As a kind man by nature, Eli was especially proud of young Samuel. He loved him even more than his own sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who degraded the priesthood with their gross immorality and theft.
They also had sex with the women who served at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Yet Eli rebuked them and failed to impose any lasting consequences on them.
Eli’s Artistic Odyssey
In those days the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a shrine (tabernacle) at Shiloh. It was here that Hannah entrusted her son Samuel to be raised. Eli was High Priest (in the line of Ithamar) and judge of Israel for 40 years. Unfortunately, he failed to curb the sins of his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who desecrated the Lord’s temple by taking the best cuts of meat from the sacrifices and having sex with women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
The Philistines then defeat the Israelites at Aphek, capture the Ark and slay Hophni and Phinehas. Then a man of God confronts Eli and tells him that the sins of his family are beyond repentance. Judgment is coming, he says. Eli is frightened and asks the prophet to repeat what he was told.
Eli’s Personal Journey
Taking on the challenge of photographing people who are often seen as a threat to traditional religious values has been no small feat for Eli. His work reveals the depth of emotions etched on a person’s face, their captivating stories, and the tactile textures of their skin.
At the time of Samuel’s birth, Eli had already been High Priest (Ithamar) and Judge of Israel at Shiloh’s Tabernacle for forty years. He had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who were priests but did not follow in their father’s footsteps. They exploited their positions and degraded the priesthood through bribery and corruption. Eli rebuked his sons but they did not change their ways.
After a disastrous battle with the Philistines, in which Hophni and Phinehas died, an unidentified man comes to Eli and tells him that God will punish his family. His sons will die and he will lose his position as judge over Israel. He will also lose his sons’ priesthood and he will have no descendants to carry on the Tradition.
Eli’s Spiritual Journey
After Hannah’s barrenness was overcome, she gave birth to Samuel, who was raised as her spiritual heir. Samuel went on to become Israel’s greatest judge, leading important battles against the nation’s enemies and anointing its first two kings.
The story skips forward several years to a time when Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, have fallen severely in moral turpitude. They are corrupt and deceitful, not merely in their role as priests but also in their roles as leaders of Israel’s army.
While they are fighting in a crucial battle against the Philistines, the ark of God is taken away by the Philistines. Hophni and Phinehas die in the process. A man of God visits Eli, who reveals to him that the Lord will punish his family because of their sins and his failure to restrain them. It is a damning message. Eli responds with fear, yet faithfully reports it.
Eli’s Family Legacy
The Bible says that Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas “abused the service of the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12) by eating meat from the sacrifices and having sex with women who served at the tabernacle. They also slandered the Ark of the Covenant, and God promised to punish them.
Instead of reprimanding them, Eli failed to rein them in. This allowed them to continue their abuse of the sanctuary and the people of Israel.
As a result, the Philistines defeat the Israelites at Aphek and slaughter the sons of Eli. Hophni and Phinehas are killed, and the Ark of the Covenant is taken into captivity. Eli died soon afterwards, aged 98 years old. His grandson, and great-grandson, was Abiathar, who survived Doeg’s slaughter and went on to serve King David. He was later dismissed by Solomon (1 Kings 2:27).Eli Samuel