What application can be made to our society from Eli’s tragic end? Eli was old enough to have seen great blessing, and to have known better than to have strayed from truth. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, often declared the United States to be the oldest democracy in the world. Although we could quibble that ours is a republic, the fact remains that our nation is old enough to know how to act better than we do. Instead of statesmen and leaders, we are served by men and women who give lip service to truth but seldom act upon it.
Why did Eli’s sons — and Eli himself — stray so badly? It seems that Eli tolerated too much. That was the offense Jesus cited against the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2. How much of America’s decline has occurred because Christians have silently tolerated too much?
Regarding sight, Puritan (and later Massachusetts Governor) John Winthrop proposed a society that “shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people upon us.” And yet, our nation seems to embody the church at Laodicea, to whom Jesus said: “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and yet you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
Our nation also seems to embody the people Jesus spoke of in Mark 8:18 when He quoted from Jeremiah 5:21: “Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear.”
And, how much could be written about America’s heavy girth? We are one of the most obese nations in the world. How much of our collective and individual bulk reflects a tendency to overindulge — selfishly consuming to an unhealthy extreme? Are we physically or spiritually fit to run a race? Paul admonished the Corinthians (and us, by extension) to run in such a way that they could win (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Many of us would be hard-pressed to amble for an extended period, let alone sustain the physical and spiritual pace Paul maintained throughout his life as a Christian.
Regarding the 40-year period of Eli’s service as judge, I would observe that America has definitely entered an era of steady decline. Our economy is booming, unemployment is at record lows, but most people sense that something is terribly amiss. If the current era represents our time of national testing, or probation, or trial, we are certainly failing. It is obvious that we are demonstrating a steady decrease in respect for God and faithfulness to His Word.
An Unnamed Voice
There is one other significant player in 1 Samuel 4, although she is never named. Eli’s unnamed daughter-in-law understood the gravity of losing the Ark. Upon giving birth to Phinehas’ son, she declared that the boy be named Ichabod, saying, “The glory [of the Lord] has departed Israel” (1 Samuel 4:21). Her sadness and despair are palpable.
I am convinced that the glory of God is leaving America. What was once a shining city on a hill has become a twisted caricature of unholy self-righteousness. Like the ancient Israelites, we think we are immune from harm because we like to think of ourselves as a Christian nation. Would Jesus not say to us as He did the Israel of 2000 years ago, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me'” (Matthew 15:7-8).
God’s Incredible Patience
Of course, that was not the end of the story for ancient Israel. In God’s good time and because of His graciousness — meaning His willingness to extend unmerited favor, God restored the blessing on Israel and then Judah. Still, time and time again they strayed — until His patience was at an end. He sent prophet after prophet to call the Jews to repent. Jeremiah said it this way (Jeremiah 2:1-13):
1) Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
2) “Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says, the LORD, “I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me…
4) Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.
5) Thus says the LORD, “What injustice did your fathers find in Me that they went far from Me and walked after emptiness and became empty?
6) They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’
11) Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.
12) Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,” declares the LORD.
13) For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
A sad summary of Judah’s attitude is captured in 2 Chronicles 36:
15) And the LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place;
16) but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against His people, until there was no remedy.
In the fourth and last segment of this look at the fate of America, we’ll explore our nation’s future.