“He Restrained Them Not”
by James Sanders
The life of the Old Testament figure, Eli, is indeed a remarkable one. Eli was a descendant of Ithamar, the fourth son of Aaron and therefore was of the tribe of Levi. Combined in this man of God were the offices of both High Priest and Judge. It was the first time in Israel that one man had held both offices at the same time. But such was indicative of the goodness and righteousness of Eli; it seems everyone respected him. For some forty years Eli judged the nation of Israel (Cf. 1 Sam. 4.18). His character was one of godliness and devotion but was not without blemish. Phineas and Hophni, the sons of Eli, were as wicked as their father was righteous. And to make matters worse, Phineas and Hophni were put into the office of a priest even though they lacked Eli’s virtue and zeal (Cf. 1 Sam 1:3). The result was nothing short of extraordinary! The conduct of Eli’s children literally shocked the people of Israel. Because of Phineas and Hophni,
men came to abhor the offering of the Lord (Cf. 1 Sam 2.17). Things were very bad; the sad state of affairs was almost beyond description.
But when the aged High Priest learned of the scandals being committed by his sons, he only administered a gentle rebuke. Apparently Eli had always so corrected his children. Instead of reproving his boys while they were small, Eli perhaps reasoned with them and viewed their mischievous conduct with but a look of disfavor. But now Phineas and Hophni were no longer children and with them had grown their mischievous habits. The Scriptures assert that Eli was largely to blame. “He restrained them not” (I Sam 3.13). Eli had failed to restrain his sons while they were young and now it was too-late! As the twig had been bent, so had it grown. Now the sternest rebuke would prove ineffectual. Alas! What a lifetime of waste! All those years of effort and sacrifice in vain. Eli had failed and failed miserably; he had let his sons down when they needed him the most!
The Scriptures urge: “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying” (Prov. 19.18). Doubtless, Eli’s philosophy was, “Boys will be boys.” But someone has well said, “Boys will be boys, but those same boys one day will be men.” A child needs discipline and guidance when he is young. Then there is hope. Parents, open your eyes before it is too late! Now is the time to “restrain” your children. Now is the time to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This opportunity of youth, once present, never returns. Father or mother, have you really “restrained” (guided) that wee creature who is so fresh from God? Be honest with yourself. Think of Eli – think of yourself – think of the little ones entrusted to your care. Will you fail them when they need you the most?