The phrase "man of God" occurs 72 times in the King James Version of the Bible. It is a phrase generally used to signify a man in touch with God, representing the divine interest on earth. All but two of the references are to be found in the Old Testament. The two New Testament references are, of course, instructive, teaching us about the things a man of God must avoid (1 Tim 6.11) and the fact that the man of God requires to immerse himself in the Word of God (2 Tim 3.17).
So far as the Old Testament references are concerned the phrase is most often used of Elisha (well over 20 times) but it is also used repetitively in relation to well-known servants of God such as Moses, Samuel and David. On two occasions (both in Judges 13 in relation to the appearance to Samson's parents) the phrase relates to a heavenly messenger.
Interestingly, there are four particular occasions where a servant of God who is described as the "man of God" is sent to deliver a particular message and reveals some truth, but his name is not given in the Scriptures. The inclusion of the description of the servant as a man of God, but the omission of his name, is also instructive. First, it would seem that these were messages that were to be delivered by men in touch with God, and men sent directly from the Throne. Second, however, it seems that the Spirit of God is keen to emphasise that it was the message and not the man that was critical. Is this not still applicable today?
These men and their messages have powerful lessons for us in 21st century Christian life. In this brief series of articles we hope to explore the four incidents involved. They may be summarised and entitled thus:
1. 1 Samuel 2: A Message of Sanction to Eli
2. 1 Kings 13: A Message of Shame to Jeroboam
3. 1 Kings 20: A Message of Salvation to Ahab
4. 2 Chronicles 25: A Message of Separation to Amaziah.
A Message of Sanction to Eli (1 Samuel 2.27)
Eli seemed to be a man of spiritual perception (1 Sam 3.8; 4.18). He knew something of listening to the voice of God, and had an interest in the presence of God. He was active in service and leadership amongst the people of God. However, like many other good men he had a problem with his family. The writer freely and frankly acknowledges at this point that he has not had to be tested as was Eli, not yet having had teenage or adult sons. However, it appears that the Scriptures are speaking loudly in this passage about the severe danger to the spiritual prosperity of the people of God when family relationships get in the way of correctly exercised judgment. Factually, the assemblies of the saints have been sadly divided many times over this same issue, so the message remains pertinent today.
The man of God arrived and spoke to Eli. He reminded Eli that he was in a place of privilege, nearness to God, and sanctification, because of the grace of God (2.27-28). However, the charge against Eli was this: his sons were doing something their father had never done - they were making merchandise out of the people of God and, rather than stop them, Eli was giving them licence to break the commandments of God. Notice that Eli is held responsible (v.29). Of course in general terms the children were not held liable for their father's sin, or the father for the children's, but the burden of the message is that Eli had it in his power to stop their behaviour and had chosen not to do so. Eli ultimately had practical control of the house, and had allowed it to become a place of sin, and a seat of merchandise, with his sons being the chief proponents of the error.
That there would be a sanction there was no doubt. God would not be mocked (Gal 6.7). Eli's failure to put God first, and his sons' repeated sin in lording over the people of God meant that they had disqualified themselves from effective service for God. The man of God reminded Eli that honour and reward from God would not come because of natural generation, but that blessing resulted from obedience. We may wish our family members to know spiritual progress and blessing, but that can only come about by their obedience; and certainly not by us changing standards or making allowances for sin. Sin always has consequences and Eli's failure led to a number of difficulties. First, as is emphasised in ch.2, his family were barred and unable to fulfil the service that would have been originally intended for them. Second, a culture of moral decline was allowed to arise because sin was not arrested as sin by Eli, being the divinely appointed leader (see, for example, v.22). Not only was open immorality being permitted, including the defrauding of the people of God, we may apply the situation typically to say that Eli seemed to tolerate his sons' attempting to rob God of His portion in terms of the pattern of what was intended for active priesthood (see vv.12ff).
God's word came to pass in exactly the way that the man of God had foretold. The priesthood was removed from Eli and his family in a dramatic and painful way. The message of sanction delivered is therefore surely a stark, but simple, warning to all of us in any position of responsibility not to be blinded by partiality, friendship or family ties. Sin must be dealt with robustly as sin.
The passage does not deal with why Eli did not stand up to his sons. Was it pride? Was it delusion? Would it have caused division in the family? These are the same reasons today that prevent error being dealt with. Whatever the cause, God still holds Eli to account.
While Eli's judgment was blinded by family ties, all sorts of forms of partiality can cloud our vision (for example, see James 2 on the effect of wealth and influence). Today the people of God require leaders who will promote truth, putting the divine interest first, and without self-interest or partiality.
It would be a mistake to miss the closing burden of the man of God. He foretold that against the landscape of the departure of the house of Eli there would come a day when God would raise a faithful high priest that would not lead his people astray. His functions would be discharged perfectly according to intimate knowledge of the heart and mind of God. This priesthood would be established forever and would be untransmissible and unchangeable (v.35). It seems to the writer that while many eminent scholars think these verses may refer to Samuel or to Zadok, typically and ultimately they must point forward to our Lord Jesus the perfect High Priest, a priest who will never lead the people of God astray, act contrary to the divine interest, or require to be sanctioned.
Last, it appears that there was another consequence of the error. Eli had been an influence, it seems, for good, and then it emerges that Samuel made exactly the same mistake as Eli. What effect did it have on Samuel in later years when he had seen Eli effectively give his sons allowance to do as they pleased? We must be careful that mistakes we make do not stumble future generations also.
May we feel the challenge of the message of the man of God.
To be continued.