Thu, 27 September 2018
Bible Study #38 – Hannah and the Cost of Bad Priests
Opening Prayer: Make the pure light of Your divine knowledge shine in our hearts, Loving Master, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand the message of Your Gospel. Instill also in us reverence for Your blessed commandments, so that overcoming all worldly desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, both thinking and doing all things pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the Light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give the glory, together with Your Father, without beginning, and Your All Holy, Good, and Life- Creating Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the Prayer before the Gospel in the Divine Liturgy; see 2 Corinthians 6:6; Ephesians 1:18; 2 Peter 2:11)
Intro on Bad Priests – why is it so terrible, who is to blame, and how do we fix it?
1 Kingdoms (aka 1 Samuel). Written by the Prophet Samuel around 1000 BC.
On Hannah. She is barren. She promises to dedicate a son to the Lord (1 Kingdoms 1:11). Note that the Hebrew version is different.
Here is the Great Canon on this episode (from the Beatitudes on the Thursday of the Fifth Week):
Chaste Hannah when praying moved her lips in praise, while her voice was not yet heard; but yet, though barren, she bears a son her prayer deserved.
Remember us, O Lord, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.
Hannah's child, the great Samuel, was reckoned among the Judges, and he was brought up in Arimathea and in the House of the Lord. Imitate him, my soul, and before judging others, judge your own actions. (I Kings 16:13. )
Remember us, O Master, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.
She is granted a son (Samuel) whom she takes to Eli when he is weaned. Her hymn of thanksgiving and dedication is wonderful (1 Kingdoms 2:1-10).
St. Augustine says this of her hymn;
Are these words going to be regarded as simply the words of one mere woman giving thanks for the birth of her son? Are people’s minds so turned away from the light of truth that they do not feel that the words poured out by this woman transcend the limit of her own thoughts? Surely, anyone who is appropriately moved by the events whose fulfillment has already begun, even in this earthly pilgrimage, must listen to these words and observe and recognize that through this woman (whose very name, Hannah, means “God’s grace”), there speaks, by the spirit of prophecy, the Christian religion itself, the City of God itself, whose king and founder is Christ.
Samuel really is a man of God from his youth up. Even when he is young, his purity and piety is contrasted with the wickedness of the “Priests of the Lord” (who “did not know the Lord”) Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's sons. Their doom, along with that of their father, is proclaimed by “a man of God” (1 Samuel 2:27-36).
The Canon says this about Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas (Beatitudes & Song 5);
You, my soul, for lack of understanding have drawn upon yourself the priest Eli's condemnation, by allowing the passions to act sinfully in you, as he allowed his children.
Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely and on My account.
Aaron offered to God the fire pure and undefiled; but Hophni and Phinehas, like you, my soul, offered to God a foul and rebellious life.
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.
Note the comparison with Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2).
Eli was a prophet and Hophni and Phinehas were priests. The priests were wicked, but Eli shares their condemnation. What was his sin?
St. Chrysostom describes one of the reasons bad priests are such a burden.
When rulers are honored by their people, this too is reckoned against them; as in the case of Eli it is said, “Did I not choose him out of his father’s house?” But when they are insulted, as in the instance of Samuel, God said, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me.” Therefore insult is their gain, honor their burden. What I say, therefore, is for your sakes, not for theirs. He that honors the priest will honor God also; and he who has learned to despise the priest will sooner or later insult God.
St. John Chrysostom recognizes the danger of following Eli's example of excessive lenience;
Hence I beg you to offer a hand to our children lest we ourselves become liable for what is committed by them. Are you not aware of what happened to old Eli for not properly correcting his sons’ shortcomings? I mean, when a disease requires surgery, it rapidly becomes incurable if the physician is bent on treating it with skin ointments and does not apply the appropriate remedy. In just the same way it behooved that old man to take appropriate action regarding his sons’ failing, but by being guilty of excessive tolerance he too shared in their punishment.
St. Basil the Great puts it all into perspective and sets the stage for next week:
Because their father [Eli] did not chastise them with enough severity … he moved the forbearance of God to wrath so great that foreign peoples rose up against them and killed those sons of his in war in one day. His entire nation, furthermore, was vanquished, and a considerable number of his people fell. Now, this happened even with the ark of the holy covenant of God nearby—an unheard of thing—so that the ark, which it was not lawful at any time for the Israelites or even for all their priests themselves to touch and which was kept in a special place, was carried hither and yon by impious hands and was put in the shrines of idols instead of the holy temples. Under such circumstances one can readily conjecture the amount of laughter and mockery that was inflicted upon the very name of God by these foreigners. Add to this, also, that Eli himself is recorded to have met a most pitiable end after hearing the threat that his seed would be removed from the priestly dignity; and so it happened.
Such, then, were the disasters which befell that nation. Such griefs did the father suffer because of the iniquity of his sons, even though no accusation was ever made against Eli’s personal life. Moreover, he did not bear with those sons of his silence, but he earnestly exhorted them not to persist longer in those same wicked deeds, saying, “Do not act this way, my sons; for I hear no good report concerning you.” And to stress the enormity of their sin, he confronted them with an alarming view of their perilous state. “If one man shall sin against another,” he said, “they will pray for him to the Lord; but if a man shall sin against God, who shall pray for him?” Yet, as I said, because he did not exercise a suitable rigor of zeal in their regard, the disaster recounted above took place. And so I find throughout the Old Testament a great many instances of this kind illustrating the condemnation of all disobedience.
St. Andrew of Crete. The Great Canon.
Franke, J. R. (Ed.). (2005). Old Testament IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1–2 Samuel (p. 209). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.