Phinehas was the younger son of Eli, a priest in the sanctuary at Shiloh before the temple was built in Jerusalem. While Eli was a reasonably honorable man—albeit an overindulgent father—the text had no kind words for his sons, Hophni and Phinehas.
The two served alongside their father, but according to scripture, they were “wicked men”—literally, “sons of worthlessness” (1 Samuel 2:12). Phinehas’s utter disregard for God was demonstrated by his abuse of the fellowship offering. The law made provision for a sacrifice to celebrate the peace between God and His people—this was the fellowship offering. It was unique in that all parties involved received a portion of the sacrifice. The first and best portion (including the fat and internal organs) belonged to God, while the priest and those making the sacrifice shared the remaining meat.
According to tradition, the priest would plunge an instrument into the meat while it cooked. Whatever came out—however large or small—was his portion. But Phinehas demanded his portion first, before the meat had been cooked. In doing so, he cheated both God (by claiming the best part for himself) and the person offering the sacrifice (presumably by taking more than his rightful share). Worse, if anyone challenged Phinehas’s behavior, he was threatened with violence.
As if this weren’t bad enough, Phinehas and his brother engaged in sexual immorality with women who served near the sanctuary entrance.
It came as little surprise when God struck down Phinehas and his brother as they carried the ark of the covenant into battle against the Philistines.
Eli and the rest of Israel paid dearly for Phinehas’s sin. Stunned by the news of his son’s death, Eli fell backward and died. Phinehas’s widow named their son Ichabod, meaning “the glory has departed from Israel,” accurately capturing the despair her people felt over the loss of the ark in battle. Often the consequences of our sin reach far beyond our own lives.