“‘If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?’ But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
This is one of those verses that’s hard to get our minds around at first read. And second read. And third too. The Lord willed to put them to death? What happened to mercy and compassion and grace? Who can survive if the Lord deigns to destroy them?
And yet, if we take this verse out of context, it really does seem like it diminishes the character of God. That’s why we can’t forsake context with a verse like this. Indeed, the context paints a pretty unflattering picture of Eli’s two sons.
They abused their positions as priests every chance they got. They took from the peoples’ sacrifices for themselves beyond what the Law allowed. They did not know the Lord and yet were serving in His house. And their sin probably extended well beyond this, but the author doesn’t list it out for us in detail. The point is as Eli challenges them here: They were sinning directly against God. They were sinning against God in a position that would serve to sour the people against Him. This is something He was not willing to abide. They were going to be judged and nothing was going to stop it. God was going to put a stop to their evil once and for all. So, He willed to put them to death.
Verses like this one need not give us trouble if we keep a couple of things in mind. First, pay attention to the context. These guys were evil. They were evil and were actively leading people away from God by their blatant hypocrisy. This was a well-deserved judgment.
Second, we’ve got to get the character of God right. God is just. He is also loving. He always does what is right with mercy as His guide. If He decided that judgment was due, He was right in His judgment. He had given them plenty of chances and their time was up. Even still, though, keep reading the story. They did not die right away. He passed this judgment by allowing them to continue making foolish choices until the natural consequences of those foolish choices cost them their lives. This means He gave them even more time to repent. He is indeed a God of justice and love.
Sometimes the Scriptures are hard. There’s no getting around this. But, if we’ll pay close attention to the context and keep God’s character firmly in mind, they won’t trouble us beyond what we can handle with His help.