“Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled [at] the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he said unto them, Why do ye such things? For I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons; for [it is] no good report that I hear: ye make the LORD’S people to transgress. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall intreat for him? Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the LORD would slay them.” (1 Samuel 2:22-25)
Every so often, we come across a “hard” saying in the Bible, which seems difficult to comprehend, until we take a closer look at it. Indeed, there is a “type” of hard saying, which is repeated in a number of places in the Bible, in which the Bible states, to the effect, that something was either “caused” to happen, or “not caused” to happen, on account of it being the Lord’s will — seemingly not giving man any chance whatsoever to make a decision in the matter, even though what occurred was done through a man or a woman. In other words, it was God who decided what would happen. And yet if we look even closer, we see that there is a very definite “thread” of man’s involvement in the matter, so that we could say that what occurred was “providential” – God working in the midst of man’s decision-making in order to bring about his own will.
Take for example the following example:
In Judges 14:4, we read that Samson’s desire to marry a Philistine woman was “of the Lord, [because God] sought an occasion against the Philistines”. The marriage of Samson to this woman would provide an “opening” for God to execute judgment against the Philistines.
There are plenty of other passages like this, but one I’d like to focus on today is found in 1 Samuel 2:25, in which it states that Eli’s sons would not listen to the voice of their father. Oddly, it says, “because the LORD would [i.e. “wanted to”] slay them. We know that God has sought justice against wickedness before – and justice will always prevail, in the end — but what is this that we read that God desired to put these two men to death and that even, it appears, God prevented them from obeying their father at this point, because it was his will to put them to death? What then is the Bible teaching in this passage? I think it behooves us not to check it out!
Well, I think we have a classic case here of “going too far”. And that really is about it. If you read the story (for example, the preceding verses quoted at the top), you’ll see that Eli’s sons did awful things. And, they were priests. If you know your Bible, you also know that the higher up you are in terms of authority, the more you are expected to know, and the better your performance is expected to be. These men were priests of God, but they treated their office contemptuously. Now I don’t want to instill the idea that God does not forgive. Far be it from that. But there is a point of no return, as I think we see this passage teaching us.
In other words, if you examine the Scriptures carefully, you’ll see that it is very much in God’s character to give a first, second, third, and I think usually in the “teens” or “twenties”, “thirties”, and “forties” chances to a person to “get right” with God. Take for example the case of Manasseh. This man caused his sons to “pass through the fire”. I believe this is a reference to actually dedicating them to a false God (I believe Molech) and in fact giving them up a living burnt sacrifice. Manasseh’s record is incredible. In fact, the deportation of Judah is credited to Manasseh, because of all his sin. And yet what happened in the end to Manasseh? He was forgiven by God, on account of the fact that he repented.
What is the bottom line here? The bottom line is this. Manasseh had not reached the point of “no return” (for himself, that is, yet for Judah that was another story) and was still able to repent. However, Eli’s sons had reached it! Now as “hard” as this may sound to some, to have forgiven Eli’s sons after having reached the point of “no return” would have not been characteristic for God (it would, of course, cease to make it the point of “no return”). Friends, there IS a point of no return by which God will NOT forgive! I am, in fact, not talking about your eternal destiny. I am talking about living out your calling here on this earth. Eternity wise – we can get into that later.
All of this fits in beautifully, of course, with 1 John 5:16, in which John writes, “If any man see his brother sin a sin [which is] not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” Notice what John is saying! He is saying to NOT pray for the man who has committed a sin unto death! Those that have committed the sin unto death have reached the point of “no return” John is saying. It would be against God’s character to pray for them at that point in time. They have gone too far, and like those who treated the Lord’s table contemptuously, they will go home to be with the Lord early.
This of course leads to a very very important question. What is the sin that leads to death? That we’ll have to leave for another time.