When King David’s son Absalom plotted a coup against his father, David had to flee to the wilderness to save his life. Zadok was one of two high priests at the time, and he faithfully followed David with the ark of the covenant. The other high priest, Abimeleck, backed Absalom when he revolted against his father, David.
When Solomon succeeded David as king, he removed Abimeleck from the priesthood. This was the end of the priesthood of Eli, whom God had cursed because of corruption. Then Zadok became the sole high priest. The line of Zadok supplied the high priests from then until sometime after the restoration of Ezra. We need to understand the sons of Zadok in light of the sons of Eli.
Samuel and an unnamed prophet both pronounced the end of the line of Eli. During a battle with the Philistines, Eli’s two wicked sons Hophni and Phinehas, who were also priests, took the ark of God into battle where they were killed and the ark was captured. On the same day, the wife of one of the sons, Phinias, gave birth and died during the delivery. She named the boy “Icobod,” which means “the glory has departed.” When news reached the fat 98-year-old Eli that his sons had been killed and the ark captured, he fell over in his chair and broke his neck, dying instantly.
The sons of Eli would take raw meat from the offerings without the fat first being offered to God. This was against God’s prescribed law for the priests (Lev. 7:29-33). If someone complained, they threatened them. Also, before they burned the fat unto the Lord, the priest's servant would come and say to the man who sacrificed, "Give meat for roasting to the priest, for he will not take boiled meat from you, but raw" (1 Sam. 2:15). They gave the worshippers a raw deal! This was also stealing from God. Then they would stick a three-pronged fork into the pot in which the woshipper was boiling his meat and steal more from him.
They also committed adultery with the women who served at the tabernacle. Thus, they treated the sacred things of God’s offering and sanctuary with contempt. Some scholars believe they actually incorporated Canaanite temple prostitutes at the tabernacle in Shiloh. This is very possible since throughout Israelite history, they often practiced the religion of the Canaanites and other nations. They may have been Baal worshippers. So the connotations of the Levites “who went astray” include more than Absalom’s revolt. It refers to the entire cursed line of Eli, embodied in the orphaned baby Icobod, which speaks of a cast of priests who minister without the glory of God.
In the midst of the account of the sons of Eli is inserted a couple paragraphs of how Samuel was growing, And the child Samuel grew in stature, and in favor both with the Lord and men (1 Sam. 2:26). This is very similar language used by Luke to describe Jesus, And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (2:52). Obviously, Samuel is being compared to the preisthood of Melchizedek, the same order of Jesus.
In the above Ezekiel 44 passage, God says that the sons of Zadok, who kept his charge, would be allowed to minister before and to Him. The other Levites who followed after the rebellious Absalom would not be allowed to minister to Him in His sanctuary as punishment for going astray. While the ministers of the Eli line would never come near the glory of God, the line of Zadok would see the glory of God come back to the temple as Ezekiel was shown.
Also He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; so I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord; and I fell on my face. And the Lord said to me, "Son of man, mark well, see with your eyes and hear with your ears, all that I say to you concerning all the ordinances of the house of the Lord and all its laws. Mark well who may enter the house and all who go out from the sanctuary. Now say to the rebellious, to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord God: "O house of Israel, let us have no more of all your abominations”’” (Ezek 44:4-6).
Meaning for Today and the Future
King David represents Jesus for us in many ways. Those who follow Jesus into the wilderness for sanctification, as David’s loyal men followed him, even while the church is going astray, are the sons of Zadok today. They will be greatly rewarded in the millennial reign of Jesus.
Zadok means “righteousness” and is the same word found in “Melchizedek,” which means “king of righteousness.” The sons of Zadok are priests who seek righteousness, and who submit to the voice of the Lord. Samuel is being likened to a Zadok priest compared to the sons of Eli, who “were corrupt.”
The sons of Eli today are those who are in charge of churches but do not serve the Lord. They serve their own selfish interests. Under the guise of being a religious leader, they are fattening themselves up on other people’s offerings to God. They take more than their allotted share, and they have other secret sins such as committing adultery with the women at the church. They somehow have the feeling that God does not see what they are doing or that God does not mind what they are doing. Ministry is an easy place where leaders can look like they are concerned for the people while really only looking out for their own interests.
Furthermore, as I have shown in my book God’s Test for Truth: How to Get Sound Doctrine, fat can mean errors in doctrine. The priests are to first present their teachings to the Lord in worship and meditation before serving it to the people. To not present their teachings to the Lord first, for Him to show them any errors, is the modern equivalent of not burning the fat on the altar as an offering to the Lord.
I know of a mega-church in the area where I live where about all they preach is prosperity. It will serve as an extreme example of the three-pronged fork of the sons of Eli. Years ago a friend of mine told me that he used to go to that church and knew that the pastor and his trophy wife would boast of having a beach house and a mountain house. They boasted in their riches that they have gotten from people’s tithes and offerings. He said they even bought a personal jet and had a service in an airport hanger one time to show the people the mighty work God was doing for them. Recently, another friend told me he went to two churches Easter Sunday looking for Jesus and could not find it in either one. He said one of the churches he went to was the above church, and they were taking special offerings for Easter. They were making a big show over people giving their money publicly and claiming a 100% return. He said the pastor said that if you really loved the Lord, you would give. Then after they coaxed money out of many people’s wallets under public pressure, they took another surprise offering for those who “really love the Lord.” It sounds like a son of Eli with a three-pronged fork! I can never understand how so many people can be so gullible.
Baal Worship Today
Baal was the god of storms (rain) and fertility of herds. In Old Testament times these were two things that one needed to prosper in that culture. They needed rain for their crops and fertility for their flocks and herds. Thus Baal worship was the god of prosperity – or so they thought. Today, many churches use God for their personal prosperity, and most of their sermons are focused on that. They do not know they are actually participating in a form of Baal worship instead of the true God. Jesus certainly never promoted seeking God for personal wealth, and many Scriptures condemn that. God may give someone wealth; that is up to Him, but we are not told to seek after it. Rather we are commanded to “seek Him and His righteousness,” and then “all these things shall by added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
Fear of the Lord
The Bible says the sons of Eli did not know the Lord. Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord (1 Sam. 2:12). If people do not know the Lord, they do not fear Him and visa versa. The Proverbs say, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7). One way we know if spiritual leaders know the Lord is if they fear Him. By many of the things I see spiritual leaders do, it looks like they do not really know the Lord because they seem to have no fear of Him.
Some have said Christians should not fear the Lord because . . . perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love (1 John 4:18). However, I have not yet found any one with perfect love. Therefore, Christians should fear the Lord until they come into perfection of love. Until then, we need leaders with a healthy fear of God.
Those who are becoming sons of Zadok have a fear of God because they seek and know God. They seek His kingdom and His righteousness. They pray and fast to hear the voice of the Lord and then are obedient. In other words they live by the Spirit. These are the types of leaders we need in the church: leaders who fear not doing God’s will and at the same time love to do God’s will.