The Expository Files


 "The Stone of Help"

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer”

 1 Samuel 7:12-14

Paul had made many enemies from among his former comrades, associates and friends when he became a Christian, a preacher and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Once they had persecuted Christians together. They no doubt felt betrayed by Paul. But Paul could not continue to live the way he had before learning the truth. Paul's former allies were burdened by what he was now doing for Christ, and some of them swore to kill him. But Paul was also often burdened by the memories of what he had done in his former days as he with violence sought to do away with all believers. Paul writes about this on several occasions.

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many. ( 2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

Paul here speaks of a recent and ongoing danger to himself and his companions in the gospel. They realized that they had been so exposed to danger that it was only the Lord that stood between them and death. Paul expected that the Lord would continue to deliver them from death until his race was run and then would give him victory over death, finally and completely. The Lord was truly Paul's “stone of help”, as he is ours as well if we have faith. Yes, you and I have such a stone. If you care to name it, “Ebenezer” will do fine.

History Lesson: Giving a Name to the “Stone of Help”
Over a thousand years before Paul, there was a high priest during Israel's early existence by the name of Eli. He had two sons who were to succeed him, Phineas and Hophni. In fact, as Eli grew old, they took over more and more of the priestly duties (1 Samuel 2:12). But there was a problem. Unlike Eli, they were neither spiritual nor holy. They would extort from worshippers and commit immorality with the women who served at the gate of the tabernacle. Eli tried to reason with his sons, but to no avail. To Eli's shame, he limited his action to rebuke, but allowed his sons to continue in their sin (1 Samuel 2:22-25). That same day, a prophet of God spoke and foretold of the coming deaths of Eli's sons (1 Samuel 2:34-35).

There was a young man named Samuel whom God had chosen to become a leader in Israel who was at the time serving Eli in fulfillment of a vow his mother had made. God revealed to Samuel that he was going to bring great ruin upon the house of Eli (1 Samuel 3:11-13; 3:15-18). God withdrew His protective care from Israel due to the sins of Eli's house and the people. They went to battle with their enemies and suffered grievous defeat. But then, they came up with a possible solution. They had the Ark of the Covenant! They would take it to the battle! That will force God to give them victory, or at least, so they think (1 Samuel 4:4-7).

Well, that did not work either. Israel was defeated and the Ark was captured. Eli's sons were both killed and upon hearing all the news Eli collapsed and also died. A new grandson was born into Eli's household at that time, and he was named “Ichabod” which means “dark days”. Truly, sin had brought dark days to Israel (1 Samuel 4:10-11; 21-22).

Some twenty years pass with the Philistines returning the ark (another whole story in itself) and battles continued between them and Israel. Young Samuel became the new leader of Israel and encouraged the people to be faithful to the Lord. The people repented of their sins and returned to the Lord in a national day of prayer (1 Samuel 7:3-6). A decisive battle was fought and Israel was given victory by God (1 Samuel 7:10-11). It was to commemorate that victory and the security it gained for Israel that Samuel raised up the stone “Ebenezer” which means “The Lord has helped us thus far.”

"Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the LORD has helped us.' So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even to Gath; and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. So there was peace between Israel and the Amorites." (1 Samuel 7:12-14).

Relief and Salvation
There are several lessons for us in this part of history. For example, as children of God we see something that Israel had forgotten. We see that God will help His faithful ones, and he is our best source of help. Ironically, the Philistines were afraid of God, remembering what He had done for His people in the past, but Israel had forgotten (1 Samuel 4:7-9). They suffered much for this neglect; suffering that never had to be.

Yes, there is a lesson there for us! There are some problems and challenges in life that I just cannot handle without God, and every problem is better handled with God than without Him. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He loves me. He is our eternal Father. He is capable.

Israel forgot that. When they did, “Icabod” was the appropriate name. Their glory had indeed departed. But when they returned to God, the name was “Ebenezer.” The Lord has helped us thus far.

We should also thank God when we are blessed. Good times are times to share our joy and the gladness of our hearts with God. Joy is better when shared with Him (Psalm 65:4-5; 9-13).

It is important to remember God all the days of our lives. As Christians, we remember His love and sacrifice with the Lord's Supper on the Lord's Day each week. The rainbow reminds us of God's promise. The Scripture themselves are a reminder. So remember: “The Lord has helped us thus far.”

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 19.1; January 2012