Samuel took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer—”the stone of help”—for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!” —1 Samuel 7:12, NLT
Here I raise mine 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. —Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
After a long period of sadness and trouble, a consequence of Israel’s disobedience, Israel repented under the leadership of a new priest and judge, Samuel. God restored their political security, and the people, for their part, re-committed their hearts and minds to their Lord.
Samuel placed a large stone at the place where this restoration began. He publicly dedicated it as a monument to God’s help, God’s faithfulness, God’s eternal covenant. And as the people got on with their lives, the stone stood there, visible to all who passed that way, a reminder of judgment and repentance, mercy and restoration.
The Ebenezer stone represented a fresh beginning, a reversal of course for God’s people. It also said something important about God: his mercies are everlasting; his covenant is forever.
I have friends who keep prayer journals. They record their requests to God and the answers they receive. In this way, they can go back into the past and review their walk with God; they are reminded of his faithfulness.
Prayer journals are a type of Ebenezer stone.
Members of AA can tell you how long they have been sober. They keep alive the memory of the last drink they took, and with each new day, one day at a time, they move farther down the road of sobriety. AA is on to something important. Do they ask their members to count the number of years spent in drunken waste? No. They count the days spent walking in a new direction. All that went before is water over the dam.
I tend to beat myself up about mistakes I made long, long ago. I don’t forgive myself, even though I accept the fact of God’s forgiveness. Perhaps you can identify with me. But that’s not what God desires.
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven. —Philippians 3:13b,14, NLT (The Apostle Paul writing)
I should set up an Ebenezer stone, I think, to serve as a continual reminder that I am forgiven, that I have chosen a new direction, that God has made a permanent covenant with all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.
Samuel was a wise and godly man with a good idea. He recognized something that’s true about human nature—we’re forgetful. At Ebenezer, Israel could stand next to that big old rock and remind themselves, “Yes, we serve a living and faithful God, whose mercies are everlasting.”
Update: Gary Parrett of Gordon-Conwell has written a thoughtful article for Christianity Today called Raising Ebenezer, in which he argues for preserving archaic language in Christian hymns because they inform our faith in ways that contemporary language cannot. Some good things to think about.
Photo credit: Machrie Moor standing stone (Scotland), NVM Digital