Phil Cox

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Why do you scorn my sacrifice?

27th January 2008

Eli, a descendant of Aaron, was the chief priest serving at God's sanctuary at Shiloh in ancient Israel. His two sons also served as priests but they had no respect for God, or for anyone else.

At that time, worshippers would offer animal sacrifices to God. In the books of Exodus and Leviticus, God laid down clear instructions as to how the meat of the sacrifices should be used. But Eli's sons would take for themselves the parts of the sacrificed meat that they most liked - in contradiction of God's law. More than that, if the worshippers refused to give them the pieces of meat they wanted, they would take it by force. They also had sex with the women who served in the sanctuary (see 1 Samuel 2, verses 12-17 and 22).

In verses 22-25, Eli remonstrates with his sons, but they don't listen. Sometimes, as parents and as leaders, we're reluctant to discipline those we are responsible for as much as they need. Just as Eli's sons would suffer as a result of their sin, which Eli did too little to correct, so those we care for sometimes suffer because we're not strong enough to deal sufficiently with their sin. Eli should have taken them out of their priestly ministry, but he didn't. If he had, they would have been spared the fate that awaited them.

And then Eli received a prophecy. Not all prophecy is comforting, as Eli discovered:

1 Samuel 2v27-30
Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him,
"This is what the LORD says: ‘Did I not clearly reveal myself to your father’s house when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh? I chose your father out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your father’s house all the offerings made with fire by the Israelites.
Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honour your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’
"Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me for ever.’ But now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained.

Firstly, God reminds Eli of the very great privilege he had, in being chosen, together with his ancestors, to serve in God's sanctuary. As Christians, we have the same call, and we should remember what a privilege it is.

Secondly, God remind Eli what part of the offering was for him and his sons. God's provision is enough for us, and we show ingratitude to God if we take for ourselves what He has not provided.

Thirdly, God asks Eli two rhetorical questions.

  • The first question is, "Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling?"
  • The second is, "Why do you honour your sons more than me?"

To consider these in turn:

God charges Eli with scorning the sacrifice. It may strike you as odd that God doesn't focus on the violence done to worshippers who refuse to hand over the inappropriate parts of the sacrifice, and He doesn't focus on the adultery. Both of these are serious sins. But - in God's sight - an even more serious sin is scorning the sacrifice. A sin directly against God is even more serious than a sin against other people.

To apply this to our own situation, we can see that "the sacrifice" can be understood in two ways: The sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross, and the sacrifice of praise that we make to Him, especially when we meet together. We scorn the sacrifice if we take the message of the cross lightly, or if we break bread without discerning its meaning and applying it to ourselves. And we scorn the sacrifice if we neglect to meet regularly with other Christians for worship, or if we don't take the act or worship seriously.

And, although it's easy to despise Eli, we must check our own lives to see if we honour our sons (or daughters) more than we honour God.

Hear the prophecy: "Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained". It's so easy to feel disaffected, to go to church less and less frequently, to be lukewarm in our worship, to put more time and emotion into our children than into our relationship with God. But He is God. And He requires us to treat Him with the respect He deserves.

Are you feeling that your relationship with God has tailed off in recent times? Does that make you feel increasingly indifferent to the sacrifice or worship? Do you feel less and less connected with Jesus's sacrifice? Then accept the charge that God laid on Eli, stop scorning His sacrifice, honour Him more than you honour your own family. And you will discover that "Those who honour me I will honour".


(Thanks to Allen Brewer for inspiring this message)