In 1 Samuel 7, the armies of Israel defeated the much stronger Philistine invaders, only because God fought on their behalf. Samuel set up a stone to commemorate the victory, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
Notice two things about Samuel’s statement:
First, “The Lord has helped us.” Israel’s relationship with God was the single greatest factor in their victory. Twenty years prior, in 1 Samuel 4, Israel was soundly defeated by the same Philistines. Israel had abandoned God, and gotten involved in big sins like idolatry, immorality, and vain worship (2:12, 17, 22, 29). On the eve of the new battle, Samuel said, “return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you, and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you.” The repentance of 7:3-6 was the key to their victory in 7:7-12.
Second, “Thus far.” I read a note of caution here. Samuel recognizes that there will be more battles to fight, the outcome of which was not guaranteed. One solid win didn’t mean the work was done and the borders secure. Every Jericho can be followed by an Ai. We must praise God for victories of the past, but continue to look to Him for victories to come!
Perhaps it would be good for us to memorialize the many ways the Lord has, so far, proven reliable. I offer my own list for starters:
Here I raise my Ebenezer, that I have never, ever gone hungry. Jesus said in Matt. 6:31–33, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’… Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” There have been tough and scary times in our married lives. There were many days when we had to eat whatever was left in the cupboards until a new month rolled around. And yet, somehow, God has always provided. We have never once missed a meal. Even in the worst moments, something would happen that would supply what we needed to get by.
Here I raise my Ebenezer, that God always has my best interests in mind. The presence of suffering and obstacles give many people reason to doubt the love of God. Why am I sick? Why am I poor? Why haven’t I found a spouse yet? But Scripture says, “all discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11). And, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). I can trust God completely. If I just wait a while and see what He is doing, He never lets me down!
Here I raise my Ebenezer, that the word of God has never failed. Skeptics point out so-called contradictions in the gospels. They suggest the gospels were made up by fake authors 400 years after the events. They accuse the Bible of being outdated, unable to answer to the needs of modern people. The History Channel runs specials on how the body of Jesus has been located, and the Discovery Channel runs specials on how the ten plagues on Egypt can be explained by natural means. Sometimes, these rumors are challenging. They can be very convincing to those who do not investigate those claims. But every time I’ve heard something that has caused me concern, and I have looked deeper into the actual details, I have discovered that the Bible remains solid. The Bible’s claim to be the divine word of God has been proven firm and true each and every time. I have never seen a successful challenge to the inspiration of the Bible!
Here I raise my Ebenezer, that when I plant the seed, God gives the increase. Sometimes we go several weeks between baptisms. I wonder what the problem is; then, I quickly remember, the problem is likely me! In 1 Cor. 3:6, Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” When God’s messengers spread the seed of the gospel, it finds places to grow! It’s amazing—every time we speak up, invite friends, and have in-home Bible studies, people are baptized into Christ. When we don’t, they aren’t. If we are willing to do our part, God responds.
Here I raise my Ebenezer, that God always helps me resist Satan, if I want to. God promises in 1 Cor. 10:13, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” I have never found myself in a situation where God forced me to sin. The escape hatch was always available. Satan is tough, but God is much tougher, if I will just listen to His will.
When I repent, God grants mercy. When I find myself on the losing end of temptation, and I give in to sin, I know that God wants me back, and will help me up out of my shame. All it takes is repentance. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Here I raise my Ebenezer, on the assurance that my Father wants me to live with Him eternally, and is willing to forgive my sin every time I sincerely return to Him. He has never withheld mercy from the penitent.
Prayer is powerful. James 5:16 says “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Here I raise my Ebenezer, that I have seen prayer move some pretty big mountains! Prayer has healed the sick, comforted the bereaved, removed obstacles, opened up job opportunities, provided future spouses, opened wombs to bear children, protected the saints from harm, and given hope to the hopeless. Knowing its great power, we should learn to communicate our needs to our heavenly Father. —John Guzzetta