Dear Radio Friends,
Today we continue our series on our love not only for the stranger and the brethren, but particularly now for our children. I have to tell you this: The Word of God that we consider in I Samuel 3:13 is a sobering and serious Word of God that comes to fathers. We read: “For I have told him (that is, Eli) that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.”
These words were spoken by the Lord to Samuel, who had to announce this word of judgment to Eli the high priest. You can imagine Samuel’s reluctance to tell Eli these words, having grown up in the temple under the care of Eli. We read in these verses of I Samuel 3 that Samuel finally had to give to Eli, at Eli’s urging, this vision that he had received from Jehovah.
Eli’s response in the Word of God recorded in the last part of verse 18 of I Samuel 3 is rather sobering, too. There Eli acknowledges that “it is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good.” You see, this was not the first time that Eli had heard this. He had already been forewarned. Already in I Samuel 2 Eli was warned concerning the evil deeds that his sons were doing.
Eli had served many years in the office of the high priest. He had apparently been faithful also in influencing and instructing Samuel. But there was one serious problem, and it had to do with the lack of discipline of his own children.
This text comes to us today, a very sobering and serious word to fathers. “I will judge his house … for the iniquity which he knoweth.” No surprises here. He knoweth. Eli knew it. His sons had made themselves vile, but he restrained them not. He warned them, but he continued to let them go on in that sin without restraining them.
So, as a part of the series on godly Christian parenting, especially on the love for our children, I consider with you for a few moments today the fact that we must restrain our children.
The first question we must ask and answer is: Why? Why do our children need to be restrained?
In the case of Eli’s sons we know, as we read in our text: they had made themselves vile. Their evil deeds were despicable, introduced in I Samuel 3:12 as sins that they performed as sons of Belial who knew not the Lord. “Belial” means worthless. As you know, that name is used in Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament as a name for Satan. They might have been sons of the high priest and held a holy office, even in the temple, but they knew not the Lord.
Verse 17 tells us that their sin was very great before the Lord, for they abhorred the offering of the Lord. The Old Testament (Lev. 7 in particular) tells us that these sacrifices had to be brought in such a way that the fat was burned and the flesh cooked. Then a portion was given to the priests. But as verses 13-16 in this passage describe, instead of waiting for the fat to be burned and the meat to be boiled, the sons of Eli demanded their own portion first. What a sad thing. What a cruel thing. What an abhorrent thing, according to the Old Testament law.
It reminds me of a passage in the New Testament (Phil. 3:19) that warns that our god must not be our belly: “Whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things,” and describes such who are the sons of Belial as those who make God their belly.
But, you know, there was more yet in the despicable acts of Eli’s sons. In verse 22 of I Samuel 2 we read that “Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel.” Imagine that! What did he hear? We read that they lay with women who assembled in the tabernacle — probably the cleaners of the vessels. How it must have grieved the heart of this old man Eli. Sick to his stomach he must have been, who was aware that his sons were not only desecrating the tabernacle but were committing adultery there on the doorsteps of the house of God! Sins which, in the Old Testament, were punishable by no less than death were being committed by the sons of the high priest.
But we must remember, as we consider Eli, that all of our children need this restraining. We must not look at this story and say, “Oh, bad Eli! Oh, how could Eli have done such a thing?” Proverbs 2:26: “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” — a text that we considered a few weeks ago. From childhood on we must narrow the way, as we heard. We must hold them back from their sinful inclinations. These sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, surely did not suddenly fall into these terrible sins. They were not restrained, you see, from childhood on. They were not held back. They were allowed to continue on in their sinful natures.
That is where the difficult questions usually arise with regard to disciplining our children, is it not? How far do we go with our children, many people ask. At what age should we quit? Twenty-one? Eighteen? Sixteen? Nowadays I hear that even a thirteen-year old must be left on his own and must not be told what to do because he has his own mind. I know there are no hard and fast rules here. But let us remember, the sons of Eli were definitely adults. Yet Eli as father was held responsible for their actions. That is the Word of God. I say to you that, so long as the children live under your roof, whether two years old or twenty-five or, for that matter, forty-five or sixty-five, you, as head of the house, are responsible for all that happens in your home. Therefore, you must ensure that nothing that is contrary to the Word of God may be allowed to go on without restraint.
We do not know, of course, the hearts of our children — whether they are elect or reprobate. We leave that in the hands of God. But since God has called us as fathers, as mothers, as parents, and promised us that He will establish His covenant in the line of generations, we must discipline them in the ways of Jehovah. Part of that discipline must be restraint. Yes, we must pity them, as we heard last week. Yes, we must encourage them. Yes, we must understand where they are coming from and we must listen to them and we must be patient with them. Nevertheless, we must not fail to restrain them. After all, they are all totally depraved children, children of wrath by nature, just as we are except for regeneration. And even our elect children who know the Lord, the holiest of them, have but a small beginning, just as we do. And when they in weakness or in sin disobey God, we must not look the other way. We must restrain them.
Eli had reason to restrain them, for his children were acting like sons of Belial and were walking in sin. We, too, have every reason to restrain our children. We must not protect them in such a way that we begin to imagine that they are not so bad. Oh, no! We must restrain them.
The warning is that if we do not, God’s judgment will come upon us even as it came upon Eli and his sons. Eli knew of his sons’ evil deeds. He saw it. When he was old he heard of it. What did he do? We read in chapter 2, a chapter that recounts for us this sad story in verses 23ff., that he said to his sons, “Why do ye such things?” So, we notice, and this is important, he questioned them. “Why do ye such things? For I hear of your evil dealings by all this people.” So he even confronted them. He not only questioned them, he confronted them that these were evil doings that they were performing. In fact, he even admonished them. Notice: “Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear.” Wow! He questioned; he confronted; he even admonished. Yes, and he did more. He even tried to show them the consequences of their sins. Notice, he said: “Ye make the LORD’s people to transgress.” Somehow the people would mock. They would become disillusioned, and they will absent themselves from tabernacle worship because of the desecration being performed there. He explained to them in verse 25: “If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall entreat for him?” So he even warned them of judgment.
Let me say it again, he questioned them, he confronted them, he admonished them, he pointed them to the consequences of their sins, and he even warned them of Jehovah’s judgment. Then we read of a man of God in I Samuel 2:27-36 who said unto Eli, I showed mercy to your fathers and gave you the honor of the priesthood with all its blessings. Wherefore do you trample underfoot the name of Jehovah? In modern language it would read, “Why do you slap me on my face after I give you the honor of the priesthood with all of its blessings? Now you honor your sons above Me!” That was the problem. Eli did not want to lose his sons. He may have admonished them and confronted them and warned them, but he did not want to lose his sons, even in the face of such wickedness in the tabernacle. And he is admonished severely: How dare you kick at my sacrifice and my offering? It is like a slap in the face of Jehovah. How dare you honor your children above the name of God Himself?
So Eli’s end was foretold by the man of God in verses 30-36: his priesthood would be cut off. That is recorded in chapter 4:10-22. Please read that history as it is recorded. God is not mocked. What God warned did come to pass.
What a warning from the Word of God to all of us parents. A rather melancholic passage, really; rather sobering, rather serious. Nevertheless, this must be preached. For I say to you that this often times is the burden of the parents who truly love their children.
In Eli’s case we read in 2:25b that they did not hearken to the voice of their father because the Lord would slay them. They were sons of Belial who knew not the Lord. Of course, Eli could not be sure of that, because he could not read the heart. But then, why should Eli have to face the judgment and have his priesthood cut off in his generations? The answer is in our text: He knew their iniquity. He might not know that they were indeed sons of Belial and that they in the counsel of God would not know the Lord. That is for God to judge and for God to vindicate. Eli had the duty to hold them back. He knew their iniquity, but he restrained them not. On account of that, the judgment of God came upon him — the priesthood was cut off from his line.
This warning is good and is important. Included in the training of our children is not only questioning them, confronting them, admonishing them (yes, all in pity, in mercy, in love), but included in that is the need to compel. I know we live in a day and in a society where that is not often done. It is in fact considered bad parenting because we must tolerate and we must even compromise. But, you see, beloved, we must know that there is and must be a place, when our children walk in sin, for discipline, such discipline that would even restrain them and compel them to stop walking in sin.
If warning and pity and instruction do not work, and apparently there is no fear of God, apparently there is impenitence and rebellion, we must not allow it to go on. We must use chastisement even as our heavenly Father chastises us, as we read in Hebrews 12. And if a father loves his child, a father will surely chastise the child.
Do you love your child? Then do not allow your child to continue in sin. You must chastise him. If your chastisement and discipline do not bring forth good fruit and repentance, you must not then become discouraged. Then you may look to the under shepherds in the church of Jesus Christ and ask for help so that they in their God-given office exercise discipline over that erring child. The Lord may use that, and has used that. I have experienced that in my own ministry. When you submit yourself and your children to discipline, first discipline in the home, then discipline in the church, that discipline works. For it is the means that God has ordained not only for the repentance of His children, but for the peace and unity and purity of the church of Jesus Christ here on earth.
Maybe you have not yet questioned or confronted or instructed or warned. Then you must do so. You must not jump right away to compelling or even to church discipline. You must take the time faithfully to discipline your children. If you have not done so in the past, then it is high time that you have a listening ear and you sit down and speak with your children and admonish them and warn them and bring them the Word of God.
But if there has been that kind of work with your children and yet there is persistent rebellion and you are kind of giving up and you want just to put it under the carpet and think, “Well, then, maybe just pray and it will go away,” I warn you, on the basis of God’s Word today, you must restrain your children. You must put a stop to it. You must compel them to stop performing or continuing in those sins under your roof. If you do not, then the judgment comes not only upon them, but also upon you.
Eli’s sons should not have been allowed, you will agree I am sure, to continue to serve in the tabernacle. In fact, in the Old Testament, the law would have demanded that they be stoned. You say, “Oh, how can you talk about that in the New Testament?” I tell you, there is something worse in the New Testament. Not physical stoning, but excommunication from the church of Jesus Christ. The declaration that such a one who continues in impenitence has no place in the kingdom of heaven is far worse than the physical stoning in the Old Testament. But, you see, Eli did not do that. He allowed it to go on. According to the Word of God in I Samuel 2:29 he showed his sons honor above the honor of God.
I know it is not an easy task. But it is the best thing to do. It is the right thing to do. That is the way God disciplines us, His people. He restrains us. As we behold that and understand that, then we must learn to apply the same with our children. Week after week after week our faithful heavenly Father questions us, confronts us, reminds us, admonishes us under the preaching of the Word. Day by day by day, as we meditate on the Word of God, God, by His Word and Spirit, reminds us and comforts us and encourages us and warns us. We must do the same with our children. We must bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We need ourselves the wisdom of God to be strong and to be faithful. We must, therefore, bring ourselves, too, in our daily devotions under the Word of God and under the preaching so that we do not become emotional and sentimental and, worse yet, neglectful.
Besides that, we must bring our children to the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), so that they may see the signs and seals of God’s covenant. Let them see that we partake of the body of Christ. Let them be reminded of the washing of regeneration as it is symbolized by the sprinkling of water. Then they will be reminded (and we with them) that they must not walk as the worldling. We belong not to ourselves but unto our faithful Savior.
Then we can go home with them and ask them: did you see what happened in church today? Did you hear the Word of God preached? Just as the children of old would ask their parents about the Passover, so our children will ask us and we will remind them: Ye are a holy people, just as God is holy. You must not walk with the world. You must not be unequally yoked with the unbeliever. You must not commit fornication. You must not live in adultery. We must not allow pornography in the home. We must not allow such wickedness in our home and in our lives. In that way we set before them the Word of God day by day.
Then, finally, God restrains us by chastising us when we disobey. So must we, with our children. We must not be tyrants, simply giving orders. But we must, with love and pity, discipline them. Just as God will chastise us, not harshly. He is ever kind and ever forgiving. But very soberly and very seriously. We must not allow ourselves to go to the opposite extreme and become wimpish and let things go and become so busy with our work and other things even in the church that we neglect our own children. Remember the vows that we make when we bring our children for baptism. We promise to see these children, when come to the years of discretion, instructed in the Word of God to the utmost of our power. It is a serious breach of our vows when we do not do that. When our children come to years of discretion and walk the contrary way, and we do not discipline them, then, I say to you, we come under the judgment of God.
You and I know that that is not an easy task. I do not claim to have all the answers. I, too, have a young family, and many children, and teenage children. But, says the Word of God, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). Let us ask of God. Let us pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.” Let us, O God, walk in holiness before Thee and with our children and help us that that discipline serve as the means in Thy hands to bring up our children in Thy fear.
Discipline, beloved, is not the guarantee that all our children will walk with God. Perhaps they may have to be cut off from the church. But often times God uses the faithful loving discipline of our children to bring back His own precious children to the fold and to help them walk in the fear of God. God has shown us that we must come to Him with childlike reverence and confidence. May God help us then that we do the same with our children, that they too may learn to come before God in His fear. May God grant us grace to remember Eli and to learn to restrain our children for the glory of God and for the good of our children.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for the warning of Thy Word, however sobering it may be. May we receive comfort and instruction, but may we also humbly receive the warning of Thy Word and thus bring up our children in the fear of God. Hear our prayers for the sake of Thy children everywhere, that we fathers may indeed walk in Thy fear, restraining our children for Jesus’ sake, Amen.