“As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
A couple of things stand out here to me. This verse is an indictment of Eli as well as a commentary on how tragic his family situation was. Both of these are things we want to avoid being said about us.
First, in order to get heavy, you’ve got to have access to food. Today, obesity is a national epidemic. In Eli’s day (and in most of the rest of the world and in pretty much every other human culture that has ever existed across the millennia of human history, for that matter), this wasn’t the case. The only way to get “heavy” was to be really rich. If he was serving as a priest and really rich, he wasn’t doing it right. For this to be the final statement on his life isn’t a compliment.
Second, how sad that the news that so shocks him that he falls over backwards and breaks his neck is the news of the Ark being taken and not the news of the death of both of his sons. Now, on the one hand, that shouldn’t have surprised him since he’d been told twice that it was going to happen as part of God’s judgment of his leadership. But, for any parent, the news of their children dying is tragic. Yet Eli had written them off and the greater tragedy here to Him was the loss of the Ark. This is a small compliment, but how sad that his relationship with his sons had deteriorated so far as this.
Finishing well isn’t something we think about very often except in motivational speeches, but it is vitally important all the same. We have seen a rash lately of pastors who had great ministries for many years and reached incredible heights of fame and faithfulness, but who made some sinful decisions along the way of their journeys and the result has been a finish in embarrassment and ignominy for them and their families and their churches. When it comes to finishing well, we’ve got to do whatever it takes.