Who is Ebenezer, and Why Do We Sing About Him?

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about one of the most beautiful and moving songs that I think we can possibly sing in a worship service, though it’s one that many of us never knew the meaning of: Night, with Ebon Pinion.  If you haven’t yet, please go read it here.

At the recommendation of someone else, I thought it might be prudent to discuss another song that we sing often, though it contains a line that many of us sing but don’t have a clue why.  In fact, come to think of it, I would venture to guess that many of us will think to ourselves “What in the world??” when we sing that certain line.  The song?  O Thou Fount of Every Blessing.

Maybe I’m the only one who thought this as a little kid, but I always imagined Scrooge in his long white nightgown as we sang the second verse of that song.  The beginning of that verse reads,

Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.

I think it can go without saying that Robert Robinson was not thinking about A Christmas Carol when he wrote this song in 1758.  So what does it mean?  Though this line was penned prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the word Ebenezer is not a word long lost in the English language.  Instead, it is a direct reference to scripture.  For that, let’s turn back to the time of Israel’s last judge Samuel.  As you read chapters 4-7 of I Samuel, you’ll see that the children of Israel have lost the ark of the covenant to the Philistines in battle.  The Lord brought terrible plagues upon the Philistines while the ark was in their presence, so they sent it back to Israel.  Once they received it, the children of Israel gathered as a group in Mizpah to pray, fast, and worship the Lord.  This was a great sign of remorse and repentance for a group that had left the truthful worship of their Creator and had instead fallen to the sin of idolatry.  On the other hand, from the viewpoint of military strategy, this was not a good idea.  I mean, they have been at war with the Philistines.  While they were worshiping God at Mizpah, listen to what happened:

“Now when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel had gathered together at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel.  And when the children of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines.”  [I Samuel 7:7]

They were sitting ducks.  They had conveniently got themselves together in a single location so the Philistines could attack them all at once.  What were they to do?  This time instead of relying on their own military strength, they turned to God for help.  Samuel sacrificed and prayed to God on their behalf (v.8-9).  As the Philistines got closer, God took over.  He brought thunder so loud and consuming that the Philistines became disoriented.  At this point, Israel was able to easily drive them away.

As a reminder of how God helped to deliver them from the hands of the Philistines that day, Samuel erected a large stone as a monument.  What name was given to that stone?  Ebenezer.  It literally means Stone of Help.  God had helped deliver them.  God continually helped them.  Sometimes, they needed a visual reminder, and that’s what the Ebenezer stone was for.

Back to the song.  Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I’ve come.  Metaphorically, the song is referring to the act of us raising our own Ebenezer stone as a reminder of the help that God provides to us.  Without His help, we would be nothing more than a group of sitting ducks for the Philistines to attack and overthrow.  This reference back to the monument in I Samuel fits so perfectly into the sentiment of the song O Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  All blessings do come from God.  Unending streams of mercy from above deserve nothing less than songs of loudest praise.  It was His precious blood that he provided in order to rescue me from the danger of eternal fire.  How great a debtor we all are to the grace that God has provided to us.

Here I raise my Ebenezer stone.  Let it be a reminder to me to never wander from nor leave the God that I love.  The God that has helped me through everything.  The God that is the fount of every blessing.