Yesterday we sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” in Church. It’s one of my favorite hymns, but in the second stanza there’s a curious line:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home…
After the service, one of our members came up to me to ask “So what is an Ebenezer?” It’ a fair question, and I have to admit that I struggle to remember the exact Biblical reference. Most people have probably only heard of Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Anyway, when we turn to the Scriptures, we find that the Ebenezer comes from 1 Samuel 7:12. The setting immediately follows a battle between the children of Israel and the Philistines over the ark of the covenant:
And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. Then Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and drove them back as far as below Beth Car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:9-12)
The “Ebenezer” was a memorial stone, meant to testify of God’s “help” in saving Israel from the Philistines and giving them victory. The Hebrew name “Ebenezer” literally means “stone of help,” and the stone was meant to symbolize the LORD. It was He who had “helped” Israel.
In “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” the Ebenezer is a metaphor. The songwriter isn’t literally holding up a large memorial stone, but he is calling to memory what God has done for him in salvation. It is only by God’s help that any of us “have come” this far, and it is only by God’s help that we can hope “safely to arrive at home.”
The hymn goes on to illustrate the true Ebenezer which we find in Jesus Christ:
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood
And so when we sing of the Ebenezer in “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” we are singing of the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ. He is the true stone of help, and it is through his blood that God saves us.