“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer for he said “Till now the LORD has helped us”. 1 Samuel 7:12
For most English speakers the word Ebenezer will prompt memories not of the Bible but of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation from miser to benefactor, thanks to the intervention of three persuasive spirits. The fact that the old misers name was Ebenezer is deeply ironic, for his name is based on a Hebrew word which means ‘stone of help’, a name which in Israel’s history became associated forever with the grace and kindness of the LORD who had helped and would continue to help His people.
Helpless Nation, Helpful God
The events described in 1 Samuel 7 came at a key moment in Israel’s history. Failed leadership and a faithless nation had led to defeat in battle and subjugation to the Philistines. The nation which was meant to be holy and distinct from the surrounding nations had become just like them and were worthy of the LORD’s judgement. What the LORD in fact did was to remember His covenant and to raise up a faithful leader in the person of Samuel.
This was part of the help which the LORD had provided ‘till now’ as Samuel puts it. But more than that, the LORD had brought the nation to repentance and, as 1 Samuel 7 records, had led Israel to a mighty victory over the Philistines. Once again the God of grace had provided help for His people. It could thus be said in truth – “Thus far the LORD has helped us” and the Ebenezer stone was a memorial to this great truth.
But the stone symbolised more than remembrance and a cause for rejoicing. It also stood for the LORD’s promise of future help. For the LORD who had helped was and is the Living God, the Creator and Ruler over the world, the faithful Redeemer of His people. The stone thus stood as an invitation to trust in the LORD for the future and to renew commitment to the LORD of the covenant.
Helping our Faith
In the great spiritual battle against the world, the flesh and the devil and in the midst of the trials of life, we can say with confidence “till now the LORD has helped us”. We can say this in our personal lives as Christians and we can say this as a church. The buildings in which we meet, the people we see week by week, the testimonies we hear – all of these are like the great stone which Samuel set up. Ebenezer – a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness and a cause for rejoicing in Him.
They are also an invitation to renew our faith and our commitment to Him. Birthdays are times for joy and celebration. But they are also times to take stock and to look forward to what the Lord has in store for us in the future. Birthdays are moments for reflection, for repentance and for faith and for renewal.
Scripture tells us that “they who wait upon the LORD will renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). These words were spoken not to the mighty and the strong but to those who had come to the end of their natural strength, to the weak and the faint, to the weary and the exhausted.
In life and in the good fight of the gospel we often feel precisely like that. But that is when we are to look back at the true Ebenezer, not a stone but a cross of wood, a demonstration of God’s love for sinners, for the weak and the weary and the powerless.
Helped at the Cross
As we look at the cross in faith, we do renew our strength. And in the power of the Spirit, we declare with confidence – “Till now the Lord has helped us” and we can trust Him to help us again. May God grant that on the day when Jesus returns in His Father’s glory and with the Holy Angels, that there will be myriad upon myriad of communities of believers declaring in faith and with great joy: “The Lord is our helper and He has done it and it is indeed marvellous in our eyes”.