Here I Raise Mine Ebenezer
1 Samuel 7: 2 –
Today is our annual church picnic—the day we set aside to recognize our church anniversary.
According to our church history, First Baptist Church was born sometime in July 1883. I say sometime in July, because the best we can tell there was no First Baptist Church at the end of June but there was a First Baptist Church by the end of July. Traditionally, we have split the difference and claimed July 15 as our church anniversary. July 15 is just as good a date as any.
Wait a minute…Today is not July 15. That’s because July 15 is a good date for everything except a church picnic. It’s too hot in July to have a picnic, so we recognize our church anniversary on the first Sunday of May—a great day for a picnic.
Thinking about our church anniversary led me to think of the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and the biblical story of the phrase, “Here I Raise Mine Ebenezer.”
1 Samuel 7: 2 – 17… 2 It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD. 3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, "If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.
5 Then Samuel said, "Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the LORD for you." 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, "We have sinned against the LORD." And Samuel was leader of Israel at Mizpah.
7 When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. And when the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, "Do not stop cryingout to the LORD our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines." 9 Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it up as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. He cried out to the LORD on Israel's behalf, and the LORD answered him.
10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far has the LORD helped us." 13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israelite territory again.
Throughout Samuel's lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines. 14 The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to her, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the power of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.
15 Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. 16 From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places.17 But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also judged Israel. And he built an altar there to the LORD.
I believe this biblical story functions on three distinct levels.
First, this is a story about Samuel. Of course, that makes sense…the name of this Old Testament book is 1 Samuel…Therefore, since this book bears Samuel’s name, the whole book must be about Samuel (in one way or another).
This is the first time in the book of 1 Samuel that we get to see Samuel fulfilling his God-given role as judge / leader over Israel. If we begin reading the book of 1 Samuel at chapter one, we know from the very beginning of the story that Samuel is going to grow up to be someone special. Samuel’s mother could not have children, so she prayed that God would give her a child. She even made a bargain with God…If God would give her a child, she would give him back to be used by God. Then, we see Samuel serving alongside Eli in the Temple. (Samuel was learning how to be a priest.) While performing his priestly duties, Samuel received a word from the Lord that Eli is unfaithful and that Samuel is faithful. Therefore, God is going to bring judgment on the house of Eli; God is going to take the priesthood away from Eli and his two sons; and God is going to bless Samuel as the next prophet-priest over Israel.
Here, for the first time, Samuel fulfills his God-given role as leader over Israel. Eli and his sons are dead. There is a leadership vacuum. Samuel steps into that leadership vacuum and allows God to use him.
Second, this is a story about the nation of Israel. Of course, that makes sense, too…This story is in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament tells the story of Israel. God took a people who were not a nation and established them as a nation. God took a nation of slaves in Egypt and led them out of slavery and formed them into their own nation by making a covenant with them. God gave them his Law and his requirements. God promised to rescue them, establish them, provide for them, and use them to share God’s message of salvation with all of the nations of the world.
This story is one of many stories where it looks like God’s covenant and God’s message of salvation might be in jeopardy. The nation of Israel isn’t looking very good right now. Israel has been taken over by the Philistines. The Philistines have won a series of military battles against Israel. They have stolen the Ark of the Covenant from Israel, and Israel is now overrun with false gods—Baals and Ashtoreths.
Biblical Pattern of Revival
There is a recurring theme in the Bible that began in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and continues throughout the rest of Scripture. God calls us to be obedient and to live our lives dependent on God to provide for all our needs. However, we would rather be independent (captain of our own souls, master of our own fates). Sin and disobedience appear to be very attractive. So, God’s people give in to temptation and turn our backs on God’s will and God’s Word.
Of course, it doesn’t take very long to figure out that sin cannot deliver on its promises. Disobedience isn’t as fulfilling as we thought it would be. Independence never seems to work out the way we planned.
After twenty years of trying to do things their way, the people of Israel finally recognized that God’s way is better than their ways. It is better to be obedient than disobedient. It is better to be dependent on God than independent. The people mourned all they had lost and asked Samuel to help them turn back to the LORD.
I think it is significant that this is the first time we see Samuel as an adult. The first time we see Samuel as an adult he is stepping into a leadership vacuum and leading the entire nation of Israel through a crisis.
At first glance, it looks as if Israel is facing a political crisis. But, Samuel recognizes this crisis for what it is. It is a spiritual crisis. Israel has ventured away from God and God’s ways. They have been trying to do things their way. Samuel, in his first act of leadership, leads the entire nation of Israel to experience a spiritual awakening.
This Scripture describes three important aspects of spiritual awakening. Samuel called the people to REPENT from their sins. They demonstrated their repentance through fasting and by pouring out water without drinking it. Samuel called the people to REFORM their worship. They threw away all the false gods—the Baals and the Ashtoreths. Samuel called the people to RENEW their commitment to serve the LORD—the one true God of Heaven and earth—and to serve him only…
God Fights for Israel
While Samuel was calling on the Name of the LORD and leading the people of Israel in spiritual awakening, something very interesting happened. While Samuel was calling out to God, the Philistines attacked the people of Israel.
According to the Scripture, all the people were gathered together in one place for the sacrifices and the worship service. Perhaps the Philistines saw this as a good opportunity to attack—the people are all in one place and are distracted. From a practical standpoint, this was a good opportunity to attack.
Of course, we could also say the same thing happens to anyone who is doing what God wants us to do. When anyone recommits their life to the LORD, repents from their sins and prays for spiritual awakening…the enemy is going to attack. The enemy is not interested in people who are disobeying God. He wants to attack the faithful and to derail spiritual awakening before it can happen.
Notice what happens in verse 10. WHILE Samuel continued to offer sacrifices and WHILE the people sought the LORD’s will, the LORD fought against the Philistines. The LORD thundered and caused the Philistines to become so confused that the Philistine armies were defeated before Israel even got finished praying. The LORD did all the fighting; and the LORD and won the battle. All the Israelite army had to do was to pursue a fleeing enemy.
In one sense, this is a story of Samuel’s rise to a position of leadership…AND, this is a story about Israel. But, the most important part of this story is what it tells us about God. Israel did not win the battle against the Philistines. Samuel did not win the battle against the Philistines. God won the battle.
A Call to Remember
Verse 12 is where we get the lyrics to the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
Here I raise mine Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I'm come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Hither by Thy help I'm come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
The Hebrew name “Ebenezer” is actually a combination of two Hebrew words: eben = stone and ezer = help. Therefore, “Ebenezer” can be translated “stone of help,” or “this stone is my helper,” or “my helper is a stone.” It is interesting that both of these words are used to describe the LORD. The LORD is strong like a stone / rock. The LORD is my helper in time of need. This leads me to believe it is best to translate, “Every time I see this stone, I will remember who helped me.”
Samuel didn’t think that stone was the literal source of their help against the Philistines. Samuel didn’t think God could be captured, contained, or even represented by an inanimate rock! No. This rock was to be a reminder of the time and the place where God stepped in and defeated the Philistines.
Verse 12 says, “Thus far has the LORD helped us.” The words of the hymn say, “Hither by Thy help I’m come.” Both “thus far” and “hither” give us a couple of options about exactly what Samuel was saying when he placed a stone and named it Ebenezer.
It is possible that Samuel was referring to geography. “Thus far has the LORD helped us.” The Israelites had been on the move for hundreds of years. God led them every step of the way from one place to another place. Maybe Samuel is building this Ebenezer to say, “God got us this far and no farther…This is the end of the road.”
It is also possible that Samuel was referring to time. “Thus far has the LORD helped us.” The entire history of Israel was in God’s hands. They were slaves in Egypt who had no national identity of their own. Then, God brought them out of slavery and established them as God’s own nation. Israel was not the largest nation and was not the wealthiest nation. But, Israel was special because God chose to work in them and through them. Israel’s relationship with God is what made them special.
(The words of the hymn choose to interpret Ebenezer as temporal / historical rather than geographical. This is obvious in the words that follow Ebenezer: “And I hope by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home.” Ebenezer is not the end of the journey. Home / Heaven / Eternity…This is where our journey takes us. As long as we are still living, God is still leading us, God is still our Stone and our Help.)
This biblical story functions on three distinct levels. First, it is a story about Samuel and his rise to a position of leadership. Second, it is a story about Israel and the way God provides for his people. Third, this is a story about you and me! (In fact, I like to think this is the way we are supposed to read the stories of the Bible. The Bible is more than a collection of stories about people like Samuel and the ancient people of Israel. The Bible contains my story, your story, our story…)
Today, I would like to suggest that this is the story of Lufkin’s First Baptist Church. According to Wikipedia, the city of Lufkin was founded in 1882. According to our church history, Lufkin’s First Baptist Church was founded in 1883—just one year after people started calling Lufkin their home.
In 1883, First Baptist Church started out with 9 members. In 2014, there are more than 1,000 members of our church. That does not even consider the 12 churches in Lufkin that we have planted and the 3 mission churches that are still a part of FBC. Thanks to those 9 charter members, there are now 16 Baptist churches and missions in the city of Lufkin.
Sometimes I wonder what those original 9 members would think about us today. Did they have any idea that they were starting a church that would live on for 131 years? Did they know that thousands of people would become Christians as a result of their decision to start a new church? Did they know there would be hundreds of young men and women answer God’s call to become ministers, missionaries and church leaders because they started a church 131 years ago?
Just as Israel was not the largest, strongest or wealthiest nation in the world, First Baptist Church might not be the largest, strongest or wealthiest church. What made Israel special is the same thing that makes First Baptist Church special…it is our relationship to God. God is at work in us and through us to change the world.
Thus far the LORD has helped First Baptist Church. The pastors haven’t won the victories. The church hasn’t won the victories. The LORD has won the victories. And as long as we are alive…As long as we are a church…God is not finished with his work in us and through us. This is not the end of the journey.