Ebenezer is only mentioned three times in the Bible. By definition, Ebenezer means “stone of help.”
The background of its meaning and significance begins in 1 Samuel 4 with Israel and the Philistines.
1. A Place of Defeat
Israel set up camp beside Ebenezer in preparation for battle against the Philistines. During this period of time, Israel was infected with the worship of idols, practiced rituals, and neglected offerings to the Lord.
In 1 Samuel 2:24, we are told, “[n]ay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord’s people to transgress.” While in this sinful state, the elders of Israel felt if they fetched the Ark of the Covenant and had it within the camp, it would provide them with the protection of the Lord in battle. Great excitement came within the Israelite camp when the Ark of the Covenant arrived. The exclamation was so great “that the earth rang” (1 Samuel 4:5).
The Philistines were intimidated by the shouts and screams under the assumption God was within the camp of Israel. They remembered from history and said, “these are the gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness” (1 Samuel 4:8). Nevertheless, the Philistines fought, and Israel suffered great loss.
After a great defeat, the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines from Ebenezer to Ashdod.
Further, the priests Hophni and Phinehas were slain. Upon hearing of their demise, their father Eli fell backward breaking his neck, and died because he knew their deaths fulfilled the prophesy mentioned in 1 Samuel 2:34, “[a]nd this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them.”
2. A Place of Lamentation
Israel was under the mistaken assumption that God’s protection would be present so long as she continued in idol worship. In this sinful state, Israel felt the possession of the arc of the covenant was symbolic of the divine presence. They were led to summon the Ark based upon the former successes when it was in her possession. However, this foolish reliance led to defeat since no confidence was rightly placed in God.
Since the defeat at the hands of the Philistines, 20 years had passed. In 1 Samuel 7:3, Samuel addressed all of Israel and advised them, “if ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”
Israel responded in kind and discontinued the worship of the false gods Baalim and Ashtaroth. A revival of sorts took place, and Israel returned to serve the Lord only (1 Samuel 7:4). Samuel then gathered all Israel to Mizeph for prayer, which included both fasting and repentance.
The Philistines received word that the children of Israel journeyed to Mizpeh and went there against them. The children of Israel pled for Samuel to continue to pray to the Lord for them that they may be spared from the Philistines. Samuel offered a lamb as a burnt offering and then cried out unto the Lord for Israel. The Lord heard his prayers.
3. A Place of Victory
When the Philistines neared Israel, a “great thunder” scared and shook up the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:10). This state of dismay allowed Israel to prevail.
Samuel memorialized the victory and set a stone between Mizpeh and Shen. 1 Samuel 7:12 tells us he “named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
Because of Samuel’s faithfulness and Israel’s repentance and newfound faith in the one true Lord, “the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all of the days of Samuel” (1 Samuel 7:13).
We often find ourselves guilty of the reliance on superstition, formality, or the worship of external symbols in times of spiritual stagnancy, turmoil, or discontent. We may justify and reason our actions under the pretext of “this is just the way we’ve always done things.”
But the stone of Ebenezer should signify to us that trusting in anything or anyone short of Christ is a precursor to failure. In defeat or failure, we must repent from misplaced trust and from leaving Christ out of the equation. If we recognize our misplaced trust and reverse course, He is there faithful to forgive, grant us mercy, and provide his guidance and protection.
How Do We Build Our Faith on the Right Ebenezer Stone?
One reason people fall away from the faith is because they have built their faith on the wrong foundation. Sometimes we build our faith on a church. We become very passionate about our church and may even develop a my-church-is-better-than-your-church attitude. But there are a lot of great churches in the world. And we are all part of the church, not just a particular church.
Or we may have a favorite Bible teacher or may like one pastor better than another. This even happened with first-century believers. The apostle Paul warned, “For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?” (1 Corinthians 3:4–5).
There is nothing wrong with liking a certain pastor or enjoying a church that you are a part of. But don’t build the foundation of your faith on these things. Churches will disappoint you, because they are run by people. And people make mistakes. Sometimes they are misunderstood too.
Pastors will disappoint you as well, because they are human like everyone else. So if you build your foundation on a church or on a pastor, you can fall away one day, because those people might mess up.
Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul pointed out, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). It is all about you and God. And when you stand before Him one day, He will want to know what you did with Jesus—not whether everyone you knew who claimed to be a Christian behaved like one.
So don't build your foundation on people. Build your foundation on Jesus Christ.
Taken from “Faulty Foundations” by Harvest Ministries (used by permission).
Chad is a believer in Christ, attorney at law, wannabe golfer, runner, dog lover, and writer. He enjoys serving his church as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at his golf devotion par3sixteen.com. He and his wife Brandi reside in Tennessee with their canine son Alistair.
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Brandi Redd
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