This Narrative Lectionary season has led me down a peculiar trail—I’m doing a series about being stuck. Moses was stuck in self-doubt, the Hebrew people were stuck in the past, and Samuel (and Eli) are stuck in an evil system.

Be sure to look at the Working Preacher commentary here. And you can find this Sunday’s text here.

Of course, Eli and Samuel aren’t the evil ones. If you flip back one chapter, you see that Eli’s sons are the “scoundrels,” cheating the people out of their offerings. 1 Samuel 2:17 says, “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord; for they treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt.”

If you think about those offerings, what did they represent? They represented the gifts of God given to the people of God. They represented the work of the people. They represented the offering to God from the poor and the downtrodden.

And Eli’s sons treated them with contempt.

Eli and Samuel were trapped in the system created by Eli’s sons.

So what was Eli’s response? Well, it wasn’t good. He didn’t stop his sons from creating chaos at the Temple. He was slow to respond, and acted powerless to control them. That belief in his own impotence had taken root. In fact, he was so impotent as the high priest that he didn’t even know God’s call.

But let’s contrast Samuel’s response. Samuel listens for God. He hears God’s voice. And he responds to God’s voice. In fact, he responds to it so deeply, it causes him to even tell the truth to Eli about God’s warning.

Eli responds to an evil system with resignation. Samuel responds by listening and following.

What about you? How are you responding to the evil system around you?

Here are some other thoughts for this Sunday:

  • When was the last time you heard God’s voice? How did you answer?
  • For many of us in the United States we have heard a renewed call toward justice. What ways is your call different today?
  • Eli is an interesting character. Dim of vision, in so many ways. What ways do his pastoral skills fail him? What ways do his pastoral skills fail his congregation? Look back at Eli’s interaction with Hannah for an example.
  • Samuel is quick to respond to God’s voice in a submissive way. Where do we need to submit now?


Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).

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5 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Stuck in an Evil System (1 Samuel 3)

  1. I’m wondering how to preach about Eli’s sons without blaming Eli all the way for them. I have a couple of families I’m thinking about whose kids are not behaving as they were raised to be, and who already feel guilt for having been “bad parents” to have kids turn out as they did.


    1. Marci, I hope you had some response to your question. Thinking about it I recognized my own fear being blamed for my child’s behavior (years ago when she was a wandering teen.) According to the Jewish Study Bible, Eli was guilty not for their actions but because his response to them was that he didn’t like the report he was hearing from the people. He was upset by the report not by what they were doing. Kinda like feeling remorse at getting caught instead of remorse at the sin itself. If Eli had responded to their actions instead of the reports, maybe things would have been different. Seems like a call to integrity for the people who serve in leadership.

      Liked by 1 person

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