1 And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord and brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill. And they consecrated his son Eleazar to have charge of the ark of the Lord. 2 From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord. 3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “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.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. 5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. 7 Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. 8 And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. 10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. 11 And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car. 12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. 14 The cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites.15 Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16 And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places. 17 Then he would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the Lord.
(1 Samuel 7:1-17)
After the Philistines were defeated before Israel, Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer, which means “stone of help”.
Setting up memorials was a common practice in Israel. In the book of Joshua, for example, there are six times when the people of Israel set up memorials to the great things God had done for them [Joshua 4:1-8 et. al].
By setting up this memorial, Samuel kept Israel from gloating over their victory. The name of the stone was a reminder to Israel that it was not they, but God, who defeated the Philistines.
Its interesting to see why Samuel chose to name the stone “Ebenezer”. He did it because “Till now the Lord has helped us.“. With the use of the phrase “Till now”, Samuel was telling the people of Israel two things.
The first thing Samuel was saying was that God had been helping Israel prior to that point. This did not just include the battle that was just fought. It included everything that had happened to Israel prior.
This included the suppression Israel had experienced for many years under the Philistines [Judges 15:20]. It included Israel’s previous defeats and the subsequent capturing of the ark [1 Samuel 4:1-10].
Even though those events seemed to be a result of God abandoning Israel (as some of them thought), it was really God helping Israel. God was helping Israel to come to an understanding of themselves and of sin and of Him.
Some of God’s teachings come in form of blessings. Some come in the form of discipline. God deals with us exactly as we need at any point in time. His goal is always the same: to mature us and grow us to be more like Him [Leviticus 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16].
The second thing that Samuel was telling Israel with the phrase “Till now” was that they should not begin to take God’s blessings for granted going forward. They couldn’t revert back to worshipping Baal and Ashtaroth and expect God to give them victory over their enemies. If they wanted to continue to receive God’s blessings, they would need to continue to build their relationship with Him. If they wanted God to honor them, they would need to honor Him [1 Samuel 2:30].
God loves His children. In the Old Testament, God’s children was Israel. In the New Testament (the times in which we currently live) God’s children are those who have been born-again through faith in Jesus [John 1:12-13, 3:3]. And just like an earthly child can expect his/her parents to bless them at time and discipline them at time, so too can God’s adopted children.
Not everything that happens to a child of God is pleasant. But everything has a purpose. That purpose, from God’s point of view, is to draw people to Him while they live on this earth so that they can spend eternity with Him in heaven for ever.
God wants nothing but the best for us; He wants to bless us [Jeremiah 29:11]. The best way to ensure God’s blessing in our lives is to stay away from sin and walk closely with Him [Psalm 1:1-3]. Otherwise, He may have to discpline us to get us back on track.
But if God’s discipline does get us back on track, well then, that discipline was really a blessing, wasn’t it?
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.