Raising Our Ebenezers

One of the most famously obscure lines in any of our hymns appears in “O Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” It reads, “Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’ve come.” Most of us, when we hear “Ebenezer,” tend to think “Scrooge,” so the line is confusing.

It comes, though, from 1 Samuel 7:12. In context, something strange has recently occurred. With God’s help, the Israelites, led by Samuel, have won a rare victory over the Philistines. The last time the Israelites and the Philistines fought, the good guys (to the extent that Hophni and Phinehas count as good guys) lost 30,000 soldiers and the ark of the covenant. This time, though, with the help of thunder from heaven, the Israelites chased the confused Philistine host from the hilltop village of Mizpah back down into the lowlands. 

At the base of the hill, as far as the Israelite army has come, Samuel takes a big rock, sets it up as a memorial, and names it “Ebenezer,” which means “the stone of help.” In other words, “Here is how far we pursued the Philistines with God’s help.” Ebenezer is a memorial stone, not a person (and frankly, it’s kind of weird for people to name their kids after a rock!).

The line in “O Thou Fount” is talking about something similar. Obviously, we aren’t in the habit of raising literal memorial stones anymore (the landscape of ancient Israel must have been littered with them). However, we can look back, consider all of the intimidating trials we’ve faced in the past (as Samuel and the Israelites were intimidated by the Philistines), and say to ourselves, “If it weren’t for God’s help, I wouldn’t be here today.” When we raise a mental Ebenezer, we are making a special point of remembering what God has done for us already and anticipating what He will do for us in future.

It’s certainly important to remember this as we sing the hymn, but it’s even more important for us to do it. In the future, the devil certainly is going to fill our path with the most severe trials that God will allow him to use. He wants them to be as intimidating and awful as possible because he hopes that our fear will lead us to turn away from following God. Fear of the future is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons.

However, we can guard ourselves against that fear by remembering God’s faithfulness in the past. The Bible is full of stories of people whom God protected as He had promised. It’s good to remember those, but it may be even more effective to recall the times that God has protected us personally from trials that seemed overwhelming at the time. Could Lauren and I have made it through the aftermath of our daughter’s death without God? No way! However, God was faithful. He kept His promises and got us through it.

If I make that memory into my Ebenezer, every time I face another trial (though nothing so severe, hopefully!), I can look back to it. I can say to myself, “If God helped me make it through the loss of Macy, surely He will see me through this!” When we have raised our Ebenezers, they will give us confidence that we too will arrive safely at home.

Matthew Bassford