Ebenezer. For some, the word triggers thoughts of a miserly old man and a Christmas miracle. For others, it’s just an immediate “no-go” for the potential baby-names list. But I’m not referring to Scrooge or unsatisfactory names. Ebenezer: it holds a definition far more significant.
The word is of Hebrew origin, – eben ezer – literally translated, “stone of help.” But before you start questioning a stone’s ability to lend assistance, allow me tell you the story. Perhaps you already know it.
It all began with an ancient nation’s disobedience. Israel of old had wandered yet again from the one true God and was facing the consequences of rejecting His love. God had led them out of abject slavery to a beautiful land, abundant in every regard, promising that if they obeyed His commands peace and prosperity would follow. The Israelites unanimously agreed to the terms and conditions with a hearty, “All that you have said we will do.” Yet in their ecstasy, they soon became self-complacent, losing sight of how God had led them for forty long years, shielding them from the dangers of a barren desert and their own barren hearts. As they looked at the neighboring nations, noting their prosperity and apparent successes, they began to follow suit, going so far as to forsake God for mere religious pretenses.
Though unable to communicate face-to-face with the Israelites, God still longed to talk with His people, to help them out of their desperate circumstances. And so God sent a prophet to Israel.
Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ash’taroth from among you, and direct your heart to the LORD, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So Israel put away the Ba’als and the Ash’taroth, and they served the LORD only. Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day, and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:3-6).
The scene is classic – a prodigal child returns to his parents and begs for forgiveness. The parents, of course, assure forgiveness and they live in familial bliss, right? In this case, not quite.
Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry to the LORD our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD; and Samuel cried to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the LORD thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, as far as below Beth-car (1 Samuel 7:7-11).
As the Israelites gathered together in heart-wrenching contrition, their arch-enemies also gathered, but for an entirely different reason. Despite all fear, the Israelites actually did something right – they cried out to God. If there’s one thing God cannot refuse, it is a cry for help from a genuine, contrite heart. He blasted their enemies. But here is where it gets truly fascinating – here is where “ebenezer” comes in:
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Hitherto the LORD has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel…and Israel rescued their territory from the hand of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 7:12-14).
An influential author once wrote, “We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” 1 For Israel, Ebenezer was a constant reminder of God’s love; it reminded them of the story of His forgiveness, protection, and redemption. It guarded against the dreadful human tendency to forget. As long as it stood, it silently repeated the lessons of the past.
As Israel of today, we are the recipients of innumerable blessings, yet we find reason to complain. We make promises, and break them. We wander from our Leader and lose direction, lose purpose. We hit rock bottom and only then do we seek His help. And yet, time and again, He answers our pleas for forgiveness. He helps us. Ebenezer. But a lack of time and motivation prevents us from recording the miracles, prevents us from dwelling on His sacrifice for us, prevents us from experiencing the transformation we so desperately need. So we forget His working in our lives – His mercy, love, and patience. We assume the controls and steer ourselves into the same crash-course that He has rescued us from, repeating the wretched cycle until finally we no longer even dare ask for help. We hang our heads and bury our hopes.
But isn’t knowing the problem half-way to the solution? If forgetting how God has worked in our past leads us to forget God altogether, then the solution is simple: Ebenezer. We must not forget. We must take time to dwell on His goodness, His love as expressed on Calvary. We must, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), for He yearns over each one of us “with a love stronger than death.” 2 As we contemplate this theme, our hearts will be inspired and renewed…and our lives will testify of change. Transformation will become reality, and we will with Samuel be able to say, “Hitherto the Lord has helped us.”
So, think on these things. Don’t forget. Ebenezer.
– Melissa Osadchuck