When God’s Will Is That His Will Not Be Done

Meditations on 1 Samuel 2:22-25

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And he said to them, “Why do you do such things, the evil things that I hear from all these people? “No, my sons; for the report is not good which I hear the Lord’s people circulating. If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death.

It was too late for Eli’s sons. They had crossed the line of no return. The sentence had been given by the Lord. They were to be slain by the Lord. And they were slain, according to 1 Samuel 4:11. There are three implications of this text for our lives.

1. It is possible to sin so long and so grievously that the Lord will not grant repentance. That is why Paul said that after all our pleading and teaching, “God may grant them repentance”—not, “will grant them repentance” (2 Timothy 2:25). There is a “too late” in the life of sin. As it says of Esau in Hebrews 12:17, “He found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” He was forsaken; he could not repent.

This does not mean that those who truly repent even after a whole lifetime of sinning cannot be saved. They certainly can be, and will be! God is staggeringly merciful. Witness the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus said, “The one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). But no one knows where the point of no return is. The deciding factor is not a set number of years of sinning or a particular kind of sin. God alone knows in the case of each person where the line is crossed. This is a call for making haste to reconcile with God (Hebrews 3:15), and a call to be vigilant against willful and protracted sinning (Hebrews 10:26).

2. God may not permit a sinning person to do what is right. “But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death.” Listening to the voice of their father was the right thing to do. But they would not. Why? “For the Lord desired to put them to death.” The reason given for why they did not obey their father was that God had other purposes for them, and had given them up to sinning and death. This shows that there are times when the will of God’s decree is different from the will of God’s command. He commanded, “Children, obey your parents.” But in this case he willed that instead of obedience they persist in their sin and be slain. God is not sinning in this will of decree. He is ordering things so that sin continue for holy and just purposes, which is not sin on God’s part.

3. Sometimes our prayers for God’s revealed will to be done will not be done because God has decreed something different for holy and wise purposes. I suppose that Eli prayed for his sons to be changed. This is how he should have prayed. God commanded that children obey their parents. So we should pray that they obey. But God had decreed that Hophni and Phinehas not obey, but rather be slain. When something like this happens (which we do not ordinarily know ahead of time) while we are crying out to God for change, the answer of God is not: “I don’t love you.” Nor is it, “I don’t hear you.” Nor is it even, “I don’t approve of your prayers. I do!” Rather the answer is (even when we can’t hear it): “I have wise and holy purposes in not overcoming this sin and not granting repentance. You do not see these purposes now. Trust me. I know what I am doing. I love you.”

Submitted to God,

Pastor John