Eli was basically a good man. However, God pronounced a terrible judgment on his house, and for good reason. Something had gone wrong, and Eli was not diligent to rectify it.
Eli was descended from the prestigious line of Aaron the high priest through Aaron’s youngest son, Ithamar. In the days when judges ruled Israel, Eli served as judge (Hebrew, shofet) and high priest (Hebrew, kohayn godol) for 40 years (1 Sam. 4:18).
However, Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phineas, “were corrupt; they did not know the Lᴏʀᴅ” (2:12). Because of their elevated positions, their immorality and disobedience were all the more terrible in God’s sight: “The sin of the young men was very great before the Lᴏʀᴅ” (v. 17). “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 17:6; 21:25).
Eli was aware of their transgressions but only mildly reproved them. “Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lᴏʀᴅ desired to kill them” (1 Sam. 2:25).
An unnamed prophet was sent to Eli. He told him his two sons would be slain in one day and that God would replace him with a faithful priest and judge. Finally, Eli was told that many of his priestly descendants would die young and the rest would be removed from God’s service (vv. 27–36). “For those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed,” said the Lord (v. 30).
The prophet Samuel, who would replace Eli, was probably 12 at the time.
When Eli was 98 years old, there was a battle with the Philistines; and, as the prophet had warned, Eli’s sons were killed (4:15–18). Samuel then replaced Eli as judge and priest.
During the reign of King Solomon, many years later, the final judgment fell on Eli’s house. Solomon removed Abiathar, a descendant of Eli, from the priesthood because Abiathar had supported Solomon’s brother Adonijah for the throne. Solomon thus fulfilled “the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ which He [God] spoke concerning the house of Eli at Shiloh” (1 Ki. 2:27). God, indeed, is faithful to His Word.