In our times of worship, we have been singing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – words written over 260 years ago by Robert Robinson at the age of 22.
The second verse begins with “Here I raise my Ebenezer” – an obscure yet powerful image that is worth taking a closer look at so the next time you sing it, there can be a deeper appreciation and impact.
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I come
And I hope by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Ebenezer, a place, carries a massive story of God behind it as recorded in 1 Samuel 4-7. The Israelites had been beaten up in battle at this location, not once, but twice.
The first time, after the slaughter of 4,000 by the Philistines, the Israelites brought the ark of the covenant to where they were (the ark was a tangible symbol of the presence of God.) With the ark nearby, they expected that it would result in victory as it had done before – like a lucky charm. However, the Israelites had also been worshipping idols, and specifically, the god and goddess Baalim and Ashtaroth, along with the crazy practices associated with those gods. So in that context, the expectation of protection from the ark amounted to blasphemy.
The Philistine army planned the second attack again, rallied, engaged the Israelites and this time killed 30,000 while also capturing the ark. The Philistines placed the ark in the temple of their god Dagon but it didn’t bring tranquillity like they thought it might. The Dagon idol was destroyed in the ark’s presence and the people experienced severe tumor outbreaks and rat infestations. So the Philistines returned the ark back to the Israelites (weirdly enough, along with gold replicas of the tumors and rats).
With the ark back in Israelite custody, the prophet Samuel confronted the people, “If you are truly serious about coming back to God, clean house. Get rid of the foreign gods and fertility goddesses, ground yourselves firmly in God, worship him and him alone, and he’ll save you from Philistine oppression.” (1 Samuel 7:3). The people were convicted, acted, fasted, and confessed their sin. Samuel called on the Lord for deliverance from the invading Philistines a third time – and they won. We don’t read about any loss of life, and peace was brought to the region.
In that place of victory Samuel raised a stone and called it Ebenezer. The word comes from the Hebrew words ’Eben hà-ezer, which simply means “rock of help”. More than a monument of thanks, it was a visual symbol of the goodness of God even when they had forsaken Him. It represented a new level of total reliance on Him, their repentance, and their determination to serve God.
We all have Ebenezers in our experience. Moments where the extravagant display of God’s mercy and grace overwhelmed us when we least deserved it. An Ebenezer is initially associated with defeat, disappointment, and
Although we no longer engage in physical warfare, we are in a constant spiritual battle where our flesh and demonic forces are unrelenting. Despite our wandering, in spite of a heart that chooses other things over Jesus every day – his grace and mercy are unrelenting.
God is still our Ebenezer. Our defender and captain. Jesus Christ, Son of God, the rock and foundation of the church is the one true Ebenezer where at Calvary, the victory against sin, Satan, and death was won forever. Finished.
Be mindful and thankful today for an Ebenezer in your life.