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Here I Am

There is an intriguing allegory that comes out of Eli’s life and his interaction with Samuel.

We’re told in our reading from 1 Samuel 4 that

“Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy.” (v18).

Verse 15 mentions that he died at the ripe old age of 98. It also says, “his eyes were set so that he could not see.” So, he was fat and blind. And probably deaf too, at least spiritually so and in contrast to Samuel, who is famous for saying “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Sam. 3:10).

However, Eli didn’t die because he was old and heavy. He died after hearing the news that the Philistines had taken the ark of the covenant. It was a big event and memorialized with the birth of Ichabod and the pronouncement of his mother, Eli’s daughter-in-law – “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” (v21-22). “Ichabod” means “no glory” and with the departure of the ark, the glory of God that dwelt between the cherubim was gone.

Two hundred and fifty years later, we see the lessons of the life of Eli and Samuel come out in the prophecy of Isaiah. Let’s have a look at a series of connections between the call of Samuel, and the call of Isaiah outlined in Isaiah 6. Verse 1 provides the historical background – “In the year that King Uzziah died.” He died of leprosy, something he contracted because he lifted himself in pride by entering the temple to burn incense on the altar, something reserved for the priests. But there was to be a king-priest. That’s what the vision in chapter 6 points forward to as the prophet sees “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (v1). Here is someone sitting as king on a throne, but in the temple – the “train of his robe” referring to the high priest’s clothing.

Interestingly when we first meet Eli, we’re told, “Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord.” (1 Sam. 1:9). The word “seat” means a throne and is the same word used in Isaiah 6. So, here we have the reverse of Uzziah; Eli was a priest acting like a king.

In the vision, Isaiah sees the seraphim who cry “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (v3). It is the apostle John, who points out this vision was when “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” (John 12:41), referring to Christ the king-priest. What Isaiah looks forward to is the reversal of what happened in Eli’s life, the return of the glory of God.

The connections continue. Isaiah says, “I am a man of unclean lips” (v5), reminding us of Hannah, whose “lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.” (1 Sam. 1:13). Eli thought she was acting uncleanly and told her, “Put your wine away from you.” (v14). Isaiah uses the same word translated “put away” in verse 7 after an angel touches his lips with a coal from the altar and says, “your guilt is taken away.” That verse continues, “and your sin atoned for.” The same word “atoned for” is also used, but negatively regarding Eli –

“Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” (1 Sam. 3:14).

The seraphim purged Isaiah’s sin with “a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.” (Isa. 6:6). Contrast that with what it says of Eli’s sons and a similar implement they used to grab something from the altar –

“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, 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. (1 Sam. 2:13-14).

We look forward to the time when the king-priest shall sit on his throne in the temple of God, and the glory shall return. The point of these connections is two-fold. First, we have Isaiah like a second Samuel who, when called to service, said, “Here I am!” (1 Sam. 3:4, 6, 16). When God called Isaiah, he echoed Samuel’s word with “Here I am! Send me.” (Isa. 6:8).

Secondly, we see the contrast between Isaiah and the people of his day to whom He sent him. God tells the prophet,

“Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (v9-10).

Just like Eli, the people were fat (the word “dull means fat), deaf and blind.

We look forward to the time when the king-priest shall sit on his throne in the temple of God, and the glory shall return. What we must make sure we do in the meantime is say, “Here am I!” when our Lord calls.

Richard Morgan,
Simi Hills, CA

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