Ebenezer…What The Dickens Does It Mean?

Ebenezer ScroogeCharles Dickens authored story titled A Christmas Carol. Ever heard of it? The main character in the story was Ebenezer Scrooge. I’m not going to rehash that story, because you all know what the story is about…old Ebenezer Scrooge is stingy and doesn’t like Christmas, ghosts from the past, present, and future haunt him on Christmas Eve, he wakes up on Christmas morning a changed man, which in this case means, generous.

OK…so I did rehash the story, but then again, you read along while I rehashed it!

I’m not really concerned about Scrooge in this post, but I am very interested in his first name, ‘Ebenezer’. You see, Ebenezer is a Bible word. And the Bible tells us in 1 Samuel 7:12 that the prophet Samuel named a rock ‘Ebenezer’.‘Ebby’

So now we have two ‘Ebenezers’! The name ‘Ebenezer’ we find is in reality a Hebrew word which means stone of help (eben=stone, ezer=help). I’m not sure if this was of any significance for Charles Dickens when he picked this name for the main character in his story, but when Samuel named the stone in 1 Samuel 7 ‘Ebenezer’, the name took on a great theological significance for Israel.

Let’s set the context, very quickly. Israel has been in the Promised Land for around 300-400 years. During this time in the Canaan, they have repeatedly fallen into sin followed by captivity or oppression from the Canaanite tribes around them. After a period of time God sends a Judge, Israel repents, and God delivers them from their oppressors. The context of 1 Samuel 7 is no different.

Israel has sinned once again. They have added pagan rituals into the worship of Jehovah. (1Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25) God promised to judge the house of Eli because of these pagan practices. (1Samuel 2:34) And, just as God promised, Eli’s two sons are killed on the same day as they carry the Ark of the Covenant into war. Eli dies and the Ark of the Covenant is taken from Israel by the Philistines. (1 Samuel 4:11, 17-18)

God miraculously brings the Ark back to Israel, where after being profaned by the Israelites of Beth-shemesh, God slaughters some of the people. (1 Samuel 5, 6) So the men of Beth-shemesh send the Ark to Kirjath-jearim, where it remains for twenty years. (1 Samuel 7:1-2)

During all of this time, the Philistines ‘oppress’ Israel. The Philistines have taken control, as it were, of the land that had been promised to Israel. But also during this time, Samuel is faithful to preach the Words of God to Israel. His message to Israel is,

“If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” (1 Samuel 7:3)

Over time the message sinks in and Israel’s heart is turned towards Jehovah once again. And God fulfills the promise that He has made through the mouth of his prophet, Samuel. Samuel gathers all of Israel at Mizpeh where they fast before the Lord. When the Philistines hear that Israel has congregated at Mizpeh, they send their armies to put down what they presume is an insurrection.

When Israel hears that the Philistines are coming they are afraid. contrast this with the rashness and over-confidence twenty years earlier as they assume that God will not let them lose to the pagan Philistines. This time is different. They have been broken. Instead of making sure God was on their side, they make sure this time to be on God’s side.

And God thunders from heaven against the Philistines, who are then easily routed by the Israelite armies. As Israel returns from the battlefield, Samuel sets up a stone as a monument to mark the occasion. He calls the stone ‘Ebenezer’.

As he does this he is making known to all Israel that God is their Rock. But he is also reminding Israel of their past. He calls the stone Ebenezer because, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”

Till now…As Samuel utters these words, he does not only acknowledge God’s help in the battle that was fought that day, but he acknowledges God’s help throughout Israel’s history. From the time that God called Abram out of Ur, to the exodus out of Egypt, to the crossing of the Jordan, through all of the battles and conquests, Samuel tells Israel, “God did it all.”

When Robert Robinson penned the words to Come Thou Fount, he remembered Samuel’s words at Mizpeh. He then applied those words to his own life,

“Here I raise mine Ebenezer, Hither by Thy grace I’ve come…”

These are good words. They are words that we need to continually be reminded of. As we pass through each day that God has given us, we must never forget where He has brought us from. And with that recognition we must daily acknowledge His grace in our lives. The only reason the Apostle Paul could give for his status as an Apostle was,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1Co 15:10 ESV)

This too, is our testimony, I am what I am only by the grace of God. Hither by God’s grace we’ve come. It was God who knew us before we were, who created us, who sent His Son to die for us, who raised His Son from the dead, who sent His Spirit to seal us, and it is God who will bring us safely home. And all of that apart from any merit on our part.

Raise your Ebenezer.

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5 Comments

Filed under doxology, Samuel

5 responses to “Ebenezer…What The Dickens Does It Mean?

  1. Pete Nelson

    Trouble is Jeremy my friend most churches that I have attended have removed that particular verse out of their hymnal and substituted another. I will not be churlish and suggest their reasonings but rather register my disapproval in changing such a wonderful old hymn.

  2. I don’t like it when people change the words to hymns either, Peter.

  3. Brian Thornton

    Great post, Jeremy.

    We just sang that hymn Sunday before last, and thankfully, our version included that verse.

    Thanks for the explanation of what it means. I recall feeling a bit ignorant as we sang it because I wasn’t well-versed in the verse! Now I am equipped!

  4. Yes, i am very irritated that both the hymnals I work with change the words. Do the editors think that people are stupid, or that pastors cannot explain what hymns mean?

  5. Is there any connection betweeen the word “ezer” and the word “hussar?” The Hussars are/were elite cavalry units that scout and rescue. Some hussars even had “wings” attached to their uniforms, according to some websites.

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