Why It May Be Better to Follow the Rules


1Sam. 2:22   Now Eli was very old. He heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 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 not a good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25 If one person sins against another, someone can intercede for the sinner with the Lord; but if someone sins against the Lord, who can make intercession?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father; for it was the will of the Lord to kill them.


We met the women at the tent of meeting long ago, during the time of Moses. These women were fulfilling a holy duty, caring for the place where God and man met. During the time of the exodus the women serving the tent of meeting gave up the mirrors which they wore around their necks so that they could be melted down and made into the basin which the priests used for ceremonial cleansing. They gave up their self-centeredness (the mirrors had been used in Egypt so that women could fix themselves up before pagan worship) and allowed this symbol to be used in another symbol of holiness. In other words, they consecrated what they had so that it could be made holy. Therefore, one would assume that the presence of the women in this narrative is that they represent that which is holy and has been consecrated to God. 

Suddenly everything seems to have gone wrong, and this symbol of holiness, these women, have been desecrated. The priests who were supposed to represent the holiness of God, took the articles that were holy, and used them for their own benefit. If we read the sentence too quickly we miss out on the full effect. The language here can be interpreted to mean that the women were raped by Eli’s sons. The greed and self-centeredness of the priests is vile, these men who believe that they are above the law of God. They have become drunk with power and have lost all respect for the things of God, willing to ruin the lives of God’s precious people, beginning with these dedicated women. 

The ordinary worshippers were horrified by the behavior of these two men. They expected Eli, their father and the high priest, to do something about it. Sadly, Eli didn’t seem to know how to respond to his own sons. John Wesley would say that Eli reproved them too gently, with a simply verbal rebuke. This was not going to bring about a change in their behavior. They had chosen to disregard the rules and for that, there needed to be real consequences. There should have been a place for punishment for these two men, but their father was lenient. Maybe it was because they had achieved such a high position, and that they were his sons, that he simply didn’t seem to have the backbone to bring them into alignment with the rules, and make them face the consequences of their behavior. 

These sins, against the women, and in the offerings represented the most reprehensible behavior. Their sins were actually against the remedy for humanity — against the sacrifice for sins and the promise of holiness. Sadly, everyone suffered as a result of their decisions. The lives of the women would have been ruined; and quite possibly they would have been blamed! Maybe they were too attractive to work with the priests and they had brought this on themselves. If they had been virgins, they would never be allowed to marry because they were now “ruined.” In many ways any hope of a future may have been ripped from these women, used simply as instruments to satisfy the sensual desires of Eli’s sons. 

Not only did the women suffer, but the entire community had to live with the consequences of their action. The community of faith began to splinter and the very presence of God was removed from them. As a people, they wandered in spiritual darkness because of the selfishness of the religious leaders. This occurred because they thought they were above the rules, and their father didn’t seem to have the backbone to enforce them. 


I don’t know if Eli thought he was having compassion on his sons by not holding them accountable, but the end result was devastating. There are reasons why God has given us a roadmap, or rules for holy living. They do not exist for the purpose of removing all joy from our lives, but to give us direction and protection. Our loving heavenly Father does not want us to be wounded and have to live with the long-reaching effects of sin. That’s why there are rules!

Christians need to be hyper vigilant when it comes to living ethical lives. The Scriptures provide us with a basis for living the holy life. No, this is not something that we do on our own power, but the imitation of Christ and his holiness is vital to the Christian life. It is in imitation of Christ that we become reflections of Christ in this world. 

The behaviors of the priests in today’s Scripture would never have reflected the character of God. Sadly, the story above is too often repeated today. People in positions of power and authority can be tempted to misuse their influence, thinking that somehow the rules don’t apply to them. It may start in little things, but it can grow far beyond their wildest imagination. 

Wounded bystanders must be treated with the utmost care and not simply written off as “collateral damage.” We almost missed the women in today’s story because they aren’t the focus, but their ruined lives were very real. The long-term effects of our selfishness must be recognized. Far too often we have seen the stance Eli adopted; we are more concerned with the individuals in power than we are with the ones who are living with the aftermath. The result is that we think we are showing “compassion” by not enforcing the rules when, in fact, we are reeking havoc with far-reaching consequences.

All of God’s children must recognize the call to a deeper walk with Jesus Christ. We are to embrace the call to holy living and revere those whom God has placed within our circle of influence. All persons are to be deeply respected and the rules should be followed, for in following and enforcing them, the damage is contained. Sometimes punishment is the first step toward healing and can be the most compassionate response to a difficult situation. In the long run, it just may be better to follow the rules, than to live with negative consequences. 


Lord, check me if I think that I can bend the rules for my benefit. Amen. 


  1. “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:25


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