As I try to think through the Spitzer sex scandal, I find it providential that I’ve begun reading through 1 Samuel. In 2:12-26, the writer unfolds the heinous nature of Hophni and Phinehas. They were worthless; they did not know the LORD (12). They had no regard for the LORD or for his offering:
The custom of the “priests” with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.
Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw!”
And if the man said to him, “Let him burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force” (12-16)
This was a total disregard for the commands concerning the priestly offerings. In Lev. 7, God gave Israel the laws for the priestly portions. The priest was to receive the right thigh and a breast from the animal, and the fat was to be burned (7:31-36). Anyone who ate the fat or the blood was to be cut off from the people (24-27). These were totally disregarded by Hophni and Phinehas. They took whatever meat they wanted, and they did not wait for the fat to be cooked off! Thus, the writer of 1 Samuel says, “the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt” (1 Sam. 2:17).
Unfortunately this was not the end of their sins. “Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (22). Not only had news of their sins with the offerings spread to all Israel, but they were also sleeping with the
welcome greeters women who served at the entrance of the tent of meeting! Eli finally rebuked his boys:
Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the LORD spreading abroad. If someone sins against a man, [judges] will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the LORD, who can intercede for him?” (23-25)
Eli scolded his sons for such scandalous behavior. The news of their sins was not good. Perhaps a judge would grant them mercy in a civil matter, but how could they expect mercy after sinning against God (how ironic for a priest to say such things)?
With such a response, we are left scratching our heads. Why didn’t Eli respond until the news went around town? Why didn’t he respond until after they had committed sexual sin? I think the answer is in God’s response to Eli through the prophet:
Thus the LORD has said, “Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?
Why did God approach Eli and not his sons? Why did Eli not respond quicker to his sons’ sins? Because Eli was just as guilty as his sons. God went right to the heart (or belly, if you will) of the matter by pointing out Eli’s strange increase in weight. Where did all that fat come from??? It came from the altar!! He was eating the meat, too! He couldn’t discipline his sons properly because he was doing the same thing!
By not reprimanding them, he was honoring them over God. He would thus receive a severe punishment: the promise of the Aaronic priesthood would not apply to his line (30-33). To signify this, his sons Hophni and Phinehas would die on the same day (34). God would also raise up another priestly line who would receive his blessing and who would serve his anointed forever (35). And as an ultimate twist, though they were currently getting fat off of the offerings, Eli’s line would be humbled to the point of begging the new priest for bread (36).
Eli and his sons were priests who had no regard for God. In fact, they were using the priesthood for their own self-serving luxuries. Eli seemed to judge his moves by what made the headlines, not by what was actually right and wrong! He seemed concerned with the reputation of God, but it was only a surface concern, because he was disobeying God in the same way!! Thus God would replace him with someone who would do according to what was in His heart and His mind (35).
What does all of this have to do with the New York governor Spitzer and pastoral standards? I suspect that there are a lot of politicians who are quick to make a statement about certain sins such as Spitzer’s to make them look like they are upholding the standard of justice. But what about those other things which are equally against the law? No one will touch those. Why? Because they are doing them too!
We too tend to spend a lot of time on moral sins, such as sexual immorality, among pastors, and we are right to do so. But there are other sins that we do not actively attack, such as greed and pride. Is it because we are just as guilty? Are we silent on certain sins because they actually have become essential to our ministry? When we base our standards on the headlines, we can run the risk of offending the God whom we serve. We must strive to hold up the standard of Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ, that we may through the power of the Gospel do all that is according to his heart and mind.