What in the world does the word “Ebenezer” mean?
Somebody asks that every time we sing the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” the second verse of which begins, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by thy help I’m come.” But the word is found not just in hymns — it’s all over town. There’s Ebenezer Baptist Church (and a Methodist church by that name as well). There’s an Ebenezer Road in Atlanta, even an Ebenezer Circle. Even more, it was once a common name for boys. Remember Ebenezer Scrooge? Christians of another age knew what
Ebenezer meant and found great significance in it. For us today it’s a mystery and of little significance.
So what does it mean? Well, the word comes from First Samuel, one of the historical books of the Bible. It is, first off, the name of a place where the Israelites were encamped when the Philistines attacked and defeated them. Its second usage by the prophet Samuel is the one that is most significant, however. The Philistines again attacked the Israelites but this time, against all odds, the
Israelites routed the Philistines because the Lord thundered with a mighty voice and threw the Philistines into confusion. In celebration of this victory over a much-feared enemy, Samuel took a stone and set it up as a memorial. He named the stone “Ebenezer” because Ebenezer means “Stone of Help” and for Samuel, Israel’s victory signified, as he put it, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” And so, “Ebenezer” refers to God’s being there, and being of help.
And I got to thinking. What if we set up stones to commemorate and celebrate every time God has been there for us and was of help? I don’t know about you, but my life would be littered with stones and rocks and regular boulders all over the place!
We have a tendency of course to think that we have made it this far by our own doing. Oh, for sure, we thank God for this or that, and now and then we credit friends or a lucky break here and there, but deep down we often believe that we have survived or succeeded because of our own wits or abilities
or strength. And there is some truth to that. But what about the times when the obstacles vanished due to no effort of our own, or a door opened to us and we had no idea why, or we reached down inside and there was nothing there and at that very moment from somewhere love or strength or peace came, or a victory of sorts came when we should have been defeated, or when the odds were against us but something routed the fears and enemies and we made it through? Perhaps more than a few of us would find our lives littered with stones and rocks and regular boulders if we marked all the times and places when God has been present and of help.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Samuel had a good idea. Perhaps contemporary Christians, we who are often mystified as to where God is to be found, should set up a stone here and there. And name it Ebenezer. And then look out on what would be our lives littered with stones and see the truth of our lives: “Thus far the Lord has helped us."
God be with you,