1 Samuel 7:12
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
When we think of the name Ebenezer today, it is very hard for us to separate it from Charles Dickens’ memorable character from “A Christmas Carol.” Ebenezer Scrooge stands out to us as an icon of both greed and repentance, and so it is easy to see why we can’t seem to separate his name from that classic tale. But there is a slightly earlier reference from Pastor Robert Robinson’s classic 1757 hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:
“Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.”
In Hebrew, the name “Ebenezer” means “stone of the help,” and it was a monument erected by the prophet Samuel after the Lord God helped Israel drive the Philistines from their land. In this chapter 7 of the first book of Samuel, the Israelites have just had the ark of the covenant returned to them after the Philistines suffered plagues of rats and sickness for having stolen it. Even with the ark back in Israel, the people still suffered under the Philistine occupations, and so Samuel told them to repent so that the Lord would help them drive out the invaders. (1 Samuel 7:3) When Israel repented and ceased their idolatry, the Lord responded. Even as Samuel was making the offering for Israel, and while all of Israel was busy with their worship and repentance, the Lord confused the Philistines and gave the Israelites the help they needed to drive them away. (1 Samuel 7:9-10) Then Samuel erected the stone and said to the people, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
That “stone of the help” was meant to be a marker to remind the people of whence came their help.
1 A Song of Ascents.
I will lift up my eyes to the hills–
From whence comes my help?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
8 The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.
And yet how quickly Israel forgot that stone. When Samuel was old and the elders of Israel saw that Samuel’s sons did not walk in his ways, they came to Samuel to ask for a king over them. (1 Samuel 8:4-5) The Lord’s response is a true cautionary tale.
1 Samuel 8:6-9
6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the LORD.
7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.
8 “According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day–with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods–so they are doing to you also.
9 “Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.”
“Thus far the LORD has helped us,” Samuel had said…and then the people rejected that same Lord God. They rejected the Lord who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, the Lord who had given them cities and farms which they did not build in Canaan, the Lord who had saved them from their enemies time and again, the Lord who had healed their sick and brought them plenty. They forgot Ebenezer, the stone between Mizpah and Shen that commemorated the Lord’s help, and they sought instead to have an earthly king rather than the King of kings.
When Samuel erected Ebenezer, one would have thought that Israel would pass by that high place and see that stone, and they would remember that momentous day when the Lord helped Israel there. They would have a constant reminder of what the Lord God had done for His chosen people, a permanent reminder of His love and care.
4 “From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory.
5 “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.
6 “Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.
7 “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.”
As the Lord had promised to Joshua, He would not leave nor forsake those He has called out in His name, His chosen people Israel to whom He had promised blessing and long life. But just as the people had whored themselves to idols at the foot of Mount Sinai, just as they had worshiped the Baals and Ashtoreths in the days of the Judges, just as they had followed the whims of earthly leaders around them, so the Israelites rejected the Lord their God in Samuel’s day and sought to be led by men rather than the one true and wise God of their fathers.
In that old hymn, Pastor Robinson wrote, “Here I raise my Ebenezer; Here by Thy great help I’ve come.” Where is YOUR Ebenezer, the marker of God’s great help in your life? To what or when do you look and say, “Thus far the Lord has helped me”? And does your Ebenezer make you remember to RETURN to the Lord always? That was the intent when Samuel erected that stone: that the people would see and remember the Lord’s help, remember that they themselves are not strong enough to find their way to righteousness and peace. The Lord had helped them that far, and if they had remained true to Him then He would have helped them farther still. But they rejected Him, and so His help was withdrawn for a time. In later years, when they cried out in the captivity wherein God had placed them for their discipline and rebuke, the Lord would hear them and bring them back to the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. He never left them, never forsook them, never forgot His promises. The Lord doesn’t need an Ebenezer to remember to help us. WE need an Ebenezer to remember Him who brings us our help.
I know my Ebenezer, and it seems I have a whole string of those “stones of the help” along the path of my life the past few years. I look at those moments in my life and I cannot help but remember how weak I was and how strong was the Lord my God. I fell upon His mercy and grace, and He put my feet on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, where I have been standing to this day. “Stone of the help”? What else is this Ebenezer but a memorial for how Jesus, my Rock and my Redeemer, has given me strength and has been the strong tower of my help all along?
This day, let us reflect upon the true Ebenezer, the monument that reminds us of God’s faithfulness in our own lives. Look back and see where you might want to have erected such a “stone.” Have you always remembered that stone? Have you always reflected on the help the Lord has given you and continues to give you? Let us stand on that place between Mizpah and Shen, and worship the Lord our God for the help He has given and will give us. Let us look to that Ebenezer and remember the great love of the Lord our God in bringing us salvation and life through Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Holy Father, gracious Lord, forgive me for forgetting my Ebenezer. Forgive me for not always keeping Your help and Your grace in my heart and mind. Forgive me my trespasses, those times when I have slipped and slid from my service and surrender to You. In Your great faithfulness, You need no memorial to remind You of our plight and our plea. Teach me, O Lord, to be so faithful to You, to never forget Your unfailing love, to always be falling upon Your ever-renewing mercies. Let me always remember that Cross of Calvary that stands like the “stone of the help” that has led me to Your salvation. Amen.