Why is it that we can so clearly see the mistakes of others, and yet repeat these same mistakes in our own lives?
I am convinced we are meant to learn from the experiences of others. Wisdom is the overriding theme of the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs we are repeatedly warned to avoid foolish behaviour. For instance, Proverbs chapter 4, verses 14 and 15 say: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.”
Recently, in doing my devotions I came across a baffling account in 1 Samuel chapter 8 verses 1-3.
To understand why I found this story so baffling, you have to understand context. Long before he was a mighty prophet of God, Samuel was a boy being raised by a priest named Eli. Samuel had a divine mission. His mother, Hannah had prayed for a child after years of childlessness and vowed to God to give the child back to God (1 Samuel Chapter 1 verse 11). The woman’s cry was heard by God. Samuel’s birth meant the end of her unhappiness and pain caused by years of being jeered by her husband’s other wife, Peninnah over her infertility (1 Samuel chapter 1 verse 6).
Hannah kept her promise to God. As soon as the baby was weaned, she brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh where he was raised. There he ministered under the guidance of Eli.
Samuel had favour with God and man. In contrast, Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who were priests serving in the temple, were self-serving. The Bible describes them as “scoundrels” who had no regard for the Lord or their priestly duties (1 Samuel chapter 2 verses 12-13).
When Samuel was a boy, during a time when we’re told the word of God and visions were rare (1 Samuel chapter 3 verse 1) God came to Samuel and gave him a message of doom for his mentor, Eli. A message the boy was afraid to deliver. God told Samuel that He was about to “punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he [Eli] did not restrain them” (1 Samuel chapter 3 verses 11-14), sacrifice would not appease God. Eli had the power to correct and stop his sons and didn’t.
Samuel saw God fulfill the prophesy. After Israel’s enemies, the Philistines, captured the ark of God, Eli’s sons were killed in battle (1 Samuel chapter 4 verse 11). After hearing of his sons’ death and the capture of the ark, Eli fell off a chair, broke his neck and died (1 Samuel chapter 4 verses 13-18).
It seems the lesson here is: be obedient to God and raise your children to do the same. Discipline them by training them in the right way to go. Simple enough.
How did this happen?
Now here comes the most confusing part.
1 Samuel chapter 8 verses 1-3 which says:
“When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.” [Emphasis added]
This struck me as history repeating. How can Samuel allow his sons to become evil? Wouldn’t he have seen how the story ended for Eli and his sons? Wouldn’t he have told his own sons about Hophni and Phinehas? Wouldn’t he have warned them what can happen when a person’s heart turns away from God and toward evil? We can only speculate and ask questions, as the Bible didn’t spell out these answers. I don’t know what kind of father Samuel was or how he raised his children.
What I do know is that it was the Israelite elders’ recognition that Samuel’s sons could not lead them after Samuel’s death that prompted them to demand that Samuel appoint a king. They told him his sons “didn’t follow in his ways” (see 1 Samuel chapter 8 verses 4-8). Samuel didn’t deny what they said about his sons. Instead, he warned them how a King would take advantage of them and yet despite news of this exploitation, they still wanted one, since other nations had kings. They rejected God as their king. This move led them to fall out of favour with God.
I couldn’t help wondering: what if? What if Samuel’s sons were God-honouring men who were considered righteous and good enough to ably take over the mantle of judge from their father? What if they were obedient to God? They would be judges. But there would be no King Saul, no King David nor King Solomon either.
God uses every path we take, every wrong turn. His purpose is never thwarted. Yet there is a hard path; there is a rough road He doesn’t want us to take. One that leads to emotional turmoil and pain. All of which can be avoided.
Learn from the mistakes of others and choose another way. I pray God will open our eyes to the blunders we don’t need to make.
Sharma Taylor is a corporate attorney with a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Law from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. She won the 2017 Basil Sellers International Young Writers prize in the Press Service International young writer program, the 2019 Tronson Award (International) and the 2021 Basil Sellers award for International Senior Writers. Every day, she loves experiencing the beautiful surprises that God has stored up for her and longs to keep cultivating a servant-heart.