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What Is an Ebenezer?
Ebenezer stone. Have you heard of it before? The Bible is full of powerful words that, if we dig deep enough, the meanings could change your life. The power with which God clothed each word in His book is amazing. One such word found often in sermons and church names is Ebenezer–a Hebrew term meaning “stone of help.”
The Hebrew transliteration shows the pronunciation as ‘ebhen ha ‘azer. This word originates as a boy’s name in the Hebrew culture but is used biblically in the book of 1 Samuel. In Hebrew and English, Ebenezer has the same meaning.
Ebenezer is only mentioned three times in the Bible.
The ancient word Ebenezer comes from the Hebrew ebēnīzār, which literally means “stone of help.” The stone that Samuel erected was a constant reminder to the nation of Israel. Whenever they walked past it, they would remember how God had protected them and led their people to victory – He helped them in every way possible! It was the first Ebenezer stone.
It turns out that there is a powerful biblical story behind the word “Ebenezer.” The term comes from 1 Samuel, which discusses how when an Israelite army was fleeing and being pursued by their enemy at night, they came to the Valley of Ebenezer. They asked God for help in battle, so He made them sound like more people than actually were present. This caused confusion and delayed victory on behalf of their enemies, who then turned around without confronting them or noticing it wasn’t just one small group coming towards them but rather a whole battalion with reinforcements waiting nearby! Read on for the full story of the Ebenezer stone.
It’s not often you hear about such ancient stories influencing our modern-day society; however, this Hebrew word has stuck through time because we can still use its meaning today.
After the battle, Samuel set up a stone on the battlefield to commemorate their victory. He said that this symbolized how much they have been helped by God so far and he implored them not to let it go unacknowledged for too long lest other deities take his place and begin working against them again.
After winning an important battle with members of Judah’s neighboring country Mizpah (including Shen), the prophet Samuel erected a large rock at one end of what had become known as “the field between two cities.” The monument, the Ebenezer stone, was meant to remind people that even though Saul died during this war, they were still victorious because God did help them win–though admittedly less than usual due to Saul being gone from the fight momentarily!
The Canaanite region was located between the central mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. A fertile land full of springs, as far as your eyes could see – perfect for an urban hot spot to develop into a royal city!
A few years ago, I decided to create my own little Ebenezer stone, my war binder. In it, I have a section for gratitude. Each time I notice how God, Jehovah Jireh, the Lord Who Provides, has provided for me, or rescued me from a troubling situation, I noted it in my war binder.
Whenever I am troubled or struggling with some issue, I open my war binder to my gratitude tab and reread how kind and good our Heavenly Father is.
In fact, writing this post, has prompted me to change the name of the tab in my war binder to “Ebenezer” or “Ebenezer Stone”.
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” – 1 Samuel 7:12
Let’s take a deeper look at the Ebenezer stone in the Bible.
The Ebenezer Stone in the Bible
The background of its meaning and significance begins in 1 Samuel 4 with the Philistines. There are three main factors in play here: defeat, lamentation or mourning, and victory.
The Israelites were tired after all the Philistine battles and set up camp next to Ebenezer. While they had been victorious in their previous encounters, this time, things would be different for them because, during these peaceful days, there was an outbreak of idol worship among the people, not only by going against God’s commands but also by neglecting offerings on top of it.
In 1 Samuel 2:24, we read, “ No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad.”.
The Israelite’s felt that if they could have the Ark of the Covenant with them in battle, it would be a shield against their enemies. When rumors spread about its arrival at camp, people were ecstatic and hopeful for victory.
As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. – 1 Samuel 4:5
The Philistines were terrified by the sounds coming from within Israel’s camp. They recalled how God had smote Egypt with all sorts of plagues and assumed that there must be more gods who would do them some harm if they continued to raid this territory.
Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. – 1 Samuel 4:8
Despite being terrified, the Philistines fought, and Israel suffered a devastating loss.
After this awful defeat, the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines from Ebenezer to Ashdod.
Upon learning that Hophni and Phinehas were slain by the Philistine armies, Eli fell and broke his neck. He died with a sense of relief because he knew their deaths fulfilled prophesy mentioned in 1 Samuel 2:34
And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both shall die on the same day. – 1 Samuel 2:34
Israel thought that they had done everything right but continued to worship idols, and God was displeased with them. They felt like their possession of the ark of the covenant must be symbolic because it had brought success before when in Israel’s possession. They were clearly foolish as the possession mattered little. They were lacking confidence in God.
20 years had gone by since being defeated by the Philistines. Samuel, in his address to the Israelites advised them:
And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” – 1 Samuel 7:3
Israel responded in kind and discontinued the worship of the false gods Baalim and Ashtaroth. A revival of sorts took place, and Israel returned to serve the Lord only. (1 Samuel 7:4)
Samuel then gathered all the Israelites in Mizpeh for prayer, fasting, and repentance
With the Philistines coming to attack them, the Israelites pleaded with Samuel for him to continue praying. He offered a lamb as a burnt offering and prayed fervently until he heard an answer from God, who spared their lives that day.
When the Philistines neared Israel, they were met with a thunderous sound. A tremor of fright and terror shook through their ranks as it rolled over them and lifted up their feet from off the ground. This unsteadiness in step allowed for victory to be achieved by the Israelites, who fought like lions against these invaders and secured a victory for Israel.
As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. – 1 Samuel 7:10
Samuel set up a stone (the first Ebenezer stone) at the site of victory to commemorate it. The monument was placed between Mizpeh and Shen, where he had defeated his opponents with God’s help.
Samuel named the stone monument “Ebenezer” saying “Till now the Lord has helped us”.
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shenand called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” – 1 Samuel 7:12
Because of Samuel’s faithfulness and Israel’s repentance, they found newfound faith in the one true Lord.
So, the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. – 1 Samuel 7:13
Our Own Ebenezer Stone
We often find ourselves guilty of the reliance on superstition, formality, or the worship of external symbols in times of spiritual stagnancy, turmoil, or discontent. We may justify and reason our actions under the pretext of “this is just the way we’ve always done things.”
But an Ebenezer stone should signify to us that trusting in anything or anyone short of Christ is a precursor to failure. In defeat or failure, we must repent from misplaced trust and from leaving Christ out of the equation. If we recognize our misplaced trust and reverse course, He is there faithful to forgive, grant us mercy, and provide his guidance and protection.
Ebenezer in “Come Thou Fount”, The Well-Known Hymn
The hymn Come Thou Fount is a work that was penned by Robert Robinson in 1758. In the second line, he writes “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” Why did he use this word? To answer this question, we must look at his life before conversion took place and what it meant to him as an ex-Methodist minister who struggled with converting people to Christianity throughout England’s Industrial Revolution era after having been raised without faith or belief following strict Methodist parents.
Come Thou Font by Chris Tomlin
After a series of childhood tragedies, Robinson’s mother sent him to London where he learned how to be a barber. Instead, though, the young man joined up with some bad company and eventually found himself at an evangelistic meeting when George Whitefield was preaching. The words that were shared on this night would change his life forever– after accepting Christ as Lord from there on out!
After finding himself on a dangerous path, Robert Robinson felt like he was too far gone. He began to serve at the Calvinist Methodist Chapel and it’s there that he found God for his salvation. When writing “Ebenezer,” which is referencing 1 Samuel 7 when David raised up an Ebenezer, his own Ebenezer stone, as thanksgiving after fighting Goliath, Robison means that we should raise our Ebenezers in prayer to remember where all our blessings come from: God Himself!
This hymn is a reminder to Christians that we have been saved from sin and can enjoy being with God for eternity.
The Power of the Word Ebenezer
Ebenezer is a word of power. We might have read over it before without thinking twice about its importance, but we need to understand the significance not just for Samuel and Israelites in Scripture, but also us today as Christians who can rest on God’s stone of help amid our trials.
Sometimes, the only way to get through a difficult time is by relying on our faith in God and remembering that He has been there for us before.
How Should Christians Apply the Concept of Ebenezer or an Ebenezer Stone to Their Lives?
The Ebenezer stone was a reminder of God’s hand on his people in times when they needed it. Just as Samuel erected this monument to remind the Israelites, we can use these reminders for our own Christian walk today.
An Ebenezer moment is a time when you are certain God has intervened in your life. You realize that only God could have allowed the outcomes you have experienced. His help has brought you through.
A stone is a hard, unforgiving material. It can be used to build things and start fires in the coldest of places. The Lord is like this as well– He’s not easily broken by our troubles or anything we do wrong but keeps us close so that His Holy Spirit may fan an unquenchable fire within our hearts all throughout eternity. God is our rock and our salvation and when we reflect on our lives, we can see that He has been the only thing that is unmovable, unshakeable and our stone of help.
Remembering the times that God has shown us wisdom, guidance, and mercy in our lives is an important way to stay connected with Him. One example I like to use are journals or war binders. They act as a place for me write down prayers or thoughts from Scripture passages that have spoken to my heart during difficult periods of life.
When we’re blessed by joys such as triumphs over trials, it’s natural think back on these things so we can remember how grateful we should be for His presence in our lives! This is one way that you can have your very own Ebenezer stone for remembering all He has done for you.
Creating Your Own Ebenezer Stone of Remembrance
Danielle’s Place has terrific ideas and printables for crafts and for teaching your children about the Ebenezer stone.
You also may enjoy this sermon by Pastor Chuck Smith on 1 Samuel 7:12
In addition, you might find these recommended resources helpful:
(You can get the titles above for free with an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription – you can even read on your tablet or phone!)
Do you have something that represents your own Ebenezer stone? I’d love to hear about it! Drop it in the comments below or email me at [email protected]
Because He Lives and HE is my Ebenezer Stone,