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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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E´li (the highest), high-priest of the Jews when the ark was in Shiloh (; ). He was the first high-priest of the line of Ithamar, Aaron's youngest son. This is deduced from ; . It also appears from the omission of the names of Eli and his immediate successors in the enumeration of the high-priests of Eleazar's line in . What occasioned this remarkable transfer is not known—most probably the incapacity or minority of the then sole representative of the elder line; for it is very evident that it was no unauthorized usurpation on the part of Eli (). Eli also acted as regent or civil judge of Israel after the death of Samson. This function, indeed, seems to have been intended, by the theocratic constitution, to devolve upon the high-priest, by virtue of his office, in the absence of any person specially appointed by the Divine King, to deliver and govern Israel. He is said to have judged Israel forty years (). As Eli died at the age of ninety-eight (), the forty years must have commenced when he was fifty-eight years old.

Eli seems to have been a religious man; and the only fault recorded of him was an excessive easiness of temper, most unbefitting the high responsibilities of his official character. His sons, Hophni and Phinehas, whom he invested with authority, misconducted themselves so outrageously as to excite deep disgust among the people, and render the services of the tabernacle odious in their eyes. Of this misconduct Eli was aware, but contented himself with mild and ineffectual remonstrances, where his station required severe and vigorous action. For this neglect the judgment of God was at length denounced upon his house, through the young Samuel, who, under peculiar circumstances [SAMUEL], had been attached from childhood to his person (; ). Some years passed without any apparent fulfillment of this denunciation—but it came at length in one terrible crash, by which the old man's heart was broken. The Philistines had gained the upper hand over Israel, and the ark of God was taken to the field, in the confidence of victory and safety from its presence. But in the battle which followed, the ark itself was taken by the Philistines, and the two sons of Eli, who were in attendance upon it, were slain. The high-priest, then blind with age, sat by the way-side at Shiloh, awaiting tidings from the war, 'for his heart trembled for the ark of God.' A man of Benjamin, with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head, brought the fatal news: and Eli heard that Israel was defeated—that his sons were slain—that the ark of God was taken—at which last word he fell heavily from his seat, and died (1 Samuel 4).

The ultimate doom upon Eli's house was accomplished when Solomon removed Abiathar (the last high-priest of this line) from his office, and restored the line of Eleazar in the person of Zadok [ABIATHAR].





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Eli'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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