1Sam. 7:12 ¶ Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
The Israelites constantly struggled with the influence of foreign gods. They would not worship God alone, even though this was his first command. But there came a moment when they reached out to Samuel, who had now become their priest and their judge, and they asked him to intercede for them. They were frightened because of the Philistines who continued to taunt them. If only they could be victorious over this enemy! Samuel challenged them to turn away from all other gods and worship God alone and promised that he would intercede on their behalf. God spoke and the Philistines were thrown into confusion and the Israelites finally won the battle.
Samuel wants the people to remember who has brought them this victory lest they backslide into polytheism. He raises up a stone marker, a reminder for all who pass by, that this is the place where God was faithful and brought them the victory. The stone was called "Ebenezer." Literally the word means "Eben" -- rock and "Ezer" -- helper. This is a rock that reminds us that Yahweh -- the LORD has been their helper.
Ebenezer -- another one of those funny words! Mostly we remember this word because we're familiar with Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." There we find a man who had become hardened and mean throughout his life. And yet Dickens chooses to call the man "Ebenezer." Actually I think we find here a bit of irony in the very name -- Ebenezer Scrooge. This was a man who was destined to be a rock and a helper. At least this is the indication by his first name. However, his last name is what he became -- a "Scrooge." Actually the word "scrooge" never existed before this book was written, it was a word created by the author and yet we all came to understand its meaning. Here is a man who was destined to have the resources to be the strong helper and supporter of those around him and yet he chose to retain it all for himself and would not fulfill the destiny which was contained in his name. Withholding his destiny is what made him the "Scrooge." After that fateful night Ebenezer realizes what his calling is in life and the final scenes are those in which he is fulfilling his destiny; he becomes the helper, the one who provides for those in need and joyful gives back to his own family. He becomes the man that God had intended him to be.
Probably the next most popular place to have heard the word "Ebenezer" is in the song "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing."
1. Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of God's unchanging love.
2. Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
This reference in the song is directly related to this same passage of Scripture from today. It is a reminder that we are to raise up a monument at certain moments in life remembering that God has been our strong rock -- he has been our helper. He is the one who reaches out to us and brings us safely home. He is the one who searches the streets for those of us who have wandered away from him and through his prevenient grace gently calls us to come back home. He is the strong rock, the helper that rescues us from the dangers of this world.
We have a great need for Ebenezers today; those reminders that we place within our homes, our churches, our communities, for our collective memory that God has been our strong rock and our helper. We need to share the stories with our children of the times that God provided! We need to share the good news with our neighbors about God's great help. We need to share with our church family when God takes us through the difficult times of life. We must remember to put up reminders of God's faithfulness so that we humans, with our short memories, can hold in our minds the fact that God loves and cares for us.
Around our home we have numerous items which we have collected throughout the years -- things that remind us of our Ebenezer. We have a chunk of the Berlin wall -- a reminder that God is more powerful than human governments. We have a picture of Timofei Metrofanovich -- our communist, atheist neighbor who became a dear brother in Christ. We have an origami Easter Egg hand made in Russia -- a reminder of God's faithfulness to his people in the midst of the dark years. We have pictures of our daughters' weddings -- reminders of God's faithfulness to provide sons-in-laws who love Jesus! We have a reproduction of Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son" over the couch in our living room -- a reminder that we have all been prodigals.
Ebenezer -- a funny name and yet a very necessary reminder. Where have you raised your Ebenezer?
Lord, you are my strong rock -- you are my Ebenezer! Amen.