My favorite hymn is the classic “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Several versions exist, but all of them include the strange phrase “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” In the Mack Wilberg version that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings, the second verse begins like this;
“Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home."
Understanding Ebenezer deepened my love for this hymn. The story is found in the Old Testament and begins during one of the many times the Israelites forgot God. Going into battle against the Philistines, the Israelites suffered a terrible defeat, but rather than repent they sent men to fetch the Ark of the Covenant thinking that if they had the throne of God in their midst they would be invincible. Once the Ark was with them, the Israelites confidently marched into battle, but the Philistines slaughtered 30,000 Israelite soldiers, sent the rest running, and stole the sacred Ark.
Triumphantly the Philistines carried the Ark to Ashdod and placed it in the house of their pagan god, Dagon. The next morning the people of Ashdod awoke to find the image of Dagon fallen on its face. Undaunted they stood the image back up, only to return the following morning to find it not only fallen again, but the head and both the hands broken off so that only the stump of the god was left. This alone stabbed fear into the hearts of the Philistines, but in addition the Lord cursed the people with sore plagues. Understanding that the stolen Ark was the cause of their problems the city fathers moved the ark to Gath and the people of Gath suffered until they moved it to Ekron and the people of Ekron suffered until finally it was determined to give the Ark back to the Israelites.
Still it was many years before the Israelites heeded the voice of Samuel the prophet and repented. In that repentant state the soldiers of Israel fasted, asked Samuel to pray for them, and offered sacrificial offerings before once more going against the oppressive Philistines. This time they were victorious.
To celebrate the great victory God had given them, Samuel erected a stone in the land and called it Ebenezer which means “Stone of Help.” So when the song says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer” it means that I now raise my own monument in recognition of all God has done for me.
For us, that monument isn’t usually a stone or anything tangible. Instead it is something that shows our gratitude–singing of a hymn, offering a prayer, bearing a testimony, serving others, or humbly accepting God’s will. In short, raising our own Ebenezer is recognition that we are changing and growing because God is helping us to do so.