Ebenezer

1 Samuel 7

Who or what is an “Ebenezer,” anyway?  Ebenezer is not a hunched over, grizzled old man, like Ebenezer Scrooge.  Literally, “Ebenezer” means “stone of help,” a symbol of God’s presence and help. Spiritually and theologically speaking, an Ebenezer can be almost anything that reminds us of those times when God intervened in our lives: the Bible, the communion elements, a cross, a picture, a fellow believer, a hymn – those things which serve as reminders of God’s love, God’s presence, and God’s assistance are “Ebenezers.”  Keep that definition in mind as we study 1 Samuel 7.

Setting the scene

When the Philistines routed the Israelite army and captured the Ark of the Covenant, they thought they had so demoralized the Israelites that they would soon disintegrate as a nation.  Taking the Ark back home with them, the Philistines thought they had stolen the power of God, foolishly thinking they now possessed it.  What they discovered was the power of God all right, but manifested in His unspeakable wrath being poured out on the godless Philistines.  In an effort to dispose of the Ark, realizing their great mistake in taking it, they sent back to the Israelites.

By purely supernatural means, the Ark made it back into Israelite territory, a town known as Beth Shemesh.  It must have been quite a sight, seeing the golden Ark of God being drawn along the desert road by a couple of cows, not a human pilot in sight.  Where did it come from?  How did it get to Beth Shemesh all by itself?  Their minds full of questions, some men of the town approached the Ark.  Sadly, they obviously forgot the teachings of their Law—

So that they may live and not die when they come near the most holy things, do this for them: Aaron and his sons are to go into the sanctuary and assign to each man his work and what he is to carry.  But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die.”  (Numbers 4:19—20)

In 6:19, we see what happens to those whose curiosity gets the best of them—

But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD.

God was not being mean, the men were being disobedient, and the price of disobeying the Word of the Lord is high.  The Hebrew text means literally, “the looked with profane curiosity” into the Ark.  They did not just look at it, they approached it and looked into it, something expressly forbidden by God.  Although the KJV says 50,000 men died, that is probably a gloss, the correct rendering being 70 men.

This severe judgment so alarmed the towns people, they exclaimed correctly—

“Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?”  (6:20)

The people realized the great error that had been committed by the curious 70, and they knew they were no better than those who had died, and that sinners cannot stand in the presence of a Holy God, be they Philistine or Jew.  The very last sentence of verse 20 shows that the people of God had finally started to “get it”—

“To whom will the ark go up from here?”

In the Hebrew, the sentence reads a little different:

“And to whom shall He go away from us?”

The subject of the sentence is God, not the Ark.  This shows us that the people of God, at least in the town of Beth Shemesh, had realized the Ark was merely a symbol;that the real power was in the presence of God.  Their superstitious attachment to the golden box was returning to faith in the invisible God.

1.  The Ark returned and so did the people

The terrified population of Beth Shemesh sent word to the priests at Kirjath-jearim, another Israelite town about 10 miles away.  They recognized that only holy men, dedicated to God, should be in possession of the Ark of God.  Eventually, the Ark found its way into the home of Abinadab, whose son Eleazar was a priest of God, and there the Ark would remain for some “20 years,” or about half a Biblical generation.

Notice during this time, the attitude and posture of the people of Israel.  God had used two tragic events; the humiliating defeat of the army and the death of 30,000 soldiers and the capture of the Ark, to teach His people a life lesson they desperately needed to remember, for they had been taught it before, but like most of God’s people, they had very short memories:  obedience brings God’s blessing, disobedience brings misery.   Before there could be “Ebenezer,” before God would help them, 5 things had to happen:

  • Contrition, verse 2:  …all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD.  Before the Lord came to help His people, they “mourned and sought” after Him.  How far these people had come!  It was just a few years earlier they treated the Ark of God like a lucky rabbit’s foot, assuming God would help them in battle without asking Him.  Now they realized that God’s presence and His help cannot be taken for granted; God, not the help needed, must be sought after.  Recall what our Lord said:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  (Matthew 6:33)

Christians are very good at seeking “things” from God, but we are not so proficient at seeking Him first.  Perhaps we would have more success in our prayer life if we actually sought after God before we asked Him for stuff.

  • Confession, verse 6:  “We have sinned against the LORD.” Before God can condescend to help anybody, he must first realize his true problem:  he is a sinner, completely unable to help himself in any way.  So often, the unsaved come to God during a time of crisis for help, asking Him to do work some miracle, without realizing God cannot even hear their prayers because He doesn’t know them because He is not their Father.  It all starts with “confession.”
  • Conversion, verse 3:  “… commit yourselves to the LORD. “ God wants to help people who love Him, not use Him.  He wants a relationship with people, not one night stands.
  • Separation, verse 3:  “…rid yourselves of the foreign gods.” God wants His people to be “in the world, not of the world.”  If we would serve God with all our hearts, then He must own all our hearts.  Jesus said that nobody could serve two masters.  If Jesus Christ is not Lord of your whole life, then He is not Lord at all.  Paul, in admonishing the Corinthians, wrote this—

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 11:2—3)

  • Consecration, verse 3:  “…serve him only…” God wants full-time children.  He is, after all, a full-time God and Heavenly father to His children.

Before we may expect God’s presence and help, it would be wise to see if we have these 5 preconditions in order.  If so, then we are ready to ask God for help.

2.  What “Ebenezer” really means

Earlier, we defined “Ebenezer.”  What I wrote was the standard, theologically orthodox definition.  But, apart from theologians, “Ebenezer” means others things to other people.  “Ebenezer,” according to what Samuel said in verse 12, speaks of:

  • Redemption“Thus far…” In Samuel’s mind, this was pointing back to all the miraculous deliverance Israel had experienced collectively since the Exodus.  Once they were in bondage, slaves to their Egyptian task masters, but God had gloriously freed them.  Similarly, God has redeemed us from the pit of sin.  1 Peter 1:18 says it succinctly—

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers.

  • Preservation“Thus far has…” The Lord had been present, and the Lord had kept His people safe.  Time and again He had demonstrated His lovingkindness toward His people.  He guided them as a Shepherd guides His sheep.  God keeps the feet of His saints on the right path, too, according to Proverbs 2:8—

For he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Paul’s brief prayer for the Thessalonians would be a good prayer for us to pray for ourselves, and each other—

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

  • Answered Prayer“Thus far has the Lord helped…” Verse 9 shows us both the heart of God and the heart of a godly man—

Samuel cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him.

James Smith put it so powerfully when he observed:

The rain comes down according to the vapor that ascends.

Prayer that ascends to God from a burning heart is prayer that gets His attention.  Every prayer that is asked in faith believing will be answered.

  • God’s Faithfulness, “Thus far has the LORD helped us…” The Lord helped His people since the day they left Egypt; He never failed His people.  As long as His people never failed Him, God was there for them.  Down to this day, God continues to keep the promises He made to those who serve Him.  The apostle Paul wrote these inspired, encouraging words to the Philippians, but he could very well have written to us today—

[B]eing confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 1:6)

Maybe The Mighty Clouds of Joy had that verse in mind when they sang their classic gospel song, “He Didn’t Bring Us This Far To Leave Us”—

Chorus 1:
He didn’t bring us this far to leave us
He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown
He didn’t build His home in us to move away
He didn’t lift us up to let us down

There are some promises in a letter
Written a long, long time ago
They’re not getting older, they’re getting better
Because He still wants us to know

Chorus 2:
He didn’t bring us this far to leave us
He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown
He didn’t build His home in us to move away
He didn’t lift us up to let us down (to let us down, let us down)
He didn’t lift us up to let us down

I read those promises in His letter
And now I claim them for my own
Filling my heart and making life better
And I just wanted you to know

Repeat Chorus 2

Never use the word defeat
Claim His promises, every one of them
And every spoken word He’ll hear
Because we’re everything to Him

Repeat Chorus 2

He didn’t lift us up to let us down

That the Lord has helped His people is an amazing testimony.  He helps us and we give Him the praise He deserves.  What good things do we have that God has not given us?  What have we done to deserve God’s attention and blessings?   Is there any reason why any of us should hesitate to give God praise?

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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