Do you remember the first time you sang these lines in the beloved hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”? “Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come.” Maybe you were curious about this strange new word that sounded like the name of someone’s great-great grandfather. Maybe you were a little annoyed that the hymnwriter felt the need to throw in an obscure Scriptural allusion to something no one could remember. What in the world is an Ebenezer?
The word Ebenezer occurs only three times in Scripture, all in the first seven chapters of I Samuel. The first two occurrences simply mention it as the name of a place. The third reference in I Samuel 7 explains how the place got its name. The Israelites were in a fearful position. Their longstanding enemy, the Philistines, was again posing a threat. But Israel was not in any position to ask for God’s help. The Israelites were knee-deep in idol worship, and they had fallen into the habit of doing their own thing instead of listening to and obeying God. Their judge, Samuel, called them together and urged them to repent. “If you return,” he told them, “and put away your strange gods and serve the Lord only, He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” Israel listened to Samuel and turned to the Lord in true repentance. And He helped them defeat the Philistines.
Ebenezer enters the story in verse 12. “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” The word Ebenezer means “stone of help.” The stone named Ebenezer stood as a memorial of this specific time that the Lord had helped Israel. It was a powerful, silent reminder. It was meant to give God’s people courage and hope for future occasions when they would need His help again.
One chilly, sunny morning in February found me seated on the porch of a rustic inn in the mountains with a cup of coffee beside me and a Bible in my lap. It was a time I had specifically set aside for taking stock of Ebenezers I could raise along the path of my life thus far. Certain times in life are good for looking back and remembering how God has helped us in the past—new years, birthdays, anniversaries, or even the turning of a season in the year. Do you have any Ebenezers in your life? If not, maybe it’s time to set up a few of your own personal “stones of help.”
If you’re not sure how to get started, here are a few suggestions from my own stone-raising experience:
• How did God bring you to Himself in salvation? Your redemption from sin is the ultimate expression of God’s help to you. What experiences did He use to help you see your sinfulness? Who and what did He use in your life to introduce you to the Person and work of Jesus Christ? Did you ever struggle with doubts about your salvation? What Scriptures did He use to settle your doubts?
• What sins once dominated your life, even after you became a Christian? How is it that these sins no longer control you? I can remember a few different periods of time when my life was dominated by fear and anxiety. God hammered II Timothy 1:7 and Philippians 4:6-7 into me and eventually delivered me from my crippling fears.
• What deep trials or valleys has the Lord brought you through? As I thumbed through my Bible that day on the porch, I paused at Psalm 131 and tears filled my eyes. That psalm was one I memorized during a difficult summer when I experienced a distressing and humbling situation. I knew God was doing something good in my life, but all I could feel was pain. I would go running late at night and quote the psalm again and again to myself, using it as a “lullaby” to settle my heart into trust again. As I read the words, I could almost hear the pounding of my shoes, the quick intakes of breath, the throb of my heartbeat as I ran. Slowly, gradually, through those weary summer days and nights, I had experienced God’s help in that trial.
• What spiritual habits has God helped you to establish? What ministry opportunities has He given? Whom has He allowed you to lead to Himself?
The wonderful thing about Ebenezers is that once you start raising them, marking those special times in your life when you experienced God’s help, the more and more of them you remember. Ebenezers just keep popping up on every side. You can’t help but be encouraged!
Engraved on the tombstone of Susannah Spurgeon in a London cemetery are these lines from another hymn: “Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review confirms His good pleasure to help me quite through.” Mrs. Spurgeon had learned the secret to facing the future with confidence and hope. It lies in remembering how God has helped us in the past. And by His good pleasure that has helped us thus far, we can confidently expect to arrive safely at home.
Written by Eileen Berry. This article was published in the Summer 2011 edition of The Beautiful Spirit magazine.
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