What do you think of when you hear the word Ebenezer? Scrooge? Charles Dickens? Yeah, me too. A miserable, grouchy old man who won’t be charitable for anything…. until the end of the story, of course, but the image sticks.
But in the last few weeks, it’s been popping up around me, and none of those times were in the context of A Christmas Carol. When that happens, I tend to listen, because I tend to wonder if maybe somebody somewhere might be trying to teach me something.
The first place I heard it was at work, of all places. I teach English as a Second Language, and my case load is populated mostly by low German speaking Mennonite students. Because of the prevalence of these students in one of my schools, the Christmas program is still pretty much the way I remember Christmas programs being when I was in elementary schools — about Christmas. Now, don’t misunderstand me — I work in public schools, and I’m not about to go preaching that Christ is being ripped out of Christmas just because public schools don’t typically sing songs about Jesus at Christmas pageants anymore. But at this school, because of the climate of the school, the kids do — because it’s what mostly everyone thinks and believes. One of the classes I’m working in is singing an old hymn in low German at the Christmas concert. I recognized it to hear them practicing, but because they’re singing in German (which to my dismay I do not speak), I couldn’t place it. Thankfully, one of the boys was familiar with its English counterpart and was able to tell me that it’s “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which has this as one of the verses:
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
First thought: What does Ebenezer mean?? Being a person who loves words, I wouldn’t let that one go. And even if I’d been tempted, the word kept coming back up anyway.
P.S. Fifteen middle schoolers singing Come Thou Fount in their first language? Yeah, try not to choke up while they practice…. just try.
It came back again while listening to an Audio Book. The thing with these schools is that they’re not really close at all to where I live in the city. They’re quite rural, and they’re about an hour away from my house. That means I spend two hours a day most days in my car. That means I plow through Audio Books like nobody’s business. Thank you, Audible! So I was listening to Lara Casey’s “Cultivate What Matters” ahead of my PowerSheets prep for 2018 (this whole sentence will get a whole other post at the end of December…. wait for it……) and it came up again. Lara Casey started talking about Ebenezer, and then she even sang that verse of Come Thou Fount in the audio book! I just love it when audio books are read by their authors. That brought the word slamming back to the forefront of my memory. And if that didn’t solidify the need to look it up and figure this out, didn’t I drive past a church called Ebenezer Christian Reformed Church on my way to a Christmas party that night?
OK, I get it. I have something to learn here.
If you read 1 Samuel 7, you read the story of the Israelites going out to do battle against the Phillistines while Samuel was making a burnt offering. God sent them supernatural help — verses 10-12 say:
10 Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. 11 The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car, slaughtering them all along the way.
12 Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah.[a] He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”
Now, I’m not into slaughtering people, and I definitely believe that Jesus came in part so that we no longer need to do physical battle against each other. That said, it’s pretty clear that God helped Israel here, and the Israelites can see that. Samuel named a stone “The Stone of Help” for a reason.
Lara Casey writes a book using the metaphor of gardening to help us cultivate what matters into our lives (again, more at the end of December), and in it she encourages readers to find a stone, and literally put it into your garden or somewhere in your home as an Ebenezer. A stone of help. A reminder that the Lord is a helper to us. A visual reminder that God is good.
The Lord is my helper. The Lord is my Ebenezer. Now I need to go find an actual, physical stone to put somewhere in my house to remind myself of this when the big feelings roll in.
Ebenezer means “stone of help.” From then on, every time an Israelite saw the stone erected by Samuel, he would have a tangible reminder of the Lord’s power and protection. The “stone of help” marked the spot where the enemy had been routed and God’s promise to bless His repentant people had been honored. The Lord had helped them, all the way to Ebenezer.