When Leaders Betray

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They were in charge and everyone knew it.  Their influence was almost tangible wherever they went.  The feeling was not positive.  In fact, fear and frustration are the best words to describe how they affected those around them.  Nothing was safe from them and no one stopped their reign of terror.  Eli talked to them about their behavior a few times but talking is where it ended.  He never as much as hinted at taking more decisive steps to reign in his corrupt sons, even though he had the power to stop them.  They brazenly violated the rights, property and women who they were supposed to serve.

It is more than disheartening when corruption sets in, and people take advantage of their authority to the detriment of those they are tasked with serving.  People and systems that are dishonorable and unprincipled undermine the very fabric of society.  Eli hears report after report confirming that his sons are harming the people and dishonoring God.  He confronts them with these words.

Eli called them out: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”  1 Samuel 2:23-24

The account goes on to say that Eli’s sons do not listen to him.  They continue to abuse the people and their power.  Eli had the authority to do more than talk to them about the situation.  He could have exercised his power to stop the abuse.  God’s response makes it clear that Eli could stop the suffering.

27-30 “A holy man came to Eli and said: “This is God’s message: I revealed myself openly to your ancestors when they were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. Out of all the tribes of Israel, I chose your family to be my priests: to preside at the Altar, to burn incense, to wear the priestly robes in my presence. I put your ancestral family in charge of all the sacrificial offerings of Israel. So why do you now treat as mere loot these very sacrificial offerings that I commanded for my worship? Why do you treat your sons better than me, turning them loose to get fat on these offerings, and ignoring me? Therefore—this is God’s word, the God of Israel speaking—I once said that you and your ancestral family would be my priests indefinitely, but now—God’s word, remember!—there is no way this can continue.

I honor those who honor me;
those who scorn me I demean.” 1 Samuel 2

Eli chose his relationship with his sons over justice, the people and God himself.  As a result, God pronounces judgement on Eli.  He makes it clear that participation in corruption and abuse is never excusable.  This particular version speaks as if Eli was the one who committed the sins his son committed.  There is no pass for those complicit in corruption indirectly.  The abuser and the conspirators are equally culpable.  Proverbs 24:12 expresses it best.

“Rescue the perishing;
don’t hesitate to step in and help.
If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,”
will that get you off the hook?
Someone is watching you closely, you know—
Someone not impressed with weak excuses.”

God cares that much about his children and their well-being.  God cares that much about you.  He will never abandon you to abusive, corrupt systems or people.  You are worth more than that.  You are worth the life of Jesus sacrificed on the cross.

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