Poor Eli. He was a victim of grace-based parenting.
Maybe it was because he was a priest of YHWH, serving daily in the Tabernacle. Maybe when he would place his hand on the head of an animal to be sacrificed, the sins of his childhood would flash before his eyes. His heart was heavy over the ways he failed YHWH, and he was truly sorry for the things he had done.
So when his little boys, Hophni and Phinehas, would show disrespect or flagrant disobedience, he would feel bad about disciplining them. He kept silent, his own heart accusing him of the times he himself had disobeyed his heavenly Abba. Even when the boys were cruel to the people visiting YHWH’s Tabernacle, Eli would show tenderness, mercy, and patience with them.
Even when his son’s list of crimes extended past rebellion toward him and even their mother, even after they started to deal lustfully with the young women who came to worship, and even when they cheated those who brought sacrifices, Eli kept quiet. He didn’t want to be a mean dad. He wanted to extend grace and mercy. And after awhile, when his sons were just that bad, he felt too tired to deal with them. He’d rather study the Torah or spend hours in prayer.
Even though Eli felt he was honoring YHWH by extending grace and not doing more than speaking a word of rebuke to his sons, a man of God came to Eli with a message:
“Why do you honor your sons more than me?”
The great sin of Eli, according to 1 Samuel 3:13, was that “he failed to restrain” his sons, even when they did things that were “contemptible” (NIV) or “vile” (KJV).
Just as Israel was to drive out all evil practices from the nation, we need to guard our families from all evil practices. While we do acknowledge that we have been extended grace for our sin and that Yeshua offered Himself as a payment for our sin, should we allow sin to continue in our homes so that grace can abound (Romans 6:1-18)?
Rather, we need to honor YHWH more than anything else and to clean out the sin from our homes. (See Hebrews 12.)
There are certain evils that should just not be allowed in our homes. Yes, they will occur at times, but fathers and mothers need to rise up to honor their God by saying, “No, this sin cannot stay. We will not permit it. We will restrain our sons and daughters from doing these evil things.”
Thankfully, we don’t have to guess at which sins cannot stay. We don’t have to make up a legalistic list. Rather, we can read straight from the Scriptures, neither adding to nor taking away.
Proverbs 6:16-19, ESV
There are six things that YHWH hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
1. Haughty eyes
2. A lying tongue
3. Hands that shed innocent blood
4. A heart that devises wicked plans
5. Feet that make haste to run to evil
6. A false witness who breathes out lies
7. One who sows discord among brothers
You can use this list as a checklist, but we recommend that you take the time to study out each of these phrases. Where else are these things mentioned in Scripture? Can you think of any people who practiced these sins? How did YHWH deal with them? What blessings come to those who do the opposite? What heart issues are behind each of these evils? What would these sins look like in a toddler or preschooler? What memory verses could your children learn to help protect them (Psalm 119:11)?
You could also look up Proverbs 8:13, which contains a similar list. In addition, read Psalm 15, which contains a list of behaviors that please YHWH.
“O you who love YHWH, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10, ESV)
I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O YHWH, I will make music.
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart within my house;
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;
I will know nothing of evil.
Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy.
Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.
I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.
No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.
Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land,
cutting off all the evildoers from the city of YHWH. (Psalm 101, ESV)