How to Keep Your Future from Becoming a Dead End
Topic: Future Passage: 1 Samuel 3:11–12, 1 Samuel 4:1–18
Highlights from 1 Samuel
Grace Community Church
January 22, 2023
How to Keep Your Future from Becoming a Dead End
Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 3. The de-motivational company Despair.com has a poster showing a ship sinking and the caption reads: Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.
Last week we met the priest Eli and his two sons Hophni and Phineas. This morning as we read about the end of their lives the only positive twist I can put on it is to say their lives do serve as a warning to us.
I’ve given this message the title How to Keep Your Future from Becoming a Dead End. There is a Hebrew word that is used to describe both: the end and the future. That word is acharit. The end and the future. Which might seem confusing until we realize with God the end is never the end, it’s always a new beginning.
For the wicked, the acharit means a dead end. For the righteous, acharit means a future. In Psalm 73 the psalmist is discouraged when he sees the wicked enjoying life and prospering by their wickedness. But he says, “then I discerned their end.” Their acharit.
Contrast that with Jer. 31:17 There is hope for your future (acharit),declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country. Jer. 31:17
So the acharit for those who reject God is a dead end and the acharit for those who trust in God is a bright and hopeful future. Today we’re going to look at the dead end acharit of Eli, Hophni, and Phineas and hopefully heed the warnings.
Even though Hophni and Phineas are priests serving in the house of God they treat God with utter contempt. They steal the offerings the people bring to God and they’re committing adultery with the women who serve in the tabernacle of God. Their spiritual decay is affecting all Israel.
Their father Eli does nothing to stop his son’s evil actions. In chapter 2 God sends a messenger to Eli with the word of the Lord saying He will strip the priesthood away from Eli’s line and raise up a faithful line of priests. The sign that this is going to happen is that both of Eli’s sons will die on the same day.
In chapter 3 God speaks for the first time to Samuel. We know the story, Samuel is sleeping in bed when he hears his name called. Thinking it was Eli calling he runs to Eli to see what he wants but Eli tells him to go back to bed. The third time this happens, Eli realizes it’s the Lord speaking and tells Samuel to response, “speak Lord, your servant hears.”
The word of the Lord is coming back to Israel…and it’s not a happy word.
11 Then the Lord said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 1 Sam. 3:11-12
God reaffirms through Samuel what He spoke through the unnamed man of God: Eli, Hophni, and Phineas are hurtling towards their acharit – and it’s going to be a dead end. Let’s pick the story up in chapter 4.
Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines, and …when they joined battle, Israel was [defeated by the
Philistines, who killed about four thousand men of the army in the field. 3 And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 1 Sam. 4:1-4
Israel goes to war against the Philistines and are defeated with 4000 men lost. And they ask, why did the Lord allow us to be defeated? Why isn’t God with us in the battle? I know! Let’s get the ark of the covenant and carry it into battle so that it may give us victory against our enemies!
The ark of the covenant represents God’s presence with Israel. When Joshua and the Jews circled Jericho seven times, in the front of the procession was the ark of the covenant and next to it were the priests. And by the power of God the walls came down!
Let’s do that again! So this time they carry the ark of the covenant with them and Hophni and Phineas, the two priests walk alongside of it. When the soldiers see the ark and the priests a loud cry goes up – so loud it says the earth shook! Now the victory will be ours! God is with us this time!
6 Now when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, “What does the sound of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” Then they understood that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp. 7 So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp!” And they said, “Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men, and fight!” vv. 6-9
God is on their side, we are going to die, but let’s at least go out fighting like men!
10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 Also the ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. Vv. 10-11
30k soldiers die. The ark of God is captured. And Hophni and Phineas died. Just as God foretold.
Their dead end acharit caught up with them. But there’s more dead end to come. A soldier comes from the battle and Eli asks him what happened.
17 So the messenger answered and said, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has been a great slaughter among the people. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead; and the ark of God has been captured.”
18 Then it happened, when he made mention of the ark of God, that Eli fell off the seat backward by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years. Vv. 17-18
Hophni and Phineas are dead. Now Eli is dead too. But the acharit isn’t over even yet. When Phineas’ wife, who was pregnant, hears that her father in law and husband are dead, she gives birth and dies, but just before she dies she names her son Ichabod which means “the glory of God has departed from Israel.”
For these people there is no bright spot in this. God isn’t done and out of this dead end He will bring a new beginning – but for these people their story ends at a dead end. Hophni and Phineas reap what they sowed. Eli dies knowing that Israel has gone to pot and the ark of God has been captured by the Philistines under his leadership. Phineas’ wife dies and his son will bear the name “God’s glory has departed” all his life.
Their acharit was a dead end. But maybe their lives can have the purpose of warning us and helping us avoid a dead end acharit. It’s not wise to judge our lives by where we are, we need to assess where we are going. Are we heading towards the future God wants for us or for a sadly tragic dead end acharit. Three warnings.
- Religion without repentance is a dead end
The ark of God truly did represent God and His presence among His people. That’s why Israel thought if they put it in front it would pressure God into give them what they wanted. Put the ark in battle and God would be forced to defend His honor and show His power on their behalf.
But next to the ark were the priests Hophni and Phineas. Everybody knew they stole God’s offerings for themselves. Everybody knew they were sleeping with the women serving in God’s house. Everybody saw the spiritual rot these men were spreading to all of Israel.
But, they thought, having this sacred religious relic, made holy by God Himself, will mean God is with us. That’s why they shouted so loud the earth shook. God is here!
And God was there, but what bothered Him more than the Philistines was the pollution of these men who held Him in contempt thinking they were made holy by standing next to the ark. God’s priority wasn’t to impress the Philistines with His power, it was to cleanse Israel with His holiness. On this day His power was going to fulfill His word and put Hophni and Phineas to death on the same day. He was bringing the line of Eli to its acharit – a dead end.
Religion without repentance is a dead end. If we’re stealing from our employer, or gossiping about other people, or cheating on our spouse, we can go to church as much as we want to, it won’t cleanse us. We can say as many prayers as we want, give generously to the poor, and study our Bibles till we know it backwards and forwards, it won’t make us clean. If we’re wounding people with our words, mistreating our spouse, neglecting our kids, or harboring pride in our hearts, quoting scripture ain’t gonna cleanse us. That’s just slapping religion over sin. God wants sincere, not veneer.
Some years ago, we had a car that began to mysteriously smell bad. Just a little at first but over a few days it got worse and worse. Turns out a melon fell out of the grocery bag and was hidden way back in the trunk and was rotting. We could have hung as many air fresheners as we wanted – it wouldn’t have gotten rid of the smell. We needed to clean out the thing that was rotting. That’s what repentance is. Repentance is a vital part of faith – it’s turning from our sin and turning toward God. Repentance brings us to God and to new
life. Religion without repentance is a dead end.
- Don’t use God to get what you want!
It’s funny how they didn’t care about God until a big problem came up, then they pulled God out of the attic, dusted Him off, and expected Him to give them what they wanted.
Don’t use God! Trust God, love God, serve God, draw close to God, ask God for what you need and want, but never use God as a way of getting what you want. God isn’t a good luck charm or a genie’s bottle that we rub to get three wishes.
Don’t ignore God until something goes wrong and then pull Him out and ask Him for what you want. It’s funny how the same people who ignore God in the day to day then blame God when things go wrong.
There are churches filled with people drawn by the message, God will give you what you want if you have enough faith. If you confess the right things. If you give to this ministry. God wants you rich! God wants you successful! God wants you driving a Mercedes! Preachers who enrich themselves off these messages are like modern day Hophni and Phineas using God to get what they want.
When God leads us into battle and we put Him in the front, we will have victory. Where God leads us we will have success. Where God leads us we will have provision. But when we put God in front in order to get what we want, we’re using God and that’s always a dead end.
Honor God by seeking what He wants, don’t use God to get what you want.
- Christ came to give us a bright future with no dead ends
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (acharit). Jer. 29:11
In Christ our lives don’t come to a dead end. We may hit hard times, we may suffer heartaches and trials, we may have days when it looks like the end, but in Christ we have a hope and a future. God has plans for us that are good not bad. In Christ our righteousness rises like the sun never to set. In Christ death has no sting and the grave has no hold on us. In Christ we will live forever in the presence of the Lord. Our acharit isn’t a dead end, it’s a living future!
But let me close with this final warning. Eli was devoted to God. What killed Eli wasn’t the news that his sons were dead, it was the news that the ark of God, the glory of God, had been captured by the Philistines. He cared deeply for God and His glory. And there’s no doubt in my mind that he is with the Lord now. But the acharit of his earthly life was a tragically sad dead end. Regret for the years and opportunities wasted was already pressing on his heart and this news pushed him over the edge.
We don’t want our future to only be bright in eternity, we want it to be bright here and now. Let’s love and serve the Lord. Let’s repent of sin that rots in our souls and stinks up our lives. Let’s be faithful and diligent to serve the Lord and the responsibilities He has given us.
Let’s pray for those in our lives and believe God to do great things. Prayer isn’t optional in the believer’s life – it is necessary. Don’t just open this book when things get rough. Don’t just pray when life is going wrong. Don’t just go to church to get something.
If you’re trusting (really trusting) in Christ as your Savior, then your eternal acharit is all future. All good. But I don’t want my earthly life to crash and burn like Eli’s did and you don’t either. Let’s learn the warning from Eli, Hophni, and Phineas and seek what God wants, seek to obey God’s will by the Spirit, and follow Christ’s example in all we do.