Once again, the Philistines oppress God’s people and in chapter seven, we learn how the place “Ebenezer” got its name. Remember that when the ark was captured, the battle had begun at a place called “Ebenezer” (1 Samuel 4:1). It wasn’t the place’s name at the time of the event, but temember that the readers of this book are not reading the story in real time. They are reading it many years later. They know where Ebenezer is and where the battle began, but now they will learn how it got its name.
We are a bit surprised that after such an auspicious beginning, Samuel disappears in the story between chapters four and seven. The last we saw of him, he was highly respected by Israel (first verse of chapter four). But that may have been just a summary marker. What happens next (with the capture of the ark and its return) may be an incident of intervening years.
Whatever the chronology, the story certainly takes up in chapter seven with Samuel very well entrenched as a respected man of God in Israel – how else shall we explain his ability to send out a message and bring all Israel together at Mizpah?
The meeting is for spiritual revival, and Samuel calls on all Israel to abandon their idolatry and return to the Lord. The Philistines, however, see the gathering as a rebellion and mount an army for attack. The Lord, however, is the one to attack with the wrath of His awesome thunder and the Philistines are routed. Samuel sets up a monument stone to the event (really an undressed rock, or it too would be considered an idol) and names it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help” or “stone of the helper.”
In the eighteenth century of our era, it was common for protestant preachers to either write music to accompany their sermons or to commission others to do so. Robert Robinson had lost his father as a boy and his early life was typical of wayward children lacking good fathers. But by chance, he came under the powerful influence of George Whitfield, a well known Methodist minister. A certain tragic end to Robert’s life was averted and he became a minister himself. To illustrate a sermon, he wrote the hymn, “O thou fount of every blessing.” The story of 1 Samuel 7 is immortalized in the following verse of that hymn:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
Is there an Ebenezer in your life, a turning point where you recognize a heretofore unrecognized providence of God?