Charles Dickens did a disservice to the name Ebenezer when he gave it to Ebenezer Scrooge. Even though the story of Scrooge ends well his name has become synonymous with miser. The word Ebenezer is actually a Hebrew word that means “stone of help.” In I Samuel 7 after God has delivered His people from the hands of the Philistines and returned the Ark of the Covenant safely Samuel erects a stone, names it Ebenezer and says, “Thus far the Lord has helped us”.
I love this idea of the Ebenezer stone. I love the way it looks backward and forward. “Thus far the Lord has helped us” strongly implies trust in the fact that the Lord will continue to be faithful. It is important to keep in mind though that an Ebenezer stone marks a place in the journey, not a final destination. The Ebenezer stone marks a spot from which we must continue on.
Something I’ve noticed about the Ebenezers in my life is that I want so desperately to stop moving and live there. Sometimes I might even go so far to say that I forget to be thankful for the Ebenezers. Instead I get bitter that I can’t live at the Ebenezer all the time. This week I’m basking in the grace and mercy of God as I enjoy some perceived success. The next week I’m fighting discontent and even despair because God has taken me further and the road is not so smooth.
I think Peter, James and John had an Ebenezer experience on the Mount of the Transfiguration. I like the way Mark tells it in chapters 8 and 9 because the account has Peter’s fingerprints all over it. Jesus had just administered their mid-term exams. On the first portion of the exam they passed with flying colors: Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ. But on the second half they came up way short. As of yet their view of Messiah did not include suffering and dying. They’re probably pretty low at this point thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into? Are we in on the ground floor of the next big thing or is this some kind of suicide mission?” So Jesus takes His three closest companions up the mountain to get a little perspective.
This would be the original mountain top experience and they needed it bad. But Peter once again misunderstands. What should have been an Ebenezer moment became for him the destination. “Why don’t we build some tents and just stay right here?” But that didn’t fit with Jesus’ mission and before they knew it they were back to trying and failing to exorcise demons from little boys. “Lord, why could we not drive it out?” Meeting Moses and Elijah was great but they still had a lot to learn.
I so often identify with Peter. Every now and then I get it right, “Lord, you are the Christ,” knowing that I didn’t come to it on my own. But a lot of times I get it all wrong. I try to correct the Lord on the suffering and the dying that’s so clearly a part of this work. Then, by His grace, He gives me a little taste of what it all means. Somehow, through the Word, or prayer, or a conversation, or an unexpected gift, or a little touch of fruit-bearing I am given perspective. And it’s really good. It is at this point I need to learn to be more like Samuel and less like Peter. Go ahead, lay the stone, name it Ebenezer and then keep moving on. When I try to stay at the Ebenezer I turn something good God has given me into an idol. That which should have become a blessing becomes a snare.
Only after the cross and the resurrection did Peter and the rest of the disciples seem to have gotten it. It’s baffling to me that none of them even bothered to check the tomb on Sunday morning. He is risen! JUST AS HE SAID! Until then they just weren’t really listening. I suspect Peter experienced the lowest of all lows and the highest of all highs that weekend. And then, when Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives a few weeks later no one seems to have suggested building anything there even though He says He’s coming back to that very spot.
The resurrection changes everything. It proves that Jesus is who He claims to be. It proves that His promises are true. And it proves that this life is a journey not a destination. He is just the first fruits of a redeemed race and we don’t have any business stopping until we get the call to be with Him.
So here’s my point: raise your Ebenezers and rejoice in the goodness of God. Thus far the Lord has helped us indeed! But remember that those Ebenezers are just gifts along the way.