James Gunn

“Ebenezer” is a great word to take with us into the New Year. You will both enjoy and be encouraged by this article from the pen of our associate editor, Mr. James Gunn.

There were three Bible texts which for many years hung in my father’s home: “Thou remainest” (Heb. 1:11), “That in all things He might have the preminence” (Col. 1:18), and “Ebenezer, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12). These are an indication of the Christian atmosphere in which I was raised. Needless to say, these three texts will never be forgotten by me. I can visualize them as they hung in their respective places. The Ebenezer text hung in the hallway; the other two, hand painted and real works of art, hung on either side of the fireplace. It is the one that hung in the hallway to which I would call attention: “Ebenezer, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

Ever since the days of Abraham, Israel had been raising pillars, altars and markers to commemorate events in history. Jacob’s stones identified Bethel, and a stone marked the spot where the covenant was made between Jacob and Laban.

Mount Moriah was the marker which indicated where Abraham had offered up Isaac, the place where he set up the testimony to Jehovahjireh. Samuel, following this historic practice, put up the stone “Ebenezer” as a memorial to God’s timely help.

Defeat and Victory

At this same geographic spot, before it was called Ebenezer, Israel had suffered an ignominious defeat. It was there that they had lost the holy ark to the Philistines (1 Sam. 5:1). Because of that defeat, the aged priest Eli was stricken and died, and in the defeat his two sons were killed. On hearing this news, the wife of one of the sons died after naming her new-born baby “Ichabod,” meaning, the glory is departed.

The feeling of gloom, depression and despair remained upon Israel for twenty years, and we read: “All the house of Israel lamented before the Lord” (1 Sam. 7:2).

Samuel records the great change that eventually came over the nation, the mighty and unexpected victory that God brought to His troubled people. Well might one ask, “How did all this come about?”

The Consciousness of Need

There is no doubt that the prophet sensed the weakness of the people. Nevertheless, he realized that in some measure, at least, they were seeking after God. Consequently, he promised saying, “I will pray for you unto the Lord” (1 Sam. 7:5). How like our blessed Lord in heaven: “He ever liveth to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25).

Immediately Samuel gathered Israel together to Mizpah, meaning a watch-tower, a true prelude to Ebenezer. There the people performed a simple ceremony that was the very symbol of their weakness and need: “They drew water and poured it out before the Lord” (1 Sam. 7:6).

The wise woman of Tekoa said to David, “We must needs die, and are as water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again” (2 Sam. 14:14). How frail humanity is, especially under attack! Obviously the need was great.

Water spilled on the ground is the symbol of total helplessness; it is irrecoverable. The withering of the grass and flowers, the shadow that declineth, the vapor and the moisture which so quickly evaporate, all indicate how transcient human strength and competence are. This is constantly demonstrated in the numerous changes which are daily seen in the world system.

The Appeal For Help

Midst such circumstance the appeal for help was strong: “Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us” (1 Sam. 7:8). Here is a definite consciousness of weakness, frailty and inadequacy. Israel was driven to make an appeal for divine assistance and deliverance.

The Source of Help

“Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel, and the Lord heard him” (1 Sam. 7:9). The Apostle John asserts: “If we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him” (1 John 5:15). The consciousness of helplessness and the sincere call for help provided the very assurance that help would be provided.

“Samuel then took a suckling lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering unto the Lord” (1 Sam. 7:9). Of Israel’s future remnant it is said: “They overcame the accuser of the brethren by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12:11). Even so was it here.

What precious pictures of the work of Christ for His beloved people are found here. He is a Great High Priest forever and His priestly service is always available. His priesthood is unalterable, immutable and constant. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). His intercession rests upon His accomplishments at Calvary. Christ died that we might live, and He ever lives to make intercession for us.

The Sufficiency of Divine Help

“The Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and routed them, and they were smitten before Israel” (1 Sam. 7:10). As Israel stood on the shores of the Red Sea and saw her former slave-masters overthrown, she said, “Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy” (Ex. 15:6). Even so was it here in Samuel’s day.

It is interesting to notice that God’s answer to Israel’s appeal for help was by natural means — a thunderstorm. God frequently does this. He used a natural calamity to elevate Joseph to become prime minister of Egypt. He still uses natural means in the hands of His people to support His testimony and service, and to give furtherance to His cause and triumph over evil.

Alexander the Great called the mountain where he defeated Darius the Mead, the “Hill of Conquest.” It was a name that appealed to his ego, being a memorial to his ability, sagacity and stratagem.

Samuel inscribed upon the great stone the words, “Ebenezer, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” He did not boast of human valor, but of the divine power and grace which were extended to meet the need of God’s people.

The Stone of Help reminds us of a victory in Israel’s earlier history. Amalek attacked the nation as it moved along in the wilderness, but it is recorded: “Joshua discomfited Amalek with the edge of the sword” (Ex. 17:13-17). Then the results are added: “Moses built an altar, and called it Jehovah-nissi (the Lord is my banner).” May we follow this example and see to it that we ever give all praise and glory unto the Lord.