And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’ Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever. The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever. And everyone who is left in your house shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, “Please put me in one of the priests’ places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.”’” (1 Samuel 2:27-36 ESV)
Hophni and Phinehas, being part of the Jewish Levitical priesthood, were to fulfill the duties of priest. These include: “to go up to my altar, to burn incense” and “to wear an ephod before me”. At the altar, the priests would act as intercessors, mediators who would help a holy God and sinful men to meet by performing various types of sacrifices. Burning incense had to do with sending up the worship and prayers of God’s people before His heavenly throne. Wearing an ephod was part of the priests’ role to seek God’s wisdom and guidance for a people who wanted to be obedient to Him. This is what priests were to do. But Hophni and Phinehas instead performed their duties for personal gain. They served God and His people to fill their own bellies for their own satisfaction.
God rebukes their sin and pronounces their punishment but also gives a prophetic message of hope to His people. He promises to one day send a “faithful priest” who would truly bring God and man together. This priest will do what is in God’s heart and mind. Of course, this faithful priest comes not from the tribe of Levi, but from the “order of Melchizedek” (see Hebrews 4-7). This priest is named Jesus, and is the only One who can reconcile sinful men to a holy God.