In Exodus 29:9, God said that Aaronís family would always be Israelís priests. So, Israelís chief priest must be from Aaronís family (Exodus 29:29-30)
When Aaron died, his son Eleazar became chief priest (Numbers 20:23-29). After Eleazar, his son, Phinehas, became chief priest; God had made special promises to him (Numbers 25:10-13).
The Bible does not explain how Eli became Israelís chief priest. He was from the family of Aaron, but he did not belong to the families of Eleazar or Phinehas. Instead, he came from the family of Ithamar, Eleazarís brother.
However, it is clear that God accepted Eli as the proper chief priest. If Eliís family had served God properly, then Israelís chief priest would always be from Eliís family. But now, God declared that he would not permit that to happen. God does not give honour to people who hate him. The sons of Eli had dealt with Godís holy things in a shameful manner.
God was not removing from Eliís future family their right to act as priests (2:36). However, the chief priest would not still come from that family. (The chief priest would still be from Aaronís family, as God promised to Aaron.)
These things did not happen immediately. Eliís two sons died before Eli, so neither of them became chief priest. During the rule of King Saul (14:3; 22:11) and the rule of King David (1 Chronicles 24:3), Eliís family still served as chief priests. However, Abiathar (who was from Eliís family) opposed King Solomon. So, Solomon would not allow Abiathar to act as chief priest (1 Kings 2:27). Instead, Zadok (who came from the family of Eleazar) served alone as chief priest. After that, Israelís chief priests no longer came from Eliís family.
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© 2014, Keith Simons.