Eli was a priest in the Old Testament right at the end of the days of the Judges, and just before the period when the kings began to rule over Israel. Or if it is more helpful to think of it this way, he was right after Samson, and right before Samuel, Saul, and David.
Eli had a problem. His sons were totally out of control. In 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 3 it says they had no regard for the Lord, sinned against the Lord, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, and made themselves contemptible. They were known for their wicked deeds, and their sin was great in the Lord’s sight. Specifically, they were stealing sacrifices from the Lord (1 Samuel 2:12-17) and sleeping with the women who served at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (1 Samuel 2:22). Simply put, Eli’s sons were every parent’s nightmare.
Because of these sins God said both of Eli’s sons would die on the same day and that the priesthood would be taken away from Eli’s house (1 Samuel 2:30-36). True to the Lord’s word, Eli’s sons both died in battle on the same day (1 Samuel 4:11). When Eli heard that the ark of God had also been captured in that battle, he fell out of his chair, broke his neck, and died. After his death, Samuel, who was like Eli’s adopted son, became the new priest, and so the priesthood left Eli’s family.
So why was Eli held partially responsible for the sins of his sons? In 1 Samuel 3:13 God said the following about Eli, “For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.” Eli failed at restraining his sons. Other translations phrase it by saying that he did not stop them, discipline them, or rebuke them. Parent, you must understand that it is your job to restrain your children, and this is a job that God takes very seriously. God dealt very directly and severely with Eli for failing to redirect the course of his children’s lives. Without a doubt, God held Eli responsible for not stepping in and not parenting his sons well. It would be wise for us to sit up and take note of this, and learn from Eli’s poor example.