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‘Here I Raise My Ebenezer …’

Date December 9, 2013

The allusion would be lost on most. ‘Here I raise my Ebenezer …’ Who or what is Ebenezer? Those of a more literary turn might remember the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. But the action itself – raising my Ebenezer – would leave just about everyone these days scratching their head.

The words are from one of our older and deservedly most popular hymns, ‘Come, thou Fount of ev’ry blessing’, by Robert Robinson. They recall one of the high points in Old Testament history. At a time of national repentance and return to the Lord the Israelites were set upon by their arch-enemies the Philistines. When the prophet Samuel cried out to the Lord for them, however, the Lord memorably delivered them. And this was Samuel’s response: he ‘took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord has helped us”‘ (1 Sam. 7:12, KJV).

Ebenezer means ‘stone of help’. In setting it up and giving it the name that he did, Samuel was bearing public testimony to the fact that right up to that point in Israel’s history the Lord had been their helper. The purpose of the stone was to commemorate the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness to his people over many generations. It served at once to give glory to God and needed encouragement to his people.

When we sing, then,

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by thy help I’m come

we understand what we’re doing. We too are looking back. We too are reminding ourselves how kind and faithful the Lord has been to us. In all our tasks and troubles he has been our constant help. His goodness and mercy have been following us all the days of our lives. We are publicly acknowledging it. We are giving him glory for it. ‘Hitherto’ – right to this present hour – ‘hath the Lord helped us‘.

And nor will that change. The hymn continues,

And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

That hope will not disappoint us. Perseverance to the end is one of the marks of the true child of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The God who has helped us thus far will go on working in us until his purposes of grace for us are complete.

Unless the Lord Jesus returns in our lifetime each believer reading this will have to cross the river of death. And each of us will do the very same thing when he reaches the other side. We will raise our Ebenezer. We will ask, ‘Why am I, a miserable sinner, in this holy and happy place?’ And in answer we will give all the glory to our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is wholly because from beginning to end he helped us. We were lost and he found us. We were weak and he strengthened us. We were vulnerable and he protected us. We were ready to halt and he enabled us to press on to the end. And now we are here, ourselves an eternal monument to the God who graciously helps.

David Campbell is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

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