What does 1 Samuel 2:12 mean?
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.
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.
First Samuel 2:12–21 contrasts Eli's sons with Hannah's son Samuel. Eli's sons are worthless men who don't know the Lord. They abuse their power as priests to take the best cuts of animals offered for themselves, treating the sacrifice to the Lord with contempt. Samuel, just a boy, ministers to the Lord at the sanctuary. Hannah brings him a new robe each year and Eli blesses her with a prayer for more children. She has three more sons and two daughters with her husband Elkanah. Samuel grows up in God's presence at the sanctuary.
After delivering Samuel to the Lord, Hannah offers a poetic prayer of praise. The sons of Eli the priest are evil, depraved men who abuse their power as priests. They coerce worshippers to give them additional meat. They sleep with women who serve at the sanctuary. In contrast, Samuel grows in favor with God and others as he grows up physically. Hannah and Elkanah continue to go to Shiloh yearly; they also have more children. Eli rebukes his sons, but they don't repent. The Lord tells Eli that all his descendants will die young and his two rebellious sons will die on the same day. The Lord will raise up a faithful priest to do His will.
The prior chapter explained how Hannah cried out to God for a son, and that her request was granted. First Samuel 2 begins with Hannah's praise to the Lord in response. Samuel remains in Shiloh where he ministers and matures. By contrast, Eli's sons are wicked and abuse their power as priests. A prophet reveals that God will cause all Eli's descendants to die young and his two sons to die on the same day. The Lord will raise up a faithful priest from another part of the family line. This provides background for Samuel's call from God in chapter 3.
First Samuel introduces the key figures who led Israel after the era of the judges. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally part of a single text, split in certain translations shortly before the birth of Christ. Some of the Bible’s most famous characters are depicted in this book. These including the prophet Samuel, Israel’s first king, Saul, her greatest king, David, and other famous names such as Goliath and Jonathan. By the end of this book, Saul has fallen; the book of 2 Samuel begins with David’s ascension to the throne.
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