How To Make God Your Enemy
Eli was probably full of high hopes for his children when his wife bore him two sons to succeed him as priests of Israel. He called one of them Hophni, which meant Boxer, because he hoped that he would perhaps spar for the Lord against the evil within Israel. He called the other one Phinehas after Aaron’s famous grandson who fought zealously for the honour of the Lord in Numbers 25. Since the name meant Mouth of Bronze, it appears that Eli hoped his son would preach an unflinching message which would revive backslidden Israel. He hoped that his two sons would know the Lord as their greatest friend.
Sadly, Eli’s hopes were not to be. Hophni and Phinehas grew up without the character which Hannah celebrates in her prayer of thanks in verses 1 to 10. She proclaims the greatness of the Lord, calling him Yahweh or The God Who Really Is nine times in just ten verses. Like Jacob and Moses, she calls him Israel’s Rock in verse 2 and rejoices that he is the God who knows everything in verse 3.1 She describes him as the one who befriends the humble and the stumbling soldier and the hungry beggar and the barren woman, yet who comes as a sworn enemy against the proud and the strong and the arrogant and the wealthy. Her prayer serves as the theme tune to the whole of these first seven chapters, but it wasn’t a song which Hophni and Phinehas knew how to sing. They delighted in their own strength, and it turned God into their enemy.
Eli had used a Hebrew insult in 1:16 when he accused Hannah of being a “daughter of Belial”, meaning a worthless scoundrel.2 He was as unfair towards Samuel’s mother as he was indulgent towards his two sons. The writer of 1 Samuel uses the same phrase in 2:12 to tell us that “Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord.” They were the exact opposite of the kind of people God could use.
Hophni and Phinehas loved the trappings of the priesthood, but neither of them actually knew the Lord. They didn’t understand that the blood sacrifices at the Tabernacle pointed to a day when God’s Messiah would die a bloody death for the forgiveness of the world. They sneered at the Lord’s instruction to his priests in Leviticus 3:16 and 7:25 that all the fattiest meat belonged to him and that anyone who stole it must be cut off from his People. They abused their position to seduce the God-fearing women who came to serve the Lord at his Tabernacle in verse 22.3 The only sparring Hophni did was with worshippers who tried to resist his attempts to plunder their sacrifices, and the only zeal which Phinehas displayed was to fill his belly and his bed. Eli had hoped that they would be like Aaron’s godly sons Eleazar and Ithamar, but instead they were like his sinful sons Nadab and Abihu, who made the Lord their enemy and were struck dead in his anger at the Tabernacle in Leviticus 10.
When the Lord failed to judge them with instant death, Hophni and Phinehas assumed it meant he was their friend. They stepped up their activity, bullying worshippers mid-sacrifice into handing over their meat while it was still raw. When Eli rebuked them weakly yet failed to suspend them from duty, it reinforced their view that God would no doubt prove a similar pushover when judgment day finally came. While Hannah lived out the words of her prayer by making painful annual visits to the son she had devoted to the Lord,4 they continued “treating the Lord’s offering with contempt” and provoked him to display his glory by waging war against them.
God is looking for humble people he can use as filaments to display the brilliance of his glory to the world. When people insist on being proud and arrogant, he still uses them as filaments, but as ones which display his glory through his holy anger and righteous opposition. The promise of 1 Timothy 2:4 that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth,” must be balanced against the statement in 1 Samuel 2:25 that “it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.” When Hophni and Phinehas despised God Almighty and acted as if he was God All-Matey, he declared war against them as his sworn enemies and made them a warning for us all.5
That’s why each of us needs to read this chapter and ask whether the Lord is truly our friend or whether our actions have turned him into our foe. It’s not enough to say that we think he is on our side, for even wicked Hophni and Phinehas thought that. We need to examine our hearts to see if we are proud talkers, strong warriors, rich go-getters, or spiritual beggars who walk humbly before the Lord. We need to take Hannah’s prayer seriously, as well as the rest of Scripture which warns repeatedly that “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.”6
When we examine ourselves and find traces of the same pride which was the downfall of Hophni and Phinehas, Hannah tells us what we must do with our sin. She doesn’t end her prayer in verse 10 with a prophecy that her son Samuel will grow up to serve God as a faithful priest and judge. She ends by prophesying that her son will point to someone else who will serve as God’s perfect King and Messiah.7 She sees that Jesus will walk the path of humility she describes, and will lay down his life as the great blood sacrifice which Hophni and Phinehas had despised.8 He would be the one to whom people could run when they discover that their pride has made God into their enemy. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour,” Paul explains in Colossians 1:21-22. “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”
So don’t read any further into 1 Samuel until you have straightened out this question. Are you the humble kind of person God can use, or are you the proud kind of person he calls his enemy? Let’s kneel with Hannah as she celebrates humility and puts her faith in God’s blood sacrifice. Let’s look to the one who died for us when we were his enemies and who calls us to follow in his footsteps as the humble friends of God.
This is one of a series of extracts from Phil Moore’s book Straight to the Heart of 1&2 Samuel. This and other books in the series can be purchased through his website.
- 1 Genesis 49:24 & Deuteronomy 32:4,15,18,30&31.
- 2 The phrase son or daughter of Belial is used over 20 times in the Old Testament. The translators of the Septuagint understood it to mean son of yokelessness, and therefore translated it as lawless person.
- 3 We should not understand verse 22 to mean that shrine prostitutes served at the Tabernacle. The Lord had invited godly women to come and serve him there in Exodus 38:8.
- 4 The writer continues his Hebrew play on words in verse 20 by using the verb at the root of the name Saul to describe Hannah asking for a child and lending him back to the Lord. She could not out-give God, who gave her 5 more children in return.
- 5 We can see this in the way Hannah uses the word she’ol to refer to the grave in verse 6, since this is the most common Old Testament word for hell – for example in Job 24:19, Psalm 9:17, 49:14-15 & 139:8, and Proverbs 15:24 & 23:14.
- 6 Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6 & 1 Peter 5:5. Jesus taught in Matthew 5:3 that God is looking for spiritual beggars.
- 7 To fully understand the message of 1 & 2 Samuel, we need to grasp that the Hebrew word for anointed one is messiah. Although it often points to David, it always points beyond him to the coming of his greater Son.
- 8 There is a deliberate echo of verse 26 when Luke 1:80 & 2:40&52 describe the coming of Jesus the Messiah and of the Nazirite prophet who heralded his arrival. There is also a deliberate echo of Hannah’s prayer when Mary sings praise to the Lord in Luke 1:46-55 for opposing the proud and helping the humble.