1 Samuel 2:30  Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares:  ‘I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever.’  But now the Lord declares, ‘Far be it from me!  Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained.’”


The God of the Bible is not static.  While God’s fundamental nature never changes, there are many places in Scripture where God shifts policy and promises based on what’s happening in the world or how certain people are behaving.  We already have seen that God gave the world a bit of a break by saving Noah and family rather than destroying the world entirely, that Abraham negotiated with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, and that God cut Israel a good bit of slack when Moses interceded for them.


In this case, God is shifting in the opposite direction.  In Exodus, God promised Aaron that he and his descendants would be priests before God forever…a high honor.  Eli is one of those descendants.  But Eli’s sons were a disgrace and brought dishonor to both the priesthood and to God.  God doesn’t take that lightly.  Eli’s sons pay for their abuse of the office with their lives, a curse that extends to their descendants. 


So what do we make of this?  Can we trust God’s promises?  Well, it depends on how you look at it.  The overall promise to have the descendants of Aaron serve as priests remains, but the promise as it applies to specific individuals, seems to be negotiable.


I think it is a helpful reminder that our relationship with God is not a one-sided affair.  It is a covenant relationship, and a covenant takes two.  God makes certain promises, but those promises are conditional on our keeping up our side of the bargain.  Look back through the promises God makes to Israel.  They tend to be “if…then” clauses.  “If you live righteously, then I will bless you” is the gist of most of them, along with the corollary of “If you live like devils, I’ll wipe you off the face of the map,” or words to that effect.


Like it or not, it doesn’t seem to be reality that we can simply claim God’s promises for ourselves and live as we please.  There is forgiveness and a true desire on God’s part to honor any sincere intention to live rightly, no matter how far short of the mark we might fall or how late in life we might decide it.  But if we think that claiming the name of Christ is some sort of magic act that allows us to hide a deceitful or unrepentant heart from God’s penetrating gaze, we’ve made a tragic mistake. 


God’s promise of salvation, grace, and forgiveness for the world continues to stand across the millennia.  But it is not a magical guarantee, it is the offer of a covenant.  As the old hymn says, “Whosoever will may come.  God doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve done.  Osama bin Laden can come, if he wants.  But we who come only inherit the promise when we have the honest intention of living up to our side of the agreement.  And what is that?  The prophet Micah tells us clearly:  to live justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.  Jesus tells us clearly also:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.


And so, heed the warning of the sons of Eli.  God’s grace is not something to be cast in the mud.  We cannot box God in by saying, “It doesn’t matter what I do, you have to bless me…you promised.”  God offers us a covenant relationship, and a covenant takes two.


God of Abraham and Eli, help us to appreciate the true gift of your grace and to show our gratefulness with our lives.  Amen.



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