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1 Samuel 2:27-36 details a prophecy against Eli and his house. One verse reads:

31 The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age

The problem with this is the fact that Hophni and Phinehas, Eli's sons, both seem to reached old age:

Iirc, tradition holds that Samuel was 39 years old when Eli died¹, aged 98(corroborated by this?). Immediately after Samuel's introduced, we read of the wickedness of Eli's sons(1 Sam 2:11-17). God reinforces his this message through the child Samuel, so we know that the chronology's in order: Eli's sons were active priests in Samuel's early years, and therefore ~70 at their death. They clearly reached 'old age.'

So what are we to make of 1 Samuel 2:31?

EDIT: Abiathar's another descendant of Eli's that seems to've reached old age. He joined David at Adullam(1 Samuel 22:20–23) and was later desposed by Solomon(1 Kings 2:27).

¹if the 20 years of 1 Samuel 7:2 span the time from the Ark's return(and Eli's death) to David's 7th year and Samuel died at 52, then he was 39 at the time.

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  • Depending on when the prophecy was given, Hophni and Phineas were probably at least over 40 years old. Even if God would have immediately smitten them at that moment, the prophecy would have not been filled. What alternative could have been done to fulfill the prophecy? Dec 28, 2022 at 12:06
  • @Salmononius2 if we go down the line, I'm pretty sure that things are still problematic. Abiathar was with David at Adullam & was later desposed during Solomon's reign.
    – A.O.
    Dec 28, 2022 at 12:15
  • I Kings 2:27 וַיְגָרֶשׁ שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת־אֶבְיָתָר מִהְיוֹת כֹּהֵן לַה’ לְמַלֵּא אֶת־דְּבַר ה’ אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר עַל־בֵּית עֵלִי בְּשִׁלֹה
    – Alex
    Dec 28, 2022 at 13:12
  • @Alex Abiathar's fate goes well with part of the prophecy. God did say that Eli's line would lose the priesthood. The problem is that Abiathar was old at the time and God says that no one in Eli's line would reach old age.
    – A.O.
    Dec 28, 2022 at 13:23

1 Answer 1

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If you read the Metzudos Dovid there, he says the term "זקן" is not a reference to old age but actually a position of authority, and thus Hashem was telling him that no-one in his family would be installed into a position of power.

מהיות זקן. רצה לומר: מושל ושר, כי המושלים והשרים נקראו זקני העם

There shall be no elder - this means to say a ruler and officer, because rulers and officers are called elders of the people.

Additionally, whilst Radak mentions that it can mean literally "old age", he also notes that it can also be a reference to wisdom.

מהיות זקן. שימותו בחורים ורבו' פירשו חכם כמו והדרת פני זקן ר"ל שלא יהיה מבית עלי סמוך בסנהדרין

There shall be no elder - i.e. that they will die in their youth. It can be explained (also) as "wise" like "and you shall rise before the wise" (see Vayikra 19:32 and the Gemara in Kiddushin 32b) which means that none from the house of Eli will be in the Sanhedrin.

Indeed, both of these approaches fit well with the Gemara in Sanhedrin 14a which states explicitly that the reference to "זקן" in the verse does not relate to old age.

דא"ר שמואל בר נחמן א"ר יונתן מניין שאין נסמכין לבית עלי שנאמר (שמואל א ב, לב) לא יהיה זקן בביתך כל הימים מאי זקן אילימא זקן ממש והכתיב (שמואל א ב, לג) כל מרבית ביתך ימותו אנשים אלא סמיכה

As Rabbi Shmuel bar Nacḥman says that Rabbi Yonasan says: From where is it known that there are not to be ordained Sages from the house of Eli? As it is stated with regard to the house of Eli: “And there shall not be an elder in your house forever” (I Samuel 2:32). The Gemara explains: What is the meaning of “elder” in this verse? If we say it means an actual elder, meaning an old person, but isn’t it already written: “And all those raised in your house shall die young men” (I Samuel 2:33)? Rather, the term “elder” is an honorary term for a Sage, and it means that ordination will not be granted to descendants of the House of Eli. (Sefaria translation & notation).

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