Eli was priest and judge in Israel. He held the highest and most responsible positions among the people of God. He had been appointed to govern the nation, and to minister in their behalf before God. As a man divinely chosen for the sacred duties of the priesthood, and set over the land as the highest judicial authority, he was looked up to as an example, and he wielded a great influence over the tribes of Israel. But although Eli was appointed to govern the people, he did not control his own family, or rule his own household. Eli was an indulgent father. Loving peace and ease, he did not exercise his authority to correct the evil habits and passions of his children. Rather than contend with them or punish them, he would submit to their will, and give them their own way. Instead of regarding the education of his sons as one of the most important of his responsibilities, he treated the matter as of little consequence. The development of their character was of the greatest importance, and God held Eli accountable for the way in which he allowed his sons to exercise the evil propensities of their nature. The priest and judge of Israel had not been left in darkness as to the duty of the father to restrain and govern the children that God had given to his care. But Eli shrank from this duty, because it involved crossing the will of his sons, and would make it necessary to punish and deny them. Without weighing the terrible consequences that would follow his course, Eli indulged his children in whatever they desired, and neglected the solemn and sacred work of fitting them for the service of God, and the duties of life.
The course of Abraham is a complete contrast to that of Eli. “I know him,” said the Searcher of hearts, “that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.” There would be no betraying of his sacred trust; no sinful neglect to restrain the evil propensities of his children; no weak, unwise, indulgent favoritism; no yielding of his conviction of duty to the clamors of affection. Abraham’s love for his children would lead him to correct his household, at whatever cost, for the good of their souls, and the honor of God. He was diligent in the cultivation of home religion, for he well knew that the blessing of Heaven rested on the habitation of the righteous. He determined that the law of God should be kept in his household, and he was called the “friend of God” and honored by God as the “father of the faithful.”
Had Eli but followed his example, great and disastrous evils would have been avoided, and the blessing of God would have rested upon him and his house forever. God had said of Abraham, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him” “to do justice and judgment.” But Eli allowed his children to control him. The family government was reversed. The father became subject to the children. There is no greater curse upon households than to allow the youth to have their own way. When parents regard every wish of their offspring, and indulge them in what they know is not for their good, the children soon lose all respect for their parents, all regard for the authority of God or man, and they are led captive at the will of Satan. Many an indulgent father or mother has reaped a harvest of sorrow from their own loose and careless government of their households, and they have regretted, too late, that they did not restrain their children in their youth.
Eli failed where many are failing today. He neglected to honor God in his family life, to teach his sons to reverence and obey God; and the consequence of this neglect was apparent throughout all the life of his sons. When the work of disciplining and training the children is not properly done, it testifies against the parents in the defective character of their sons and daughters, and will produce evil results, not only in their lives, but in the lives of others. The influence of an ill-regulated family is widespread and disastrous to all society. It accumulates in a tide of evil that affects families, communities, and governments.