Dreadful to fall in the hands of the living God

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 10:19-31
  • 1Samuel 2:22-36


Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

It is the duty of airlines to take passengers through the drills in case of an emergency.  They warn that, although one might know the procedures, one should still pay attention.  And you think, “That’s not going to happen today,” and you start reading a magazine.  Your seat is safely mounted to the floor, your seatbelt is firmly strapped, and your luggage is stowed away, and you’ve got your ticket in your pocket.

But those of us who watch the Air Crash Investigations programs, by now know that your ticket, your seat or seatbelt do not guarantee your safe arrival. An experienced pilot and crew may contribute—but in the end it’s the plane.

In one on the episodes during a flight part of the plane ripped off due to some construction failure. Only one passenger, safely strapped into his seat, got sucked out.  Then there was nothing which could prevent him from a free-fall to his death. Nothing! Nothing could save him.  It is dreadful.  No rescue operation could be successful. The tragedy is that the passenger did nothing wrong to cause his death.

Our Scripture readings describe something similar:  a dreadful ending to a human life—but the twist is, that this death is caused by the person himself, and the consequences are eternal. Such a death is certain, irreversible, and the result of God’s just intervention of righteous judgement.

Despising the God of salvation

As we have seen over the last few weeks, the church of the Lord in the time of the judges were in a terrible state.  The ministry of Hophni and Phinehas under the oversight of their father, Eli, takes us to a time when the very people called to stand between Him and his people, stood in the way of the people getting access to God.

Verse 28 helps us to understand:  they were from a clan elected and chosen by God—a term always connected with grace—for the ministry of reconciliation between Him and the sins of the people.  They were to intercede for the people “before” God, in the presence of God.  For their daily living God would provide for them as they were entitled to portions of the sacrifice.  They lived in the hollow of God’s hands.

But these two young priests intercepted the sacrifice of the people as they came to bring sacrifices to reconcile them to God.  Practically they broke the chain of salvation.  Eli knew about it, and warned them in the strongest terms:

If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them? (1 Samuel 2:25, NIV)

Did you hear the words “mediate” and “intercede”? To have one’s sins forgiven one needs a mediator who would intercede on one’s behalf. But in this case the mediators did the opposite: they became a stumbling block on the way to forgiveness.

Eli did not remove them from their posts, and in doing so he too scorned the Lord’s sacrifice and offering which He prescribed for his dwelling. He honoured his sons more than the Lord by fattening themselves on the choice parts of every offering made by the people. (1 Samuel 2:29, NIV)

They gave the sacrifice a kick—that’s the meaning of the Hebrew word “scorn”; another meaning is to show contempt for someone or something because it is thought to be bad or without value.

Their attitude and hardness of heart is recorded in 1 in 1Samuel 2:25:

His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death. (1 Samuel 2:25, NIV)

At this point modern day Christianity digs it heals deep into the ground and object.  Is this the correct translation:  “It was the Lord’s will to put them to death”? How can a God of love ever do such a thing?

Let’s go to verse 30

“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained. (1 Samuel 2:30, NIV)

Has God changed his mind about the family of Eli?  No! What happened?  Eli and his sons changed their mind about God!  They chose not to honour Him.  To “honour” someone in Hebrew was to respect, or to treat someone as noteworthy.  It was used of people carrying responsibility.  Little wonder then that this word is used in the Ten Commandments as “to honour your father and your mother”.

To honour God is to remember that his Name is glorious in righteousness, faithfulness, judgment, and salvation (Ps 66:2; 79:9; Isa 40:5). He is the king of glory (Ps 24:7–10), who has done glorious things. He is not only to be honoured because of He is the sovereign head of the universe, because there is (in the words of Hannah), ”None holy like the Lord.”

We said last week, one’s theology is reflected in one’s prayer; but it is equally true of the way in which one worships: your worship reflects your theology, and the way your believe impacts on the way you worship.

Hophni and Phinehas made that clear.  They despised God because of their despicable theology. The result is that there was nothing between them and God.  Their seat, with seatbelt and all, was just blown out of the window, and they are now in free fall to their death, and that with their paid tickets in their pockets.  Both of them died on one day.  And when Eli heard the news of their death, he fell from his seat, broke his neck and died.  The wife of Phinehas was about to give birth.  The news of her husband and the death of her father-in-law hastened the birth of her son, and she herself died.  The boy was named Ichabod, meaning “there is no honour”—1Samuel 4:22

The glory (or honour) has departed from Israel (1 Samuel 4:22, NIV)

One is only safe in the plane when you honour the owner of the plane—He who made it, He who makes it fly and has determined the flight plan, and signed off on the flight manifesto—even more, He paid your ticket by giving his Son as the price.

That’s why the verse states:

Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained. (1 Samuel 2:30, NIV)

Worship God as the holy God to whom nothing can compare, and what Hannah prays is true for you:

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour. (1 Samuel 2:8, NIV)

Not honouring God will invoke his justice:  He will treat such a person as nothing, of no importance.

A faithful priest will come

What would happen to Eli and his sons—and the ripple effect it would have on God’s people—was indeed disastrous.  But, in the big scheme of God’s saving plan for his people, it did not call for a contingency plan, as if God was caught on the wrong foot.  All along He continued to work on the rescue plan for sinners.

I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always. (1 Samuel 2:35, NIV)

That’s why we even read in the previous chapters about Samuel:  “Samuel was ministering before the Lord”(18); “And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.” (26)

Even while the despicable ministry of Eli and his sins continued, God was working our his plan of salvation.  We will follow this story in weeks to come.  But let’s jump ahead a thousand or two years from that point in time. Let’s turn the pages to our reading of Hebrews 10.

The ultimate priest

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews writes about Christ. Of Him we read:

Then He said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first [sacrificial law] to establish the second [He Himself has fulfilled the sacrificial law]. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:9–10, NIV)

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, (Hebrews 10:12, NIV)

Because of his ministry the Holy Spirit gives us this assurance:

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. (Hebrews 10:17–18, NIV)

The sacrifice of Christ, in which He was the final High Priest, the final sacrifice and the final altar—al in one— is our only passport “to enter the holy places” (10:19), because “our hearts are sprinkled clean and our bodies washed with pure water” (10:22)—which is the high priestly ministry of Christ.

But now the warning:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24–25, NIV)

With that DAY approaching—the day of Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead—there is something we must stop doing:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left… (Hebrews 10:26, NIV)

This takes us to the verse in 1Samuel 2:

… if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”(1 Samuel 2:25, NIV)

The “keep on sinning” of this verse does not imply that Christians don’t sin.  “Keep on sinning” is to live in such a way as to consider what Christ has done as unimportant, to dishonour Him, or as a next verse says, to “spurned the Son of God and profaned the blood of the covenant”, to trample underfoot the blood of Christ, to keep on living as if He never gave his life for us to save us from eternal judgement of the just and holy God.

Life like that, disdaining the cross of Christ, leads to meet the God of verse 30:  He said “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” (Hebrews 10:30, NIV).

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31, NIV)


The way you pray reveals what you think about God; the way you worship reveals what you think about God.  But remember: there is only one way to worship God—through his Son, our Mediator, who intercedes for us, our High Priest.

It’s His way, or it’s no way.  It’s the safety of his plane and the ticket He bought with his blood in our pockets; or it’s free-fall to a sure death and eternal condemnation.  Dreadful! Because falling to a sure death is to fall in the hands of the living God, the righteous Judge.


Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 18 June 2017


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