Many of us could be mentors, but we choose not to be. Oftentimes, it’s because we convince ourselves that our personal history or poor choices would prevent us from “doing anybody any good.”
In our minds we don’t expect mentors to be completely perfect, just mostly so. We think that only Christians who have their lives in order and are living “comfortably blessed” are in a position to really help others. However, when we look throughout the Bible, we find the opposite to be true. God has, in fact, used some seriously flawed individuals – even some who had significant problems due to self-inflicted wounds – to mentor and guide others.
For about 300 years after Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land, the nation of Israel was governed by various judges. This period was marked by political, moral, and spiritual anarchy and deterioration. Although some God-focused revivals occurred, the nation was in a continual downward spiral. The last verse of the book of Judges best described the culture at that time:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted.
By the end of this period, the corruption had also infested God’s appointed representatives – the priests. A man named Eli was the High Priest at that time, with his two sons serving as priests under his supervision.
1 Samuel 2:12-13, 17
Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord or for the priests’ share of the sacrifices from the people…they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt [because they took for themselves portions the Law had reserved as an offering to God].
1 Samuel 2:22-29
Now Eli was very old. He heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they were sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He said to them, “Why are you doing these things? I have heard about your evil actions from all these people. No, my sons, the report I hear from the Lord’s people is not good. If a man sins against another man, God can intercede for him, but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?”
But they would not listen to their father, since the Lord intended to kill them. By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.
A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Didn’t I reveal Myself to your ancestral house when it was in Egypt and belonged to Pharaoh’s palace? I selected your house from the tribes of Israel to be priests, to offer sacrifices on My alter, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in My presence. I also gave your house all the Israelite fire offerings. Why, then, do all of you despise My sacrifices and offerings that I require at the place of worship? You have honored your sons more than Me, by making yourselves fat with the best part of all the offerings of My people of Israel.’
The problem is that Eli and his sons are supposed to represent the people to God and represent God to the people. Eli had more than a passing knowledge of his sons’ long-running misdeeds and the disgrace they brought to God’s reputation. God had given Moses direction on how to handle those in the community who blatantly disregard God’s laws:
But the person who acts defiantly, whether native or foreign resident, blasphemes the Lord. That person is to be cut off from his people. He will certainly be cut off, because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken His command; his guilt remains on him.
These consequences were for the community at large, and Eli’s family held a much higher status. Since he did not follow through with God’s prescribed consequence, Eli was showing preferential treatment of his own sons over God. Because of this, God brings the prescribed punishment down on Eli, his sons, and the rest of their lineage:
1 Samuel 2:30-34
“Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Although I said your family and your ancestral house would walk before Me forever, the Lord now says, “No longer!” I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disgraced.
“ ‘Look, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestral family, so that none in your family will reach old age. You will see distress in the place of worship, in spite of all that is good in Israel, and no one in your family will ever again reach old age. Any man from your family I do not cut off from My altar will bring grief and sadness to you. All your descendants will die violently. This will be the sign that will come to you concerning your two sons Hophni and Phinehas: both of them will die on the same day.’ ”
If God directly rebuked us like this, we would probably assume that we’re disqualified from any type of useful service toward God. The consequences of self-inflicted wounds can become roadblocks to the ways we’ve previously served God, but that doesn’t mean we are completely useless to God the rest of our lives.
The punishments God told Eli eventually came true. However, in the years between the sentencing and justice being served, Eli mentored another young man. Samuel grew up to be one of the greatest prophets of Israel, and he shepherded the nation through some turbulent times.
Just because you’re down – it doesn’t mean you’re out.
Just because you have a “past”, or a “record”, or a “history” – it doesn’t mean you’re useless.
Just because God legitimately punishes us – it doesn’t mean we’re disqualified from mentoring others.