GOD expects PARENTS to ‘TRAIN’ and ‘RESTRAIN’ their CHILDREN: Then the Lord said to Samuel: "Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever." (1 Sam 3:11-14)
Let us learn from Eli’s story that we cannot change our children with a gentle rebuke or a pat on their back. If we truly love our children, we will rebuke, chasten and even restrain our children until they are corrected from their erroneous ways, and yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). Let us always remember the exhortation that God speaks to us as His children: "My son (daughter), do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son (daughter) whom He receives." (Heb 12:5-6)
Eli was the High Priest of Israel during the time of the Judges, and he lived with his family in Shiloh close to the Ark of the Covenant. He appeared to be a just man who faithfully executed his priestly duties, but he failed in one crucial matter: to train and restrain his two sons Hophni and Phinehas (1 Sam. 1:3b). His two sons were corrupt to the core, and they did not know the Lord as they grew up (2:12). They had no fear of God, and forcibly took the best portion of the sacrificial meat that was offered to God by the people (2:13-16). Their sins were great before God as they despised even the sacrificial offerings meant for God (2:17). On top of that, they committed adultery with multiple women, and this news reached their father Eli as well (2:22).
God judged Eli with the most severe judgment because he knowingly allowed his sons to continue in their corrupt ways (3:13–14). Actually, Eli had weakly challenged his sons on at least one occasion, but they paid no attention to him at that time (2:22–25). Even then Eli had a further recourse to follow, which he failed to do. God’s law in Deut. 21:18–21 instructed parents of a rebellious son to bring him before the elders of their city, and if found guilty stone him to death. However, Eli did not restrain his sons nor did he turn them away from their sins. Whatever discipline Eli had exercised upon his sons, it was too little and too late!
The judgment upon the High Priest Eli would extend from the death of Eli’s sons and continue until the whole prophecy given by the unnamed man of God (2:27–36) was fulfilled. No descendants of Eli would ever serve as priests of God in the future. God would judge the family of Eli until it no longer existed! These were supposed to have been the esteemed priests of God, but they turned their privilege into total disaster.
Here we learn of Eli’s personal failure as a father. The word translated ‘restrain’ occurs only here in the Hebrew Bible. It suggests ‘a rebuke that sets things right’. Though the offenses of his sons were more blatant, Eli does not escape blame. As father and High Priest of Israel, he should have confronted his sons with more than words (vv. 23–25). His failure to take action translated to honoring his sons above the Lord (v. 30), and God judged Eli severely for his inaction!
Let us understand that God expects us (parents) to train and restrain their children, and this is God’s commandment for us: "Train up a child in the way he (she) should go, and when he (she) is old he (she) will not depart from it." (Prov 22:6) We have come to a time that it is considered parental abuse just to spank a disobedient child, and the city authorities are ready to put parents behind bars based on the complaints by the children. As parents, let us note that our failure to discipline our children in time can lead to disastrous consequences and much heartache later on. We should start disciplining our children before their character is permanently bent out of shape.