Bad Leaders in the Church

I Samuel 2

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2020

The first three three chapters of I Samuel deal with the birth, childhood and call of Samuel.  In I Samuel 1, we see Samuel’s BIRTH.  In I Samuel 2, we see Samuel’s CHILDHOOD and in I Samuel 3, we see his CALL as a prophet.

There are three sections of the chapter.  Most of the chapter deals with bad leaders.  We are going to look at some bad leaders in this chapter and how to identify them today.

Many churches have bad leaders, leaders who sin openly. What are some of the signs to look for?  How do you identify bad leaders?  We will find out.  The NT says that there are certain people in the church that we are to look out for and stay away from.

17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to WATCH OUT FOR those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. KEEP AWAY FROM them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. (Romans 16:17-18 NIV)

Outline of the Chapter

1) The SONG OF HANNAH (I Samuel 2:1-10)

It is also a prayer.  We will look at the kind of prayer it is and what we can learn from it.

2) The SINS OF THE PRIESTS (I Samuel 2:12-25)

There is great wickedness in this chapter.  It is said to be “very great” (I Samuel 2:17) and it is done by the priests.  It is done by religious leaders.  What was this sin?  We will see what it is.


There is a prophecy regarding Eli’s house.  A mysterious prophet shows up in this chapter (I Samuel 2:27ff.). Who was he?  No one knows.  He does not have a name, but he showed up unexpectedly and gave a word of prophecy to Eli.

Dr. Whitcomb of Grace Theological Seminary used to say that these OT prophets were almost ubiquitous.  A man would be minding his own business and then suddenly without warning a prophet would pop up behind the bushes with a word from the Lord.

The Song of Hannah

I Samuel 2:1-10 give us what scholars call “the song of Hannah.”  There is a big contrast between this chapter and the last chapter.

In I Samuel I, Hannah was BROKEN and BITTER.  In I Samuel 2, she was BLESSED.

In I Samuel 1, she prays out of PAIN.  In I Samuel 2, she prays out of JOY.  She said, “My heart EXULTS in the Lord…I REJOICE in your salvation” (I Samuel 2:1).  What kind of prayer is this?

Hannah’s Prayer

One, it is a PRAISE PRAYER.  In I Samuel 1, her prayer involved PETITION.  In I Samuel 2, her prayer involved PRAISE. There is no petition in this chapter.

Hannah knew how to PRAY to God and she knew how to PRAISE God.  We are very quick to pray to God for things but we are not as quick to praise and thank God when our prayer is answered.

That is exactly what Hannah does here.  She spends more words on her thanksgiving in chapter two (264 words) than she did on her petition in the first chapter (55 words).

Two, it is a PROPHETIC PRAYER.  It is not only a prayer, it is a prophecy.

Hannah said, “The Lord will judge the ends of the earth” (I Samuel 2:10).  He has not done that yet.  She said that the Lord “will give strength to his king.”  When Hannah lived, there was no king in Israel.  She in the time of the judges. This prayer is prophetic.

Three, it is a POETIC PRAYER.  There is a lot of poetry in this prayer.  God is called a rock (I Samuel 2:2).  God is not a literal rock.  This is a metaphor.  Hannah says, “my horn is exalted in the Lord” (I Samuel 2:1).  People do not have horns.  This is poetry.

Four, it is a MESSIANIC PRAYER.  It is the first time that we see the word “anointed one” in the Bible.  The word anointed is used before this time.  It uses priests being anointed with holy oil (Numbers 35:25) and altars being anointed with oil (Numbers 7:88).

He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (I Samuel 2:10 NIV).  This is the first time we see the word “anointed one” or “messiah.”  The messiah is described as a king.  The word “anointed one” or messiah is actually used twice in the chapter.

The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of HIS ANOINTED.” (I Samuel 2:10 ESV)

And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before MY ANOINTED forever. (I Samuel 2:35 ESV)

Five, it is GOD-CENTERED PRAYER.  This prayer does NOT focus on Hannah.  It is not a prayer just about fertility and reproduction.  This prayer is not just about having children.  She doesn’t talk about herself.  She talks about God.

This prayer is all about God.  No one is like him (I Samuel 2:2).  God is called a rock (I Samuel 2:1, 10).  He is stable.  You can trust Him.  He is a God of knowledge (I Samuel 2:3), so you have to watch what you say about Him.

The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.6 THE LORD kills and brings to life; HE brings down to Sheol and raises up.7 THE LORD makes poor and makes rich; HE brings low and he exalts. 8 HE raises up the poor from the dust; HE lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. (I Samuel 2:5-7 ESV).

God can completely change your circumstances.  If you are on top, He can put you on the bottom.  If you are on the bottom, He can put you on the top.  God can reverse any situation in life, no matter how bad it looks.

He is the God of reversal.  What God did for Hannah, He can do for other people today.  Keep in mind that Hannah did not pray one time and get her request answered.  She prayed over a long period of time.

The Sins of the Priests

The next scene in the chapter is a picture of Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. They were sons of Eli (I Samuel 1:3).  They were young men (I Samuel 2:17).  They had Egyptian names.  They did not even have Hebrew names.  They were extremely wicked.

Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. (I Samuel 2:12 ESV).  Thus 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 (I Samuel 2:17 ESV).

One preacher called these “The Bad Boys of Shiloh.”[1]  It is not good when the bad boys of the town happen to be the religious leaders of the town.  Hophni and Phinehas were priests! They grew up in church!  Their father was a priest.  Their grandfather was a priest.

Their dad was not just the pastor of a church.  He was High Priest.  He was the spiritual leader of the whole nation but these two boys were completely rotten.  Some of the worst kids are preacher’s kids (PKs).  There is an irony here. In the last chapter, Eli mistook Hannah for a wicked woman, when in fact it was his own sons who were wicked.

What is the message for us today?  It tells us that religious leaders can be corrupt.  Pastors can be corrupt.   Elders can be corrupt.  Hophni and Phinehas were priests.  They were in the ministry.  They represented God in an official capacity to people.

It also tells us that not everyone knows God and some of the people you think know God and you expect to know God, may not.  You can come from a Christian family and NOT know the Lord.  You can come from a long line of Christians, going back hundreds of years, and NOT know the Lord.  Your dad can be a pastor or missionary and you NOT know the Lord.

You can be religious and NOT know the Lord.  You can be educated, got to seminary and not know the Lord.  You can be ordained and in ministry and NOT know the Lord.   You can preach sermons and not know the Lord.  There are many people behind pulpits who do not know the Lord.

You can know all kinds of things about God and NOT know the Lord personally.  I know a lot about Donald Trump but have never met him personally.  The question to ask is this.  Do you know the Lord?

Two Kinds of Kids

This chapter is not just about Hophni and Phinehas.  They were both in the same family.  It is about Samuel.  Samuel was adopted into this family. Anyone who has kids knows how different they can be.

They can live in the same house, be in the same environment and be completely different in appearance, personality, temperament, and character.  They can be polar opposites.

The same was true of Eli’s kids. They had some things in common.  Both came from a good lineage.  Both were descendants of Aaron.  Both were brought up in Shiloh.  Both were raised by Eli, the High Priest.  Both went to church.

Both learned the Law of God.  Both worshipped God.  Both had some ministry.  How did Samuel minister as a child?  We do not know but they both served the Lord in some capacity.  Both served in the Tabernacle but there were big differences.

1) They had a difference in AGE

Hophni and Phinehas were much older than Samuel was.  He was a child and they were adults.

2) They had a difference in CHARACTER

Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. (I Samuel 2:18 ESV)

Hophni and Phinehas were wicked but Samuel was righteous.  Samuel did not have the best role models around him.  He did not have the best environment.  He had two rebellious older brothers, but he stayed faithful to God.

That is an encouragement to us.  Noah lived in a really bad environment.  Everyone around him was wicked but he stayed righteous and walked with God.  As Swindoll says, “environment does not determine outcome.”[2]

Hophni and Phinehas were completely wicked.  They were sexually immoral.  They were committing temple prostitution.  Little Samuel was sexually pure.  Samuel was a picture of purity.  He was a Nazarite and was completely dedicated to God, ministering before the Lord in his linen ephod.

3) They had a difference in REPUTATION

And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is NO GOOD REPORT that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. (I Samuel 2:23-24 ESV)

Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and IN FAVOR with the Lord and also WITH MAN. (I Samuel 2:26 ESV)

Hophni and Phinehas had a terrible reputation, and Samuel had a great reputation.  All of the people loved little Samuel and thought well of him. Samuel’s reputation got better over time.  He grew in favor with people.  Hophni and Phinehas’ reputation got worse over time.

4) They had a difference in SPIRITUAL STATE

One was saved and two were lost.  One was a child of God.  The other two were children of the Devil.  The KJV gives a literal translation in I Samuel 2:12. It says, “Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial.”  It follows the Hebrew.  That is never used of saved people.

Samuel knew God.  He had a relationship with him.  God spoke to him.  He grew in favor with God.  He was blessed by God.  Hophni and Phinehas did not know God (I Samuel 2:12).  They did not have God’s favor.  They were not blessed by God.  They were cursed by God.  God wanted to kill them (I Samuel 2:25).

The Sentence on the House of Eli

27 And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? 28 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. 29 Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’ (I Samuel 2:27-29 ESV)

This is interesting.  An unknown prophet shows up and gives Eli a strong warning.  He has a word of impending doom, because of the wickedness of his sons.  He doesn’t confront the sons.  He confronts Eli because he is the High Priest.

God blessed Hannah’s family in the beginning of the chapter and now He judges Eli’s family. Eli honored his sons above God.  Hannah honored God above her son.  She wanted a son more than anything else in this world but, when she got one, she gave him back to God.

What the judgment on the House of Eli?  Three promises are given.

First, he promised that the descendants of Eli would die at an early age (I Samuel 2:31).

Second, he promised that Hophni and Phinehas would die on the same day (I Samuel 2:34).  They do not die naturally or accidentally.  Their death is a divine judgment for sin. It is bad enough that they would both die but this prophet says that they will both die on the same day.

Third, he promised that Eli would lose his ministry.  Another family of Aaron would be given the office of high priest (I Samuel 2:35).  His family would lose the opportunity to be in the priesthood.

Three Powerful Applications

How does this chapter apply to us today?  What does this chapter say to us today?  What can we take from it?  This is where it gets interesting.  There are some big lessons from this chapter for us today.

1) Discipline your kids

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24 ESV)

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Proverbs 29:15 ESV)

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. (Proverbs 24:13-14 ESV)

Eli was not all bad.  He had some good points.  Every time the man opens his mouth and utters a prophecy or would bless people, good things happened (I Samuel 1:17; 2:20) but he made some big mistakes as a parent.

He failed as a father.  The NT says that you cannot be a leader in the church if you cannot even lead your own family (I Timothy 3:5). We can learn here from Eli’s parenting mistakes.

What was Eli’s method of parenting?  He was a PASSIVE parent.  He was a PERMISSIVE parent. Like many parents do today, Eli indulged his kids.  He spoiled his kids.  He didn’t discipline his kids.

He honored his sons more than he honored God (I Samuel 2:29).  Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37 ESV)

We should love our kids, but we should not love them more than we love God.  We should not honor them more than we honor God.  That is idolatry.  That is the secular approach to child-rearing.  It is child centered.  Everything revolves around the child.  They come first.  God should come first in our families.

2) Exercise church discipline

Eli failed, not only as a father; he failed as the high priest.  He failed as a father and he failed as a minister.  He failed as a leader.  He was the High Priest.  He did not supervise the priests under him very well.

His sons committed big crimes right under his nose and Eli did not even know about it.  He had to be told by others what was going on (I Samuel 2:22).  He closed his eyes and looked the other way.  Once he heard about it, what did he do about it?  What was his response?

22 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 24 No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. (I Samuel 2:22-24 ESV)

What did he do?  He talked to them about it.  he reasoned with them.  “Boys you ought not to do that.  Rumors are spreading that you are being bad?”  There is a place for REBUKE.  There is also a place for CONSEQUENCES.  Eli took no disciplinary action.

He allowed them continuing to minister as priests.  They were not removed from their position.  Eli gave them a slap on the wrist and said “bad boys” but did absolutely nothing to stop them.  It was his job as the High Priest to remove bad priests from the priesthood.  Notice what God said.

And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did NOT restrain them. (I Samuel 3:13 ESV)

There are churches today that do the same thing Eli did.  When a leader is caught in sin, tolerate it.  They ignore it or try to hide or try to cover it up, instead of dealing with it and removing the individual from ministry.

Many churches today do not address sin.  They are soft on sin, even in leaders.  They do not practice church discipline, but church discipline is biblical (see I Corinthians 5).

If we do not deal with the sins of our children, God will.  If we do not deal will the sins of our church, God will.  God removes some people from leadership in His church who abuse that leadership.

Eli did not deal with his kids.  He lost his ministry.  He lost his kids.  He lost his life all.  Discipline seems hard.  It is actually the best thing that can happen to a family or church, when it is done in a loving way.

3) Beware of corrupt religious leaders

In Samuel’s day, the people did not have much of a choice.  They had to go to Shiloh to worship.  That is where the Tabernacle was located. Today, we have more choices.  We do not have to stay in a church with corrupt leaders.  We live in a day in which abusive pastors are quite common.

Leaders in some churches have done some of these things that Hophni and Phinehas did.  There are pastors today who act just like these two men.  What do corrupt religious leaders look like?  What are some of the signs?

Six Signs of Corrupt Religious Leaders

1) Corrupt religious leaders are sexually immoral

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. (I Samuel 2:22 ESV)

A clear sign of a false teacher or a corrupt leader is a leader who is immoral.  They took advantage of their position as priests and not only sleep with women who were serving in the Tabernacle, they committed adultery.

They were both married men.  We know that because when they both died, one of the son’s wives went into labor (I Samuel 4:19-22).  They used God’s house as a house of prostitution, which was forbidden in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 23:17).

Sexual immorality is not just a problem for priests in the Catholic Church, many evangelical ministers have committed sexual immorality.  Some have been caught doing human trafficking of children.[3]

2) Corrupt religious leaders reject Scripture

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.” (I Samuel 2:15 ESV)

Hophni and Phinehas lived in a time of the judges when everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  Even the priests did what was right in their own eyes.  God gave the priests some of the meat in the sacrifices, but these two men were not satisfied with God’s provision for them.  They wanted more.

They rejected what God said they were allowed to eat.  They rejected how god said that they were supposed to live.  False teachers always reject Scripture.  There are whole denominations that reject what Scripture says about some topics (e.g., marriage, homosexuality).  They think that some passages are outdated. 

3) Corrupt religious leaders are abusive

And if the man said to him, “Let them 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.” (I Samuel 2:16 ESV)

I Peter 5:3 tells elders not to lord it over the flock.  Some pastors are like dictators.  They abuse their people by bullying and intimidating people.  They can even use force and threats.

It is the exact opposite of how they are supposed to act.  They are supposed to serve people. Some of the leaders of big famous mega churches have been removed from office for this very reason.

4) Corrupt religious leaders are self-centered

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, 14 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. (I Samuel 2:13-14 ESV)

Samuel ministered for the Lord.  They ministered for themselves.  They wanted the choices meats for themselves. They used ministry to serve self, rather than to serve God.  They went into the ministry for what they could get out of it, rather than how they could help people.

They used the worship of God just as a means to fill their pockets and satisfy their lusts.  They lived lives of unrestrained lusts.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. (Romans 16:18 NIV).

5) Corrupt religious leaders are not open to criticism

And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25 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. (I Samuel 2:23-25 ESV)

They did not listen when the people told them what they were doing was wrong (I Samuel 2:16).  They did not listen when their own father told them this (I Samuel 2:23-26).  There are some people that do not listen to anybody.  They always want their own way.

You can’t tell them anything.  They do not take any advice, suggestions or criticism.  Proverbs 29:1 says, “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed-without remedy” (NIV).  That is what happened to Hophni and Phinehas.

6) Corrupt religious leaders showed contempt for the things of God

Thus 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. (I Samuel 2:17 ESV)

They were NOT big on respect.  They had complete disrespect for God and the things of God.  How they treated the offering showed what they thought of God.  They stole from the offerings.

They were actually stealing from God.  They did not just steal; they stole from God. The fat in the offering was to be reserved for God alone. All the fat is the Lord’s (Leviticus 3:16 KJV).

It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood.” (Leviticus 3:17 ESV).  Leviticus 7:25 says, “For every person who eats of the fat of an animal of which a food offering may be made to the Lord shall be cut off from his people” (ESV).

It was to be burned on the altar as an offering to the Lord.  The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast shall be for Aaron and his sons. (Leviticus 7:31 ESV).  Can we do this today?  Yes.  We can steal from God.  We do not steal from God today by eating fat.

God does not want fat or meat today.  It is not the smell of roasted meat today is a pleasing aroma to God.  He does not like barbecue.  It is our lives.  We are to be living sacrifices for God (Romans 12:1-2).  He wants everything we have given to him as a sacrifice.


[2] The Swindoll Study Bible NLT. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Kindle Edition.


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