Who Was Eli In The Bible? Divine Lessons From Him

Photo of author

Published by Kimberly Wall


Co-Founder, Disciple Group Leader, Author

Last Updated:

Editorial Policy and Guidelines

Our content is expertly crafted and reviewed by theologians and scholars, ensuring accuracy and relevance by referencing reliable sources, primarily the Bible. Before publication and significant updates, we rigorously confirm the factual integrity, delivering well-informed articles grounded in biblical teachings

People who work at the church in service to God and his doctrines have held a significant role throughout Christian history. At present, people who are raised in the church are also actively engaged in religion, church activities, and the works of the Lord.

For many, this vocation is an extremely important calling, for God is a God of honor, and the lives of many Christians can become at risk. Moreover, Jesus Christ’s honor and image are at stake.

We would expect these servants of God to be holy, dignified, reverent, and respectful, leading the church and its people toward the righteous path. So, who was Eli in the Bible? How was he condemned? What role did he play in the early Christian church?

Who Was Eli In The Bible?

Eli’s account[1] is unique among those of other biblical people who accomplished great deeds for God and Jesus in their later years. Eli’s entire narrative in the Bible does not, in fact, begin when he is a senior citizen up to the age of 98.

We first encountered Eli, an older priest, sitting by the entrance of the Tabernacle (an ancient church or temple) located in Shiloh in 1 Samuel 1. Shiloh served as the Promised Land’s initial “everlasting” dwelling for the Lord’s tabernacle, where anyone could pray, praise, and give thanks to God.

We initially hear about Eli in 1 Samuel 1, when an individual named Hannah is passionately speaking to the Lord, looking for her child. She promises that the moment she is blessed with a boy, she will commit him to church service. This suggests that he will reside and labor in the holy place under Eli’s instructions, and no blade will ever contact his head. In short, he would abide by Samson’s example and adopt a Nazarite life.

Eli first believes Hannah (Samuel’s mother) has been intoxicated because her mouth is moving in prayer, yet no sounds can be heard from her. But once she clarifies the circumstances, he orders her out with a blessing. We learn more about Eli in 1 Samuel 4. Throughout these four brief chapters, we witness a man with good intentions who strayed from his path of righteous leadership.

Who Were The Sons Of Eli In The Bible?

Hophni and Phinehas, the wicked sons of Eli, worked in the Tabernacle like their father, though they had no understanding of what it takes to be a righteous servant of God (1 Samuel 2:12).

The two were known as the children of Belial (a name used when referring to the evil or worthless). They were wicked to the point where the people of Israel despised their visit to the Tabernacle. They took the sacrifices and polluted the temple’s essential offerings. Not only that, they were also adulterers and fornicators.

While Eli is occupied with telling a holy woman (Hannah) off, he does very little about his son’s wrongdoing and misconduct. A pretentious Christian, like Eli, is one who gets frustrated and annoyed by a genuine believer who is practicing and honoring the word of God.

When you follow God’s word, these deceitful Christians will scold you; they’ll easily attack you (without understanding what’s happening); however, they’ll pay no attention and overlook true evil, typically happening in their very own backyard.

Jesse, like Eli, had a son named David among eight sons, yet they were very different people from drastically different backgrounds. Jesse was not a priest or a judge like Eli. Jesse, on the other hand, was a pious man, but Eli was not.

Eli and Jesse were unsuccessful in their efforts to “get saved” for their children. However, they produced different kids because they were distinct men who led different paths with God and lived different lives. They nurtured their children in different ways.

Jesse’s son became a sheep keeper who honored his father, in whom he could put his confidence, in whom his father’s instruction had strength in his life, and who reared his son to be capable of safeguarding sheep against a lion and a bear. In the meantime, Eli had children who slept with different women, cheated on their spouses, and ignored God.

Eli’s sons showed a lack of respect for God as they took God’s offerings and insulted God’s holy name with their evil ways of life and acts, unlike David, who had such a huge faith in the Lord that he courageously slaughtered Goliath.

Consequently, Eli’s family line perished. God took their priestly authority away; their enormous family blessing had been turned into an everlasting curse; and Eli’s lasting impact was entirely and forever ruined.

gray concrete building and eli in the bible

What Did The Sons Of Eli Do In The Bible?

Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s biological sons, were thieves, adulterers, and fornicators under the protection of the priesthood. The sons of Eli disobeyed the law by retaining and consuming meat from offerings that were not entrusted to them. Also, they were having intercourse with females who worked in the meeting’s entryway (1 Samuel 2:22).

When Eli hears his own two sons’ unacceptable conduct and it becomes widely recognized (1 Samuel 2:24), he disciplines his sons. However, he failed to stop them, letting them carry on to desecrate the holy place (1 Samuel 2:25).

God has had enough of them. God was already done with them while they were still alive and breathing. Doing what they did and living like they lived became a major problem. They, like their father Eli, had a good opportunity to change and return to God.

Still, we read that Eli did not restrict and control his sons, did not intercede, and did not effectively act. While he did speak against their sinfulness, they ignored him. He failed them, and they failed him.

Although Hophni and Phinehas performed godly service, they grew to become two of the many vicious and despicable individuals in Israel. They led people to despise God and incite hate within the temple.

What Was The Punishment Of Eli In The Bible?

Eli’s life and conduct can be connected to a story that Jesus narrates in Matthew 25:14–30. A man gives a talent (ancient currency) to each of his servants. In modern times, a talent would cost approximately $400,000.

Two of the said servants utilize the master’s given wealth and successfully double it. However, one of the slaves hides his given talent. The man who has given them the talents reprimands the servant for accomplishing nothing else with his talent and hands it to one of the slaves who achieved good, meaningful things using the opportunity he was bestowed.

In the same way, God bestowed a “talent” on Eli, granting him a crucial position in authority over Israel as a priest. However, Eli failed to put it to good use and did not positively influence his children. He buried his ability to direct them along the ideal road toward God. As a result, God removes Eli’s talent and bestows it upon Samuel, just like in the aforementioned parable.

A sequence of tragic occurrences took place in his life. A brief period later, the Philistines attacked Israel. Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s sons, engaged in the fight with the holy Ark of the Covenant, believing it could offer them immunity from their adversaries.

Unfortunately, God wasn’t on their side, and Eli’s two children, as well as around 30,000 army forces of Israel, were slaughtered.

Moreover, the Philistines took the Ark. The moment Eli heard the awful news, he fell from his chair and broke his neck “for he was old and heavy,” as recorded in 1 Samuel 4:17–18.

At this point, Phinehas’ wife (Eli’s daughter-in-law) gave birth; she died during childbirth, but not before naming her baby “Ichabod,” saying, “The glory has departed from Israel” (1 Samuel 4:21). As an outcome, Eli’s grandchild, delivered on the same day (full of disaster and loss), received an unfortunate name that means “No Glory.”

What Lessons Can We Learn From Eli And His Sons?

1. Indifference Will Never Lead You To God’s Kingdom

Throughout the vast majority of the Holy Testament, we witness numerous authorities actively striving for evil rather than good. However, we can see the consequences of quietly letting evil occur in Eli’s story. According to an old saying, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Eli had his plate full with his kids, unquestionably, but since he takes a passive role throughout most of his ministry, God finds him and the rest of his bloodline unworthy of directing Israel.

Returning to the account of the talents, God entrusted Eli with a chance to achieve good things through a powerful role, and Eli wasted it. As Jesus Christ said in Luke 12:48, “To whom much is given, much shall be required.”

2. God Rewards Good Parenting

Each of us has the capacity to teach gospel values to our children and draw people to Jesus through them and the legacy they leave. When young ones wander, we must take the initiative to lead them on the righteous path toward God.

Eli learned that his sons had wandered far from God. His action, however, was inadequate and weak. He took little effort to effectively advise them and make things right aside from just saying, “You should stop.” Therefore, God took the role of a high priest away from his family lineage.

Jesus cherished children during his ministry (Matthew 19:14). Inadequate parenting and a failure to impart the truth of God’s message to one’s family could result in children drifting away from God. When they do, convincing them to return can become an immense challenge that some may fail to do.

3. It Is Possible For Good To Emerge From Wicked Households

Nonetheless, while Eli’s narrative concludes on an unpleasant note, it gives life to a righteous one: Samuel. Though far from a perfect righteous path, Samuel leads the people of Israel wisely and walks the holy road.

Hannah leaves young Samuel in Eli’s care once he has been fed. Samuel would end up exposed to Eli’s sons’ wrongdoing and Eli’s neglect. Despite the presence of bad influence, an influential and righteous leader arises after Eli and both of his sons perish. Whatever familial background we come from, the Lord God can cleanse it and lead us through a good life’s journey.

brown wooden chairs in a concrete corridor and eli in the bible


Eli was granted the wonderful privilege and honor of being a priest; thus, we anticipate him to be more compassionate, understanding, holy, virtuous, and in touch with God. However, as we have learned, this was far from what happened.

Eli was more disconnected from God and ignorant of the truth than anybody else throughout Israel. How many times do we witness people doing God’s work while their very own household is in chaos and their ground is infested with abominations?

The biblical narrative of Eli and his two sons is an enduring reminder for all of us as Christians, a warning that God has spoken through his Holy Word: anyone who desires to follow God should listen, obey, and live by his teachings accordingly.

Leave a Comment