Hophni popped a juicy lump of lamb into his mouth.
“Beautiful, Brother Phinehas!” he said, as the fat dripped from his lips.
“Succulent, Brother Hophni!” Phinehas replied, spitting bits of lamb into his brother’s eye.
“Ah, the life of a priest!” grinned Hophni.
“And all you have to do,” added Phinehas, “is offer up the occasional sacrifice. And act like you believe in God.”
Just then, there was a knock on the door.
“It’s your father, Eli,” their servant said.
“Another meal ruined,” Hophni sighed.
Eli lumbered into the room. Nearly blind, he had served as priest at Shiloh for many years. “I can smell it!” he grumbled. “Roast lamb. And the fattest pieces, I’ll wager. The parts that were meant to be sacrificed to the Lord!”
“But it tastes so good, father,” Phinehas belched.
“You know the rules!” Eli shouted. “The meat goes into the boiling pot. You reach in the fork, and whatever it grabs is yours. The rest is burned up on the altar to the Lord.”
“But the potluck approach is so... potluck,” sighed Hophni. “You could fish out any old bit. A hoof. A horn...”
“I got a bladder once,” Phinehas grimaced.
“A priest trusts God to provide,” argued Eli.
“But boiled bladder is so boring,” Hophni replied.
“And what is God going to do with it, anyway?” asked Phinehas. “It’s a waste.”
“God does not eat the meat!” Eli roared. “It’s a symbol of our willingness to give the best of what we have to him!”
“Heard it before,” Hophni muttered. “So, if you’re finished, father, why not let us finish, as well? The lamb is getting cold.”
Eli left. But in the morning, he went to visit his sons, once again.
“I warned you this would happen,” he trembled.
“A simple ‘Good morning’ would suffice,” said Hophni.
“There’s nothing good about it,” said Eli. “God is going to punish our family.”
“And you know this, how?” asked Phinehas.
“Because of the boy,” Eli whispered.
“What boy?” Hophni replied.
“Samuel,” said Eli. “The boy who serves me.”
“So that’s his name,” said Phinehas. “Interesting. We always call him the drunk lady’s son.”
“His mother was not drunk,” Eli sighed. “She was so upset that she could not have children that, yes, I thought at first she might have been drinking. But that was never the case. And when God did grant her a child, she showed her gratitude by giving him back to God, as my servant.”
“Sounds a bit backwards to me,” said Phinehas. “Thanking God for your child by giving him away.”
“A bit like burning up the best bits of meat,” added Hophni.
“That’s because you know nothing about sacrifice,” said Eli.
“So, what did the boy say?” asked Phinehas. “He hasn’t been snooping on us, has he?”
“Nothing of the sort,” said Eli. “It was the middle of the night. I was fast asleep. And, suddenly, there he was. Samuel assumed that I had called his name, but I hadn’t. So, I sent him back to bed.”
“He didn’t smell of wee, by any chance, did he?” sniggered Hophni.
Eli slammed his hand on the table.
“This is serious!” he insisted. “It happened a second time. The boy heard his name. He came running to me. And, again I sent him back.
“When Samuel came to me a third time, I finally figured it out. I told him that if he heard someone call his name again, he should say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’ That’s what he did. And that’s when God, himself, spoke to the boy.”
“And told him that we were all going to DIIIIIIIIIIIE!” laughed Phinehas.
“This is no joking matter,” Eli grunted. “The boy heard from God. I’m sure of it. And God has pronounced his judgement on this family. There is nothing left to say.”
“Except: ‘Goodbye, Father’,” said Phinehas.
So, the old man left.
Sometime later, the Philistines attacked the army of Israel and defeated them. So, the leaders of Israel asked that the Ark of the Covenant - the sacred box that sat in the tabernacle - be brought to the battlefield, as a sign of God’s presence.
Hophni and Phinehas were given the job of accompanying the Ark onto the battlefield.
“A long way to come, brother,” moaned Hophni.
“A dangerous place to be,” groaned Phinehas. “Still, there’s a lovely pot of lamb stew waiting for us back home.”
But that pot of stew would never reach their lips. For 30,000 soldiers of Israel died that day. And two hungry priests with them.
When old Eli heard, he was so overwhelmed that he fell off his chair and died, as well.
So, the family of Eli came to an end, just as God had told the boy Samuel. The boy who went on to become one of Israel’s greatest prophets.