Israel had been in the Land for about three hundred years. It was before the time of the Kings, and the twelve tribes were led in a loose alliance by a series of “Judges.” The people’s devotion to the Law given through Moses was weak, and they frequently turned away from the God who had delivered them from Egypt, worshiping the gods of the other clans around them. Samuel, the last great Judge, brought a forceful message and led Israel in a spiritual revival. He also was able to rally them to win a  decisive battle against their worst enemies, the Philistines. The victory came because God intervened with an awesome display of thunder and lightening. Afterwards, Samuel called the leaders together and created a memorial that would, in the future, remind them of this moment of triumph:

Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”  (1 Samuel 7:12)

That’s the origin of the mysterious reference you may have puzzled over in the familiar hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home

Ebenezer is a Hebrew word meaning “Stone of Help.” That’s the name Samuel gave to this memorial, as if to say, “Every time you pass this place, remember that it was here that you realized how real and immediate God’s help is; as solid and dependable as this stone.”

The Christian life is a journey. We’ve been on it for a while, and we’ve still got a ways to go. Mid- journey markers are important to help us keep on track and refocus on our goal. As the hymn goes on to say, we are

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.

Samuel said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us,” acknowledging that we still have a long journey a head. Seeing the Ebenezers from passed experiences of God’s deliverance is an encouragement and a motivation to renew our dedication to following him.

Have you ever been hiking along a difficult trail when you stumbled across a small pile of stones that have clearly been stacked by someone? These are called “cairns,” and they are set up in hard-to-follow places by people trying to mark the direction the trail goes. You can feel totally lost, but the moment you see a cairn another hiker has left behind, you’re reassured you’re on the right track. A cairn is like an Ebenezer.

So, this demonstrates a second value of memorial markers. They not only encourage us personally to stay on the right path, but they also help others to follow the way God has shown to us. This is a wonderful gift we can give to our family, friends and younger believers. “Here is the path on which I found God’s help; you can’t go wrong if you follow these markers.”

I’ve been thinking about some ways we can raise our Ebenezer. A personal testimony shared in a Bible study group, or just one-on-one to a friend, can be like a small cairn establishing the faith trail. A work of art, in the form of a painting, a poem or a song, can be a way of saying, “Here’s a place where I met God; I hope you’ll visit it, too.” Keeping a journal of special insights, meaningful prayer experiences and faith challenges can potentially become a series of trailside markings for a great-great-great-grandchild who discovers an old dust-covered box of your belongings in the attic a century from now.

Let’s raise some Ebenezers!

— Pastor George Van Alstine