was done well and what was not done so well. This was an effective way of learning because you weren’t learning dry principles . . .you were seeing them in real life situations.
The case study approach to learning was not new to our seminary. God uses the case study approach throughout the Bible. The Bible records how people lived so that we can learn from their examples. Some examples show us what NOT to do, others show us what we SHOULD do. Romans 15:4 says, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.”
This morning I take the case study of the Old Testament High Priest, Eli. My hope is that we will learn something about parenting from this case. The “case study” is presented in 1 Samuel 2.
Being High Priest was a high and noble job. The High Priest was second in authority to the King. But Eli lived before there was a King in Israel. Consequently He was known not only as the High Priest, but also as the Judge (or leader) of Israel. He was God’s man. His job was to share God’s word with the people and to share the problems of the people with God. The High Priest served for his lifetime and it was often a position he passed down to his children. He was a man esteemed highly. He wore ornate clothing and was treated with honor and respect.
One of the reasons we know anything about Eli, is his relationship with Samuel. Samuel was born under extraordinary circumstances. His mother, Hannah desperately wanted a child. She came to the temple and prayed that God would bless her in this way. She promised that if God would answer her prayer she would give him to the Lord to serve him all his life. When Eli saw her praying at the temple he thought she was drunk! When he learned the true story he said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (1 Samuel 1:17).
At the appointed time Samuel is given over to Eli. Samuel was most likely around three years old at this time. Eli raises this child and in effect, becomes Samuel’s mentor. As we know, Samuel went on to become the last Judge and the first Prophet of Israel.
While Eli may have been doing a good job with Samuel, he was failing with his own sons. At the time of our account Hophni and Phinehas are young men (no longer boys). We are told that “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” God had made provision for the priests to be generously taken care of. In Deuteronomy 18:1-5 we read that specific parts of a sacrifice were to be given to the priest for their own consumption. Apparently this practice had been altered some. The accepted practice was for the priest to wait for the sacrifice to be offered, then as the remaining meat was being boiled they would stick a fork in and pull a piece out.
But Eli’s sons didn’t like even this practice. Before the sacrifice was even offered (when the fat was offered to the Lord) the sons of Eli would determine the cut of the meat that they wanted. They were not content with this boiled meat . . . they wanted something they could cook on the grill. Since this was before the sacrifice, there may still have been fat on the meat. So, they were not only ignoring God’s commands, they may have been eating that which was to be sacrificed to God!
Unfortunately this was not the end of the corruption. Verse 22 tells us that these boys slept with the woman who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. This is a practice strictly forbidden. First, no Israelite was to engage in such temple prostitution. (Deuteronomy 23:17). Second, this was a practice usually associated with idolatry (Numbers 25:1-5). Is it possible that these sons of Eli were engaging in idolatry even as priests of the Lord?
The people were upset and they talked to Eli. God was upset and He talked to Eli. Eli talked to his sons and nothing changed. In time God put the sons to death.
Now, I told you that we were going to look at this passage as a case study in Fathering. So, we ask the question: what happened to Eli’s sons? Why did they turn in the wrong direction? We don’t have many specific statements but I think we can make some intelligent suggestions.
Eli May Have Been Guilty of being PREOCCUPIED with his work
Eli had an important job with many demands. Generally the High Priest was at the Tabernacle from morning to night. I wonder how many times Eli came home well after his children had gone to bed. Maybe he regretted not being able to spend time with his boys . . .but he had a job to do. Perhaps he had hopes that he would have some time in the future . . . maybe he was surprised by how fast his boys became men.
Children need time with their parents. This time together is where values are passed on, and where love is demonstrated. Eli’s situation is not unique. We live at a time when both parents are often gone because of their jobs. It is not uncommon for an employer to expect 50-60 hours almost every week. It is not uncommon for a parent to work two or more jobs to try to provide for their family. Farmers always have something they could be doing, salesmen don’t make money unless they keep working, overtime is good pay, people who serve the public need to be available when the public wants their services. Any job can be like a magnet pulling us away from home. And it doesn’t have to be a job. It may be a hobby, a sport, a volunteer activity. It may even be the church. Anything that keeps us away from home takes us away from our kids.
I think the real problem is that we have this great drive for success. We want to achieve, we want to advance, we want to work our way up the corporate ladder. We want to drive nice cars, have a beautiful home, enjoy the comforts that are available to us. But people who define success in this way are setting the bar way too low. There is no greater blessing in life than family. There is no greater success than seeing your own children embrace the values that will see them through life.
Eli did not realize that the most important job given to him by God was to “bring up his family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” One of the prerequisites the New Testament lays down for leaders is that they must have a good home life. They must be good parents before they should be good leaders. A faithful Christian must make time for his family!
So, what do we do? Here’s some suggestions . . .
- Change your values . . . realize that more time is worth more than more stuff.
- Evaluate the way you use your time at home. Maybe you need to turn off the TV, get up a little earlier or stay awake a little longer to be able to spend time with your children. Make it a priority to BE HOME when you are home.
- Be creative in your time together. Look for ways to make your time together memorable.
I love the story of the Father who had to announce to his family that a business meeting was going to keep him from going on the family vacation. He urged them to go without him and spent much time helping them plan every detail.
The family set off in the car headed to their long-awaited destination. Dad went to his meeting. When he was finished he hoped on a plane and flew to a spot along the travel route of his family. He had a cab drop him along the side of the road his family would be traveling on. . . and then he waited. When they saw him on the side of the road they almost swerved off the road in their surprise!
When asked why he hadn’t told them of his plan he said, “I knew the surprise would make this something you would never forget. I hoped that my actions would communicate two things; “that dad was a fun guy” and “he would do anything to spend time with us.” He had the right idea.
Eli May Have Been guilty of an ISOLATED faith
It is certainly possible that Eli and his family spent so much time engaging in temple ritual that they forgot what it was all about. It is possible that Eli was so used to the routine that worship was his “job” rather than his privilege. Maybe this is why Hophni and Phinehas had such disregard for the temple service. They saw it only as a way to “make a living”. They forgot that they were serving God.
We all know it is true: faith is more caught than taught. Your children are more persuaded by the life you live than by the words you say. James warns us: “be doers of the word and not hearers only, thus deceiving yourselves.” (Jas. 1:22) If your Christianity is a Sunday-only affair, your children will quickly conclude that God is irrelevant to daily living. If they hear you talk pious on Sunday morning but hear your abusive, critical speech the rest of the week, they will conclude that religion is a mask you wear . . . a game you play. If your children see you give your best to others and not to them . . . how can they help but conclude that they are not as important as others.
But the same thing can happen if we spend ALL our time in religious activity. If we spend all our time running to church and never have time to be at a ball game to watch our children, our kids quickly come to resent the church and the Savior it proclaims. They spend their life associating their sense of loneliness with Christianity. We must remind ourselves that a Christian parent considers their relationship with their children a priority. It is one of their God-ordained responsibilities to give their best to their children.
The leaders of our church have made it a policy to try to keep as many evenings open as possible during the week. We want to give people time for their families . . . not take more of it away.
Eli Was Guilty of TOLERATING sin in His children
Eli knew what his sons were doing. He was told by the people and he was told by God. But Eli seems to be reluctant in his confrontation. He told them that what they were doing was wrong . . . but he never carried through. He should have taken his sons out of the priestly rotation. He should have made them confess and apologize. He should have banned them from the priesthood. Instead, he did nothing.
In fact, chapter 2:29 we read these words, “Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?” From these words we notice two things:
1. Disciplining our children is an act of obedience to the Lord. Leniency is not love. . . it is idolatry. We are really putting our desire to be LIKED by our children above our responsibility to equip and train our children. We are putting ourselves before God and our children! God has given us the charge to “train a child in the way they should go”. When we turn our head away from the wrongs our children do . . . we are turning our head from God and are abandoning our responsibility to our children! When we rationalize, excuse, blame others for, and condone wrong behavior, we sin against God.
2. Eli’s toleration may have led to his own compromised faith. The Lord says that they were “fattening themselves“. Eli must have been either engaging in or approving of their practice of indulgence by eating of this meat himself. In 1 Samuel 4:18 we read that Eli was a very heavy man. He was enjoying the “good life”. Once we begin to turn our heads to the wrong in our children’s life, it is easy for us to rationalize those behaviors in our own lives. Whenever we compromise the truth, we weaken it’s influence. If we will not be the strong party in the parent child relationship . . . we will be the weak party. Instead of being an influencer, we will be the influenced.
Notice one more thing. In verse 25b we read these words, “His sons, however, did not listen to their Father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.”
3. These are sobering words. Discipline must be administered early or our children may become so hardened that their destiny is sealed. Their sin was so rooted that God had determined to kill them. It was too late. What if Eli had gotten involved sooner? What if he had taken a firmer stand? Perhaps his sons would have been saved. Instead, God put them to death. We may wink at and excuse reckless living. God will not.
I’ll never forget the words of James Dobson, “when your children are young they will test the limits. If you tell them not to cross a certain line, they will cross it, to see what will happen. At this point your children are looking for a fight . . . and you ought not disappoint them!”
Now please understand, I’m not advocating abuse. I’m not suggesting that you need to scream more at your children. Volume is not discipline . . . it is just annoying and makes you look foolish. What I am suggesting is that you teach your children that for every choice there is a consequence. And the only way to teach this is to let your children live with some of the consequences.
- If they get a speeding ticket, make them pay the fine.
- If they are suspended from school, confront the behavior, not the teacher. And make sure the suspension is hard time . . . not party time.
- If your child calls you from jail (and did the crime) don’t be in a hurry to bail them out (and make them pay the bail out of their money).
- If you child will not share responsibility at home . . .don’t give them an allowance.
- If you child forgets an assignment, don’t do it for them.
- If your child hurts another person, make them apologize.
- If they are a poor sport, take them out of the game
This is not cruelty . . . it is discipline. If Eli had done more than lecture his sons may not have had to die.
We’ve looked this morning at the life of Eli, the High Priest of Israel. His story shows us that even the most religious people can lose their children if they do not give time and attention to this relationship.
It’s possible that your children are grown. You may feel that you have missed your opportunity. Maybe you see your child on the road to godless living. You may feel it is too late for you. Friend, it’s never too late to start doing what is right. Your children may be reluctant to embrace your faith but keep at it. Preach less . . . pray more. Lecture less, demonstrate the reality of Christ in your own life. Show your child that Christ’s love has changed you. It will take time . . .but all is not lost. Keep at it.
For others, this is a time to do an inventory of our lives
- Can we give more time to our families?
- Can we give BETTER time to our families?
- Have we been shirking the responsibilities of leadership?
It’s time for Father’s (and Mother’s) to remember that God calls us to serve Him. And the first thing God wants us to do is to share Him in our homes. It is second in priority only to making Christ the center of our own lives. And I believe the Bible also shows us, that when we have been faithful with our children, and seen them come to a saving knowledge of Christ, we will someday be able to look back on our lives and know that we have lived well.