Two preadolescent children were hospitalized in northern Spain for “cell phone addiction.” The director of the hospital’s center for adolescent psychiatry said the two children had their phones for about eighteen months and were using them non-stop. Their parents did not restrain them, according to the director, and this incessant use lead to academic problems.
The students, ages 12 and 13, would have to be hospitalized up to two years. The Spanish drug enforcement agency estimates that 10% of teenagers from Madrid are addicted to either the internet or cell phones. In Spain, the average age for acquiring a cell phone is between ages 12-14 while “experts” suggest that teenagers not buy cell phones until they reach 16 years old.
That statement that the doctor made regarding parents not restraining their teenagers reminds me of the sons of Eli. Their names were Hophni and Phineas and they were priests, men of God, mediators for the people. But they are also described as “worthless men” (1 Samuel 2:12).
It is noteworthy that “worthless” in the New American Standard and English Standard versions (the NIV has “wicked”) translate the Hebrew which means literally, “sons of Belial” (cf. KJV). “Sons of” is a Hebrew idiom that means “characterized by” or “having the qualities of”. For example, Jesus tells us to become “sons of light” (John 12:36). That is, we should believe in the light that we may be “characterized by light” or “have the qualities of light”.
“Belial” is a Hebrew word meaning “worthlessness” or “wickedness”. So, Hophni and Phineas were two priests who were characterized by worthlessness. Or, they had the qualities of being wicked. These were two worthless and wicked sons. They were not boys; they were men.
Why were they worthless and wicked? For starters, though they were priests, the text goes on to say “they did not know the LORD”. That is, while they knew about Jehovah, they did follow His ways. That’s the sense in which they did not know the Lord. The historian gives us an example of their wickedness in that they extorted from the people while they sacrificed (2:13-16). In that way, they “despised the offering [i.e., the worship] of the Lord” (vs 17).
The historian tells us that Hophni and Phineas “lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (vs 22). These were supposedly men of God – but they are guilty of flagrant immorality, abusing their position as priests. Eli gave the two men a mild rebuke, but “they would not listen to the voice of their father” (vs 25).
God sent a prophet, his name we do not know, who rebukes Eli and foretells that his sons would both die in one day (vs 34). “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and at My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling, and honor your sons above Me, by making yourselves fat with the choicest of every offering of My people Israel?” (vs 29).
It does not seem that Eli was guilty of the wickedness in which his sons thrived but he was guilty, according to God, of one error relative to his fatherhood. God tells Samuel in chapter three: “For I have told him [Eli] that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them” (3:13). Other translations use the word restrain. The verb can also mean “set one right”.
Eli’s mistake as a father was that he did not tell his kids “no”. We are living in an extremely permissive society today. It’s not always easy being a parent. Knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no” is a challenge sometimes. Too many “no’s” can squelch a child’s drive, energy and inquisitive nature. Too many “yes’s” can turn a selfless five-year-old into a selfish fifteen-year-old.
A good dose of moral instruction from God’s word and a healthy dose of common sense (18 months talking on a cell phone?) will help the Christian parent have the wisdom to say “yes” and “no” when each is appropriate.
“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15).