I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them (1 Sam. 3:13).
A word before beginning. That the following reflection is about fathers does not ignore the vital role of mothers in the rearing of children. While it isn’t always the case, and sometimes not possible, raising children is the calling of both parents, together. Hence the instruction of Proverbs: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (Proverbs 1:8). But the Scripture above is about a father, Eli, and therefore the following will focus on fathers.
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Did the condemnation of Eli come because he was a negligent father or a negligent priest? Given the way the Scriptures seem to collapse these categories, perhaps we can take them together. After all, a man is not qualified to oversee the household of God if he has not carefully overseen his own: “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5).
Eli is a sobering character in the Bible, in large part because he wasn’t all bad. After all, he did rebuke his sons for their sexual promiscuity (1 Samuel 2:22-25). But apparently his rebuke was not enough, for the Lord condemns Eli for failing to restrain them. He did something, but not enough. In the end, it appears that Eli was a passive father.
There is a pervasive and damaging cultural expectation that teenagers will have rebellious attitudes and “experiment” (oh, how the language we use lets us off the hook) with things like alcohol and sex. It ought not to be so among those within the church. In His Spirit and His Word, the Lord has given fathers everything they need to train their children, with the full expectation that as they do, their children will not depart from the ways of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6). Rebelling against parental authority is not inevitable; rather, it is the effect of something gone wrong in the home. And the stakes are high. Sexual sin is a sin against the body, which means it gets inside us and harms us in a way other sin does not. Sexual sin cannot be taken back. It will follow our sons and daughters into their marriages and remain with them throughout their days.
Fathers cannot be passive in dealing with sin in their households. Passivity among fathers is largely responsible for the devastating phenomena we call sexual promiscuity and abortion and other attendant problems. The church needs fathers formed by Christ, fully engaged in leading their families in the ways of the Lord and creating a culture of faithfulness in the home. This will include watching over our sons and our daughters. Practically. This does not mean that fathers need to be hard or heavy-handed. But it does mean that fathers may need to make difficult decisions. Fathers may need to draw lines concerning dating and friends. For some it may mean withdrawing a child from school or getting rid of the television or the Internet or the Xbox. It may mean a change in work that allows a parent to be home, and the father not to be absent. It may mean giving up golf, or other things that, while not bad in themselves, draw us away from our children. It may mean getting up earlier, and learning how to pray. How we do this in our own homes is a matter of Biblical counsel, prayer, and wisdom. But it must be done. Actively. What would you not change for the sake of your children?
Eli stands as a warning to well-meaning yet passive fathers.