Eli’s wicked sons are contrasted with young SamuelThe judge who anointed the first two kings of Israel More who continues to grow in the presence of the Lord.
The contrast between Samuel and Eli’s wicked sons Phinehas and Hophni characterize the whole unit (vv. 12-36):
A Eli’s wicked sons do not know the Lord (vv. 12-17)
B Samuel grows in favor with the Lord (vv. 18-21)
X EliPriest at Shiloh who cared for young Samuel. More rebukes his wicked sons (vv. 22-25)
B′ Samuel grows in favor with the Lord and people (v. 26)
A′ The Lord will destroy Eli’s wicked sons (vv. 27-36)
The contrast could hardly be clearer. The sinful misuse of the priestly office by Phinehas and Hophni (vv. 12-17), Eli’s tragic inability to hold them in check (vv. 22-25), and the man of God’s announcement of the destruction of the house of Eli (vv. 27-36) alternate with an almost idyllic depiction of little Samuel, dedicated to the service of the Lord, wearing the priestly ephod and other vestments lovingly sewn up for him by his proud mother (who by now has been blessed with five more children, vv. 18-21), and a declaration that, rather than defrauding people and remaining oblivious of the Lord, Samuel continued to grow in favor with both God and people (v. 26). In fact, the Hebrew word translated “continued to grow” in verse 26 and “grew” in verse 21 as a description of Samuel’s maturation (gadal), is also used to describe the sin of Eli’s sons as “great” (gedolah) in verse 17. The activity of Eli’s sons is condemned in each of the three sections in which they appear: by the narrator (vv. 12-17), Eli (vv. 22-25), and the man of God (vv. 27-36). As the wicked priests of Eli’s house decline, Samuel rises.