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According to the prophecy given to the house of Eli all his descendants will die in the prime of their life

KJV 1 Samuel 2 : 31 - 33

Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father's house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house. 32 And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thine house for ever. 33 And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age.

But there seems to be one descendent beside Eli who lived a little longer than others namely Abiather.We first met him during the reign of Saul and he went on to live throughout the reign of David (forty years) and was finally dethroned from the priesthood during the reign of Solomon.

Taking in his age during the reign of Saul plus the forty years of David's and Solomon's reign will put him past the flower/prime age.

Though we are not actually told when he died which could have been well after his dethronement.

Did Abiather die in his flower/prime age?

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3 Answers 3

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The Bible does not record Abiathar's death, only his expulsion from office and exile. So the OP is right to question whether or how the prophecy of 1 Sam. 2 was fulfilled. This is particularly so if we accept the translation that the prophecy indicated a violent death, not simply a premature one. Many translators have "by the sword" or "by violence" rather than "in the flower of their age."

Moreover, several commentators understand the phrase in question as relating to the period between 30 and 50 years, which does not apply to Abiathar, who was removed from office later than that and was allowed to return home to tend his fields.

Most importantly, when Solomon banished Abiathar, the biblical narrator indicates that the prophecy concerning his lineage had been fulfilled by the king's decision:

“Go back to your fields in Anathoth. You deserve to die, but I will not put you to death now, because you carried the ark of the Sovereign Lord before my father David and shared all my father’s hardships.” So Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood of the Lord, fulfilling the word the Lord had spoken at Shiloh about the house of Eli. (1 Kings 2:26-27)

The best way for us to understand the prophecy in the OP is that because of Abiathar's long years of loyal service both to God and King David, he was given mercy by God through King Solomon. In any case, it is a stretch to claim that Abiathar died in the flower of his life.

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The details of the chronology of Abiathar are not known precisely but only very approximately. Here is all that can be said.

  • Abiathar's father was Ahimelech (1 Sam 23:6) the latter was murdered by Saul along with the priests of Nob (1 Sam 21, 22)
  • Abiathar, a young man at the time, became the effective high priest under David and often consulted the LORD via the Ephod he carried in his escape from Nob. 1 Sam 22:20-33, 23:6-9, 30:7, 8.
  • However, Abiather was dethroned as High Priest very early in the reign of Solomon, 1 Kings 2:26, 27.

Thus, there was slightly more than 40 years between Abiathar becoming high priest as a young man, and his banishment. I note that many years later the high priest Jehoiada died at the age of 130 years, 2 Chron 24:15. Perhaps because of the blessing of God, high priests could live much longer than profligate kings (who struggled to get past 50 years old (in Jehoiada's time).

Thus, if Abiatha had been faithful and loyal, perhaps he would have lived to a great age as well but was removed from office at an age quite young compared to Jehoiada.

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  • 1 Kings 2: 27 indicates a fulfillment of the prophecy regarding the House of Eli. I argue in my answer that it is a case where mercy was shown based on Abiathar's more than 40 years of faithful service. Jan 9, 2023 at 16:03
  • @DanFefferman - Agreed, but that does not affect the violent deaths of the priests of Nob, many of whom were descendants of Eli.
    – Dottard
    Jan 9, 2023 at 19:11
  • What is the basis for believing that any of the victims at Nob, other than Ahimelech, were descendants of Eli? Jan 10, 2023 at 21:28
  • @DanFefferman - Abiathar would not have had the ephod if his father and relatives had not been murdered.
    – Dottard
    Jan 10, 2023 at 21:31
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The problem in this question is the translation of the Hebrew word אֲנָשִֽׁים׃ whether it has an implication of age. When I refer to Sefaria Hebrew to English parallel Bible, it contains a footnote that the Hebrew of 1 Sam 2:33 is uncertain enter image description here

The word (either strong 0376 or 0582) means "men" and if Sefaria was right by adding [ordinary] to help the understanding, it will perfectly fit how we read 1 Kings 2:26-27, when Abiathar was removed from priesthood and became an ordinary fellow, and died as an ordinary fellow.

26 To Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go back to your fields in Anathoth. You deserve to die, but I will not put you to death now, because you carried the ark of the Sovereign Lord before my father David and shared all my father’s hardships.”

27 So Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood of the Lord, fulfilling the word the Lord had spoken at Shiloh about the house of Eli.

Abiathar was the last high priest from the house of Eli, as from then onward, the high priesthood was given to the house of Zadok, according to Josephus (Antiquities 8,1, § 3), a descendant of Eleazar, the third son of Aaron.

This change in priesthood fulfilled the prophecy as per 1 Sam 2:35-36

35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always.

36 Then everyone left in your family line will come and bow down before him for a piece of silver and a loaf of bread and plead, “Appoint me to some priestly office so I can have food to eat.”’” (NIV)

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