“While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar. 12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,[b] saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. 14 The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites. 15 Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. 16 From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethelto Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places.17 But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the Lord.” 1 Samuel 7.10-17
“Definition of ebenezer— “Stone Of Help” [Etymology] (1) the noun אבן (‘eben), stone, and (2) the verb עזר (azar), to help or support. (https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Ebenezer.html )
Israel was only able to conquer the Philistines because of the favor of God. Samuel, who was not only representing the nation but was acting on behalf of God’s people. Without God’s favor and Samuel’s intervention, they would have been defeated again in battle. But this time, they routed the enemies and sent the Philistines fleeing for their lives.
After the battle, Samuel, the priest of the Lord and intercessor for the people, “took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen.” There he did something very unusual for us today but something that has become a tradition of the Israelites after seeing the hand of God active in their lives — he marked the occasion with a stone. The stone time he named the stone. (Now, I’ve heard of people having pet rocks, I had a few as a child! I even named them too! But this is not pet rock — this is a monument to God’s victorious activity in for his people.) The stone was named ebenezer or “stone of help.” Samuel named it such because he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
After this victory God restored lands that had been taken by the Philistines and there was peace “between the Israelites and the Amorites.” Samuel continued being the leader of the nation for his entire life, meaning, he was “rock” solid (pun noted) until the end.
But I want to hone in on the “stone of help,” the marker memorizing what God did for his people. Why would they put something like this up? What was the significance of helping the people remember? It’s no different then us building churches for the Lord today. Think about the ancient gothic Churches like Notre Dame or St Peters Cathedral. Each are examples of churches built to remember the Lord and what he has done. Unfortunately, people tend to forget God’s activity, which is why we need to remember. We need monuments so that when the world turns evil, and it certainly will, we can remember God moving in our midst.
It would be easy to talk about all those churches or once-Christian universities who have strayed from the path of righteousness, orthodoxy and Biblical teaching — they have moved far to a liberal position and forgotten their Christian and biblical roots. They have already compromised with the culture and now choose public opinion over holy living. They have traded in their “ebenezers” for what feels good. But not Samuel and not the Israelites in chapter 7. They set up the “stone of help” because God was and is the God of help. He is the only one who can save, the only one who can redeem, the only one who can set us free from sin and on the path to pleasing him.
Israel flourished because they turned from idols and sinful ways and moved toward a Holy God. (Reread that sentence.) How can we not see this? Why is it so hard to translate this into our own lives and experience? Why do we still sin and run towards evil when we know it will not gratify us? Paul writes in Galatians 5.16, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The way to holiness is the path to purity. And the path to purity is a path to knowing, loving and experiencing God.
Perhaps we need to raise our Ebenezer as the popular hymn ”Come Thou Fount” reminds us:
“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 my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I’ve 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.”
“O Lord God, you are good. When I forget, you remind me that your way is best. When the world says, “Do what feels good,” I must remember that loving you feels the best. Obedience is the key to knowing and loving you. Although you do not demand perfection, you have sent Jesus to cover all my sins. Help me press in to loving you and activity obeying your word. I raise my Ebenezer today (a physical rock that I will find and set up on my patio) and remember what you have done for me. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen