1 Samuel 2:12

ESV Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.
NIV Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord.
NASB Now the sons of Eli were useless men; they did not know the Lord.
CSB Eli’s sons were wicked men; they did not respect the Lord
NLT Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord
KJV Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord.
NKJV Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord.

What does 1 Samuel 2:12 mean?

The rest of this chapter provides a contrast between the boy Samuel, the son of faithful Hannah and Elkanah, and the two sons of Eli, the priest of Israel at Shiloh. The previous verse (1 Samuel 2:11) described little Samuel as ministering to the Lord under Eli's supervision. Now the text declares that Eli's own sons, Hophni and Phinehas (1 Samuel 1:3), were "worthless men" (ESV) or "scoundrels" (NIV).

The Hebrew word translated "worthless," beliya'al, eventually became one of the Jewish names for Satan, often written today as "Belial." In the previous chapter, Hannah told Eli she was not drunk and asked him not to think of her as a "worthless woman" or "daughter of Beliya'al" (1 Samuel 1:16). Here, these two men are literally called "bēn beliya'al," literally sons of wickedness." They were destructive, wicked, and good for nothing.

That harsh statement about Eli's sons is amplified by the next statement: they did not know the Lord. How could this be? Hophni and Phinehas were the sons of the priest of Israel and served as priests themselves at the Lord's tabernacle. They clearly knew much "about" the Lord and the religion of Israel. Yet they did not know Him in the most important ways. First, their knowledge of the Lord had never reached the level of trusting, believing in, and relying on Him. They did not know the Lord as their God. Second, as will become clear, they did not know God in the sense of taking His commands to heart. They did not obey the law of Moses, even though they were responsible for leading the people of Israel in abiding by it.

The pattern is as old as time. Whatever compromises are made by one generation in terms of their faithfulness to the Lord become an even greater indulgence in the generation to follow. The Lord will charge Eli with scorning His sacrifices and offerings, as well honoring his sons above God (1 Samuel 2:29). His sons followed in his footsteps to their own destruction.
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