Finding God in an Ebenezer

By Dianne E. Butts

 

Stone with the word Ebenezer inscribed on it.

Photo by Dean, The Wonder of Creation blog.

Did you think I meant Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Uh, not exactly. I’m talking about people finding God in an Ebenezer—a real Ebenezer!

Did you even know there was such a thing as an Ebenezer?

If you’ve ever sung the Christian hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, you may have come across the word, depending on your hymnal. I have two hymnals. The beginning of the second verse in one reads:

“Here I raise mine Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I’m come…”

But in my newer hymnal, the second verse opens with:

“Hither to Thy love has blest me; Thou hast bro’t me to this place…”

Wikipedia has additional verses. Several contain the word Ebenezer.

Nevertheless, what’s an Ebenezer? If we “raise” our Ebenezer, as the verse suggests, are we lifting Scrooge above our heads?

Actually, Ebenezer is a standing stone, if literally translated, a “Stone of Help.” In the Old Testament, leaders sometimes stood a large stone up to commemorate something extraordinary God did for them at that site. Then when children or others asked why that stone was standing there, those who knew the story could pass along the information to a new group or generation.

Dictionary.com defines Ebenezer as a noun and says this:

male proper name, sometimes also the name of a Protestant chapel or meeting house, from name of a stone raised by Samuel to commemorate a victory over the Philistines at Mizpeh (I Sam. vii.12), from Heb. ebhen ezar “stone of help,” from ebhen “stone” + ezer “help.”

On his web site, Dr. Gregory S. Neal explains about the Ebenezer:

“In 1 Samuel 4:1-11 and 5:1, the Ebenezer is strangely identified with a particular site, about four miles south of Gilgal, where the Israelites were twice defeated by the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant was stolen. These battles took place, however, before the site was actually named Ebenezer. It was like someone saying that Dinosaurs once lived in Dallas county — they did, but not when this area was called ‘Dallas.’ Likewise, the two battles mentioned in 1 Samuel 4 and 5 took place at Ebenezer, but some time before it was so-named.

“The site wasn’t named Ebenezer until after the Israelites finally defeated the Philistines, and took back the Ark of the Covenant. To commemorate the victorious battle, Samuel set up a marker-stone, named it “Stone of Help,” and thereby the site became identified with the stone and with the place where God’s miraculous help aided them in their victory over the Philistines. The stone, standing up-right, was called ‘Ebenezer,’ and the site naturally took on that name as well.”

The next time you see Ebenezer Scrooge, I hope he makes you think of extraordinary events God has orchestrated in your life. Take the time to tell someone that story. When you do, because of your rock-solid faith standing there for them to plainly see, people will be finding God in an Ebenezer.

Enjoy this rendition of the hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing sung by Lauren O’Farrell, to hear how Ebenezer fits into the song.

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