Here I Raise My Ebenezer

From time to time we sing the song, “O Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The second verse begins with the phrase, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come.” This term (Ebenezer) is not one we use today, yet it is important for us to understand the words we sing. Paul said we are to “sing with the spirit, and…with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15, KJV).

In this article, we are going to look at the story in the Old Testament about the Ebenezer. This was a stone set up to remind the Israelites of an important lesson. As we look at this, we will see some lessons for us as well.

The Background

Thus the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to meet the Philistines in battle and camped beside Ebenezer while the Philistines camped in Aphek. The Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield” (1 Samuel 4:1-2).

This is the first time Ebenezer is mentioned in Scripture. Here, it was the location where the army of Israel camped before going to battle with the Philistines. Israel was defeated on this occasion. Afterward, they foolishly decided to “take…the ark of the covenant” into battle so that “it may come among [them] and deliver [them] from the power of [their] enemies” (1 Samuel 4:3). Hophni and Phinehas – the sons of Eli described earlier as “worthless men” (1 Samuel 2:12) – came with the ark to Israel’s camp (1 Samuel 4:4). Initially, the men of Israel were encouraged, causing the Philistines to fear; but the Philistines took courage, won the battle, and captured the ark (1 Samuel 4:5-11).

Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon” (1 Samuel 5:1-2).

After capturing the ark, the Philistines brought it to the house of Dagon, their “god.” The next day, “Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord,” so they set him back up (1 Samuel 5:3). The next day, Dagon had again fallen down before the ark and his head and hands were cut off (1 Samuel 5:4). Following this, there was a plague that afflicted the residents so they sent the ark to Ekron (1 Samuel 5:6-10). After hearing what happened in Ashdod, the people of Ekron understandably did not want the ark to stay with them (1 Samuel 5:10-11).

So they put the ark on a cart pulled by two cows, let them go, and they brought it to Beth-shemesh, an Israelite town (1 Samuel 6:7-12). While it was here, the Lord struck down over 50,000 men because they “looked into the ark” (1 Samuel 6:19). They sent messengers to Kiriath-jearim to come and get the ark (1 Samuel 6:20-21). It was kept there for twenty years (1 Samuel 7:1-2) until David would later move it to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 13:5).

After receiving the ark, Samuel addressed the people of Israel at Mizpah and called them to repent (1 Samuel 7:3-6). However, when the Philistines heard that the Israelites were gathered here, they decided to go up and do battle against them (1 Samuel 7:7). The Israelites were afraid, but God helped them and they defeated the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:8-11). It was at this time that Samuel erected this stone – Ebenezer.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’ So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel” (1 Samuel 7:12-13).

God Was with Them

The name Ebenezer means “stone of help.” This was the reason for the name – “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). Without God, Israel was defeated. With God, they were victorious.

What was necessary for God to be with them and help them?

  1. They needed to return to God and repent – “Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, ‘If you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.’ So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the Lord alone” (1 Samuel 7:3-4).
  2. They needed to confess their sin before God – “Then Samuel said, ‘Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray to the Lord for you.’ They gathered to 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 sons of Israel at Mizpah” (1 Samuel 7:5-6).
  3. They needed to acknowledge their dependence upon God – “The sons 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.’ Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and Samuel cried to the Lord for Israel and the Lord answered him” (1 Samuel 7:8-9).
  4. They still needed to go out and fight – “Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel. The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car” (1 Samuel 7:10-11).

The same will the true for us today. If we will do these things, God will be with us as well.

  1. When we sin, we cannot remain in that condition – Paul told the brethren in Rome, “What shall we say them? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). We are to “consider [ourselves] to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
  2. In addition to repentance, we must confess our sin to God – John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). At times it is also helpful and/or necessary to confess our sins to others (Acts 8:22).
  3. We need to recognize our dependence upon God – He is our source of strength. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
  4. We still need to go out and fight for Him – We have the assurance that the Lord will be victorious (Revelation 17:14). Yet we must still be willing to “put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11) and “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12).

It Was a Memorial

Memorials are important because people forget. This is why we see an emphasis placed upon being reminded throughout the Bible.

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. […] Then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:6-12).

Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:12-13).

In pointing out these things to the brethren [put the brethren in remembrance – KJV], you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 4:6).

The Lord also gave us a memorial in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). In it, we remember the death of Christ as He sacrificed His life on the cross for us. This was to be a regular remembrance observed on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

The Israelites were to remember that God was with them and had helped them. We must never forget this either. The Hebrew writer reminded us of God’s promise: “‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid, what will man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

Memorials Do Not Guarantee Remembrance

Unfortunately, even with memorials, people often forget. Jesus died that we might die to sin (1 Peter 2:24); yet even though we remember His death each week (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 20:7), we still sin (1 John 1:8). This memorial was to remind them of God’s help. Yet they forgot this and demanded a king (1 Samuel 8:5). They sinned in this by rejecting God (1 Samuel 8:7) who was their king (1 Samuel 12:12). Memorials and reminders do no good if we are not continually setting our minds on the things of God and regularly committing ourselves to following Him.

Conclusion

We must always remember what God has done to help us and to save us from our sins. This is important to motivate us to continue to serve Him, to lead us to trust Him for future blessings, and to keep us from falling away as the Israelites eventually did. Let us never forget that God is our source of help and hope, and let us continue to faithfully serve Him.


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