In the early chapter of 1st Samuel, we read that the Philistines defeated Israel and took possession of the Ark of the Covenant. This grieved Israel, but it didn’t take long for the Philistines to feel God’s curse on them for having the Ark in their possession. God moved Israel to war again and gave them a great victory over their enemies. The Ark and its contents were returned to Israel. After God blessed Israel with victory over the Philistines, we read in 1 Samuel 7:12, “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.” It sounds like Samuel is saying that God has helped them “until” now. But what is meant is that God has been with them all the time up to and including now. He wanted to memorialize God’s providential care of Israel.

I think we all know of the chief character in Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly businessman who is reformed when the ghost of his business partner haunts him on Christmas Eve with visions of the past, the present, and a very gloomy future. The old man sees the error of his ways, and his sour views turn cheery. Despite his transformation, however, the character is remembered as the embittered miser and not as the reformed sinner, and his last name has entered the English language as a synonym for a miser.[1] The interesting thing to me is his first name: Ebenezer. Dickens chose this name to raise the idea of being of an immovable nature.

The setting up of stones for memorials was not Samuel’s original idea. If you want something to be permanent, you put it in stone. In Israel’s case, it was setting up stones. It had been part of the Hebrew culture since Genesis 28 when Jacob set up a similar memorial at Bethel. Joshua set stones in the midst of the Jordan to mark the place where the waters opened, and Israel crossed into the Promised Land. Stones were set up in the Achor Valley to remind the Jews of Achan’s disobedience. Another heap marked the burial place of the king of Ai. More stones were placed at a cave at Makkedah to mark where five kings had been defeated and slain. Before his death, Joshua set up a “witness stone” to remind the Israelites of their vow to serve the Lord alone and obey Him. “Ebenezer” means “stone of help” because the monument was a reminder to the Jews that God had helped them that far and would continue to help them if they would trust Him and keep His covenant.

The idea of “Ebenezer” is that God’s care is solid and stable, and we can depend on it. Wiersbe tells us that the founder of the China Inland Mission, J. Hudson Taylor, had a plaque displayed in each of his residences that read “Ebenezer—Jehovah Jireh,” Together, these Hebrew words say, “The Lord has helped us to this point, and He will see to it from now on.” Things written in “stone” are said to be permanent. When we build our houses, we want them built upon strong “stone” foundations, not wood, hay, or stubble. The stones set up by Israel were reminders for all generations of the faithfulness of God to His people.

[1] “Scrooge, Ebenezer.” 2015. In Compton’s Encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia.