“Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. When the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.’ So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts… The Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. And the ark of God was captured… brought from Ebenezer to Ashdod. The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months.
“Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. 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. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them. 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.’ So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel.” 1 Samuel 4:1-4,10-11; 5:1; 6:1; 7:9-13
Ebenezer: “Stone of help.” From their camp at Ebenezer, Israel was at first defeated, then nearly slaughtered, by the mighty Philistines. How could this be the Lord’s will, His help to them? What ensued after the ark was captured is a strange blend of man’s superstition and God’s sovereignty. Following the ark’s return, Israel’s lament, and Samuel’s leading of Israel to return to the LORD with all their heart, the tables turned and the Philistines were routed. In this place of victory, Samuel named a stone monument Ebenezer, citing the LORD’s help. (1 Samuel 5:2-7:8)
Can the place of harm and hurt also be our place of help? Do we see with such limited vision that we think God’s help is delivered only in pretty, easy-to-open packages? I recently spoke with someone about a painful time that has led to deep understanding of God’s grace, and the joy and freedom in forgiveness. Would this Ebenezer have been established apart from the earlier wound? Isn’t help best defined, and appreciated, from a well of great need?
Will we be so bold as to name our hard places, our battlegrounds with temptation, loneliness, debilitating disease, ongoing discouragement, unmet expectations, ‘justified’ resentment, troublesome people, Ebenezer, and from there advance in courageous faith to win? Will we, in gratitude for God’s abiding presence and help in these very places He has ordained, establish stones of remembrance for our worship and others to see?
LORD, may I daily raise my Ebenezers to You in praise, and to glorify You before others.