Ebenezer, or the 'Stone of Help' for the New Year
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said: Until now the LORD has helped us." 1 Samuel 7:12
Several times in the history of the people of Israel, when any special help or deliverance had been received — stones were set up by way of memorial. Such a case is related in this chapter. The children of Israel were put in great fear by the Philistines. They begged Samuel to cry to the Lord for them, and Samuel did so. The Lord heard him and granted deliverance. A great thunder upset the Philistines, and they were smitten before Israel and fled. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up on the spot, as recorded in the text, calling it by the name Ebenezer — or the stone of help; and saying, "Until now the Lord has helped us." It was to be both a memorial of the past, and an encouragement for the future, a token of gratitude, and a ground of trust.
God, in His mercy, has brought us to see the beginning of another year. Such seasons should not be allowed to pass without serious thought. We ought to look back upon God's gracious dealings with us — and set up a memorial of them in our hearts. How much cause have we all to say, "Until now the Lord has helped us!"
These words in themselves imply dependence on God. There would be no help required — if there were not need, insufficiency, weakness, helplessness on our part. This is in truth our condition. Our needs are many. We are weak and helpless and prone to go astray. We have no strength, no wisdom, no grace or goodness of our own. This is always our state. It is so now. It is thus that we are entering on a new year — not knowing what is before us; unable to foresee, to order, or to hinder; dependent upon God for all things temporal and for all things spiritual; needing His help in every way. Thus we began last year — and thus we begin the present year. Whether we feel it or not, this is always our state.
The Lord has helped us. We have reason to say so with regard to the past year.
Temporally, He has helped us. We are brought thus far in safety. We could not know at the beginning of last year, that it would be so. Perhaps it seemed unlikely with some. Yet so it is. God has helped us thus far. Not all in the same way. His manner of dealing has been various with various people. With some, the year has run a smooth and easy course — much like other years that went before. With others, it has been a year of unusual events. Some have been helped through poverty, some through sickness, some through sorrow, and some perhaps through some great and peculiar trial — the greatest they ever had. But all have been helped — and helped by God.
Let us never be blind to His hand. The Israelites fought against the Philistines — yet Samuel taught them to attribute all their deliverance to God: "Until now the Lord has helped us."
He has helped us spiritually also, in soul as well as in body. We have had our temptations, our fears, and our struggles. At least, many of us have. It has not been all sunshine in our souls. The way has not been smooth throughout. Yet we have been helped. To those who have sought it — grace has been given according to their need. Prayer has been heard; hearts have been cheered; many a fear has been taken away; much light and comfort have been given.
And in the way of duty — duty that seemed difficult and yet was plainly duty, help has been given to many — gracious help, full and sufficient help, such as was hardly thought possible.
Look back on these times. Let not past temptations, fears, struggles, prayers, and help be forgotten. Set up a stone of memorial. Say gratefully, "Until now the Lord has helped us!"
Even those who have not sought, have yet found. Many who have felt no need and put up no prayer, have been helped. Such help as the barren fig tree found, they have found. God's forbearance has been shown toward them; they are spared to begin another year. Ah, do not overlook this. Why has this help been given? Why has this forbearance been shown? Was it that He saw you were not ready? Oh, what should this lead you to in the new year which has now opened upon you?
Hitherto has the Lord helped us. We are accustomed to use this word "hitherto" when we have reached a certain point but have still further to go. It is so with us in the journey of life. "Hitherto has the Lord helped us" — thus far on our way to the end of another year. Temporally and spiritually, He has helped us up to this point. Each in his own way, His children have thus far received help; and those who are wanderers from Him too, for they have been spared to this time. But the end is not yet reached. We have further to go. The stone of memorial therefore which we set up in our hearts, in gratitude for past help — should influence our thoughts with regard to the future also.
In the way of serious thought and self-examination. This "hitherto" suggests, as I have said, that there is still something before us. But that something is less than it was. There is now more behind us, and less before us — than there was a year ago. Our "hitherto" expresses a different point in our life, from what it did then. We are so much nearer the end. How shall we live after so much help, so many mercies, and such continued forbearance? How are we living? We are nearer to the end — are we nearer to God? We are older in years — are we older in grace? Is there any progress, any change, since last year began?
Or are some beginning this year just as they began the last — just as cold, as careless, as lifeless as to spiritual things; time and means of grace and God's various gifts, all seemingly bestowed in vain? The barren fig tree was spared this past year also. Oh, let the careless take warning! God's forbearance towards the impenitent will not be forever. This "hitherto" will come to an end.
But the stone of memorial should also encourage us. He who has helped us — will continue to help us; all at least who own and seek and trust in His help. Yes, the Lord has helped hitherto — and He will not now withdraw His help.
Christians, fear not! He in whom you trust will never fail you. Jesus Christ, your Savior, is "the same yesterday and today and forever"; your Father is an unchanging Father; the Spirit's presence is still promised to those who seek. Be not anxious about the coming year. Fear not even temptations and trials. Watch and pray, but do not fear.
Your Friend will not forsake you. Your Helper hitherto will be your Helper still. He has help sufficient for all times — and for every need. The untrodden path of the new year shall be even as the now familiar way of the old. Its events indeed may be different, its course unlike that of any year before — but in this at least the future will be as the past, that God will be your God still and Jesus still your unchanging Lord and Savior. Hitherto has the Lord helped you. At every point of your journey you will still have cause to say the same. And never will that help cease, until the last stage in the journey is past, and your Helper shall bring you safely home!