The hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” begins the second stanza with the following lyrics, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.” For those unfamiliar with the storyline behind the usage of Ebenezer, one could think that someone is raising their child named Ebenezer in Lion-King fashion. However, Ebenezer is a reference to a stone that the prophet Samuel had established between two cities as a memorial to the Lord, representing how the Lord was a “stone of help,” helping Israel win the victory over the Philistines (1 Sam 7:3-17). Thus, the reference to raising one’s Ebenezer is raising a memorial—a remembrance—of how the Lord has been and is a stone of help.
As I was reading this account the other morning, I noticed two particular interesting points within the context of the raising of “the stone of help,” or the raising of Ebenezer.
First, the “stone of help” was raised after a much needed return to the Lord. If you read back a couple of chapters you will see that Israel had experienced a period of turbulent times. They had seen the corruption and evil of the sons of Eli—the priest of Israel. They had experienced multiple poundings by the Philistines. After their last beating, the Philistines captured their national sacred mascot, the ark of the covenant. In addition, they witnessed the death of the priestly family; both the sons of Eli died in battle, and at the news of their death Eli fell over and died. Furthermore, they were a nation chasing after other gods. After these events, Samuel, the established prophet of the Lord (1 Sam 3:20), called Israel to return to the Lord with all their hearts, which they did.
Second, the stone of help was raised after Israel cried out to the Lord in great desperation. As Israel gathered as a nation to repent and return to the Lord, the Philistines heard about the gathering and planned to crash the repentance party with an attack. When Israel heard about the attack, “they were afraid of the Philistines.” Given their recent history with the Philistines, of course they would be afraid. They were 0-2 against the Philistines, even though in the second face-off they brought what they thought to be their lucky sacred mascot (the ark of the covenant), which was captured. So yes, they are scared. However, they ask Samuel to constantly “cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” The difference between their actions now verses their previous actions was the central power and focus behind the fighting. Previously, Israel was fighting in their own power and for themselves. Their strategy in fighting the Philistines was their own ingenuity and creativity. They figured they could use God as a spiritual figurine and national mascot, which if they brought him and invoked him they would just have to win. There something here that we must learn, it is not that God saves us for us to do with him what we please, but for him to do with us what he pleases. Or think of it this way, it is not that we apply God to our life in order for us to get what we want, but for us to apply ourselves to the life and story of God in order for God to get what he wants. Here, prior to the Ebenezer being raised, Israel approached God in desperation, knowing that they could not win unless he fought for them. In other words, they were completely dependent on God for help, for aid—for victory. They no longer had confidence in themselves, thus they turned completely to the Lord in desperation.
Here’s the truth, this is where God wants us all to be—whether it is a marriage crisis, a parenting crisis, a family crisis, a vocational crisis, a health crisis, or an addiction crisis; whether it is in how we will respond to situations where we have been wronged or mistreated; whether it is a decision about a career or how we will spend our money; whether it is facing a tragedy or a dilemma; or whether it is simply living out our everyday life. God brings great aid and help to those who love him with all their heart, soul, and strength and who desperately call upon him as their great God, Savior, and Deliverer.
Whatever we face today, tomorrow, or down the road is something that God does not just want to face with us, but for us! Jesus has come to rescue us from sin and defeat. He has also come to not be “part” of our life as if to become the spiritual tack-on to our life; but rather has come to bring us life and to be our life! Thus as we renew ourselves daily to him, confessing and submitting to him with all our heart, and admitting our complete dependence on him, he wants to face life for us—living through us—so that we might experience the victory he alone can bring. Know this, we will find ourselves raising more Ebenezers (memorial stones signifying how God has been our stone of help, our victory) in our life when we completely surrender and desperately call out to our great God and King!