Summary: Today we could use a memorial like Samuel’s. It wasn’t a memorial of their hard times or of their more recent victories. It was a memorial to God’s faithfulness. Here we raise our Ebenezer because “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” That’s a reminder w
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Here We Raise Our Ebenezer
Introduction: I recently saw a production of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” The play reminded me how much of an impression the classic Christmas tale has had on all of us. The very name of the chief character has become a part of our vocabulary. Anyone who is a stingy, sour-puss at Christmas is known as a “scrooge.” On the other hand, how many boys do you know named Ebenezer?
Despite the Scrooge legacy, the name Ebenezer has a glorious legacy. In fact, one of my favorite hymns uses that term in a strange line that practically nobody understands. Perhaps, you have sung the song “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and wondered about the line. The first verse reads, “Come thou fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount--I’m fixed upon it--Mount of thy redeeming love. Here I raise mine Ebenezer; Hither by thy help I’m come. And I hope by thy good pleasure Safely to arrive at home.”
That line from the hymn, the name Ebenezer, and the lesson we need today all come from a single Old Testament verse. I hope that after today, whenever you are overwhelmed by life or tempted to give up in discouragement, you will repeat this strange word to yourself—Ebenezer! People may think you are crazy, but I guarantee if you can say Ebenezer with meaning you will never be the same.
Let me read the Old Testament verse, explain a bit of the story behind it, and then show what it so important about it for us today. 1 Samuel 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us.”
It was over eleven hundred years before the time of Jesus. The people of Israel had conquered much of the Promised Land, but it hadn’t been easy. The infant nation was still surrounded by many powerful enemies. In fact, twenty years before the event in this text, one of the darkest days in ancient Israel happened. In a single day, Israel not only suffered a terrible military defeat but also lost the Ark of the Covenant into enemy hands. The Ark was the symbol of God’s presence among them. It was the worst disaster imaginable. Israel soon regained the ark. But nothing was the same again. The terrible memory of that day would continue to discourage the nation for a generation.
Twenty years later, Samuel, the great prophet of the nation, calls a meeting of the nation’s leaders. He tells them that if they want to experience the blessings of God, they need to return to their faith in him. Times had been hard. But they would never be any better until they turned to God. The entire nation responded positively. At Mizpah, the nation gathered in prayer to seek God’s blessing again. Just at that moment, the Philistine army, the dreaded enemy, saw an opportunity to attack while Israel’s warriors were in prayer. But Samuel learns of the treachery. The soldiers form battle lines. The Philistines are turned back in defeat. A great victory for Israel!
To mark the occasion of the great military victory and the day of their great return to faith, Samuel raises a memorial marker. From that day on, whoever saw the marker would be reminded of the great events of the day. Samuel gave the marker a name. He called it Ebenezer, a term that meant “the help of the Lord.” “Thus far has the LORD helped us,” he said.
Like ancient Israel, we are assembled here today in a memorial service. We are not going to raise stone pillars or monuments. But many of you are going to place small memorial symbols on this Christmas tree. We haven’t come through twenty years of spiritual despair or survived a great military battle. But many of you have been through your share of hard days and long nights.
Today we could use a memorial like Samuel’s. It wasn’t a memorial of their hard times or of their more recent victories. It was a memorial to God’s faithfulness. Here we raise our Ebenezer because “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” That’s a reminder we could always use!
Israel didn’t need a memorial to the tough times they had been through. After all, they had experienced them. You don’t need a memorial to your loss and grief. Some things you never forget. Those ancient Israelites weren’t likely to forget the twenty years of discouragement.
Memory is an amazing thing. Psychologists tell us that we never really forget anything. Every experience good and bad is filed securely in our mental memory banks. Sometimes we forget where we put it, but it is still there.