What is an Ebenezer? This word comes primarily from 1 Samuel 7:12. Ebenezer has to do with being determined and intentional to remember what God has done in our lives, especially to show His glory. In this post we will explore the meaning of 1 Samuel 7:12 and the real meaning behind the word Ebenezer.
The story behind what is an Ebenezer
The book of 1 Samuel tells part of the story of Israel living in the land of Canaan. During this period they were transitioning from being ruled by judges to the rulership of kings.
The prophet Samuel was the final judge before Saul was made king.
Israel had gone through one of their many periods of rebellion against God. And as usual, God allowed them to suffer the consequences.
This time, their consequence was God allowing them to be under the oppression of the Philistines.
For 20 years this harassment from the Philistines went on. Finally, the Israelites became sick and tired of it. Their hearts began to change again towards God.
1 Samuel 7 tells the story of how the people were slowly returning to God. The prophet Samuel called them back from worshiping false gods.
They responded to Samuel’s call positively. A day of fasting, praying, confessing, and repenting was declared.
As the people gathered to worship God, the Philistines launched an attack on them. Samuel offered a sacrifice to God and prayed to Him for help.
God caused confusion to fall among the Philistines and the Israelites defeated them.
Who named a stone Ebenezer?
After Israel won the battle against the Philistines, the prophet Samuel named a stone Ebenezer. To commemorate this mighty move of God, Samuel set up the stone between Mizpah and Shen.
This act served a specific and powerful purpose.
We’ll get to that shortly.
What is the meaning of Mizpah and Shen?
Meaning of Mizpah
In the Bible, the word Mizpah is used a number of times. It occurred in Genesis 31:48 – 49. After having a quarrel, Laban says to Jacob.
… “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.
These words were meant for Jacob to understand that God would be watching him. Because he was removing his wives from their home and away from their father (Laban) and brothers, He was now accountable to God.
Because of the significance of this event to the Jews, the name of the place was kept. Mizpah is mentioned in Scripture in a few other places but this was the very first.
The word Mizpah means watchtower.
Meaning of Shen
Bible scholars are not sure where Shen was located. However, the name appears to be a description of the place. In Hebrew, the name Shen is translated the tooth.
Scholars believe it was probably a place known because of a tooth-shaped rock that jutted out. It was also probably not a place where people actually settled down and lived.
Mizpah and Shen would have been known to the primary audience reading this story. The names would have given them the exact location of the events.
What is the meaning of Ebenezer in the Bible?
1 Samuel 7:12 tells us that when Samuel calls the stone Ebenezer he says “till now the Lord has helped us”. What he says gives us a clue into the meaning of the word.
Let’s take a closer look at it.
Ebenezer meaning in Hebrew
The word Ebenezer is a combination of two Hebrew words: Eben and Ezer.
Eben means stone and Ezer means help or support.
When these two words come together we get Ebenezer which means stone of help.
The word Ebenezer is mentioned 3 times in Scripture but the other two references use the word as a name for a place, as I said earlier. (Read 1 Samuel 4:1 and 1 Samuel 5:1)
However, the use of the word Ebenezer in 1 Samuel 7:12 is not pointing to a place but to a human experience which shows God’s character.
Let’s go deeper.
What is an Ebenezer stone?
Contrary to other beliefs, Ebenezer is not an altar. Let’s go back to where it began.
The practice of using stone markers in Israel was started by Joshua based on instructions from God (Joshua 4).
As the Israelites crossed the Jordan, Joshua was instructed by God to have 12 men collect 12 stones from the bottom of the river, one for each tribe in Israel.
God explained that the stones would be a memorial to the people of Israel to remind them of the miracle at the Jordan that was similar to the miracle at the Red Sea.
Those 12 stones were not named but they served the very same purpose as the Ebenezer stone in 1 Samuel 7:12.
Just like the 12 stones from the Jordan were to inspire remembrance of a mighty miracle of God, the Ebenezer stone was to remind the Israelites of the mighty move of God on their behalf at Mizpah and Shen.
The KJV of 1 Samuel 7:12 starts with the word hitherto. Not a word we use very much in the 21st century. This word means “thus far” or “up to this point” or “until now”.
So, in a more specific way, the Ebenezer was to remind them of God’s intervention against the Philistines. The Ebenezer was a reminder and representation of a specific testimony of God’s help at one point in time in life with the added assurance that He will continue to show up and help.
Samuel wanted the Israelites to pause and recognize that God had been at work all along up to the time when they beat the Philistines and won the battle.
How can we use the concept of Ebenezer in our lives?
How can we apply the idea of the Ebenezer stone to our lives?
Bible study is most helpful when we apply what we learn to our lives in practical ways that make sense in today’s world.
What do we do with Ebenezer? Do we do what Samuel did and set up a stone?
Let’s explore some ideas.
Learn to recognize an Ebenezer moment
First, you need to be able to recognize Ebenezer moments.
What is an Ebenezer moment?
Let’s take our cue from the story.
The Israelites had won a battle they had not been able to win for over two decades. They won the battle, not because they were excellent military men, but because God showed up for them.
The Israelite army was not nearly as powerful as the Philistine army. And they knew it.
There was no way they could have gained the victory over the Philistines. It was all God.
This is an Ebenezer moment.
When you realize how helpless you were in your situation but God showed up and turned things around.
You know that it was God because the situation had been written off as being done and dead. There was no solution to the problem.
But God solved it in such a miraculous way. His mighty move is just too big and way too obvious to miss.
You have yourself an Ebenezer moment when you have such an experience.
Recognize why Ebenezer is important
Why is Ebenezer important?
The Christian journey is a very long one. Just like the Israelites of the Old Testament, we tend to forget God and His mighty works in our lives.
Do you remember how easy it was for the Israelites to forget what happened at the Red Sea?
It wasn’t long after that glorious event that they were bickering and complaining.
We can have terribly short memories. And the enemy of our souls knows that we have weaknesses in our memories.
He will use it against us every chance he gets so we become discouraged, disappointed, and depressed. And this is why we need an Ebenezer.
It is to have some tangible and visible thing outside of us that can jog our memories and remind us of how God has been at work in our lives over the course of time.
Ebenezer helps us to look away from ourselves and from our situations just long enough to draw strength from the reminder of a testimony we experienced in the past.
Ebenezer helps us to remember the miracles of God and trust that He is well able to do it all over again.
Decide on your Ebenezer
Want to start an Ebenezer? Here are some actual things you can do to make this possible.
Just like Samuel did, you can use a stone. But you can take it a step further.
You can engrave it with the date and time of an event where God showed up and worked a miracle.
If not a stone, it could be a plaque, a piece of furniture or something else. Whatever you choose, make it so it reminds you of the testimony as well as cause others to pull the story out of you.
When I was in college, I was so inspired by 1 Samuel 7:12. I started a faith journal. At the end of each week, on Friday nights, I would write about my week.
In my journal I recorded the ways God showed for me that week. It was truly a blessing to my life to have had that habit.
Start a faith journal. Be intentional about how God is moving in your life. Go back and read your journal every few months or so. I promise it will bless you.
Nothing jogs the memory and tells a story like photos. Your Ebenezer could be a single framed photo with a date printed on it. Or, it could be a photo collage or a photo book.
Put together a collection of pictures that show different points along the journey of your life.
Write a poem or song
Many of the Psalms were written to commemorate significant events in the lives of the various people who wrote them.
Similarly, many of the hymns we love stand on a story. You can write your own psalm or song or poem.
Let’s look at a hymn that both has the word Ebenezer and is an ebenezer itself.
Here I raise my Ebenezer meaning
In 1758, Robert Robinson penned the song Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. In stanza 2, he wrote the line “Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come…”.
To understand this hymn, you need to know Robert’s story.
At an early age Robert’s father died. He and his mother were left to face a life of extreme poverty.
When he was 15 years old, Robert’s mother decided to send him to London to be the apprentice to a barber and hairdresser.
Robert fell into very bad company. In May 1752, by chance, he heard the evangelist George Whitefield preach a sermon about the “Wrath to Come”. He was about 16 when he heard this message.
For three years, this sermon haunted him. In 1955, he finally gave his heart to Jesus and began preaching about Jesus. At approximately age 22, Robert wrote the song.
What does the word Ebenezer mean in Come thou Fount of every blessing?
As we reflect on Robert’s life experiences, we can see that after his conversion he was able to look over his life and see God’s help all throughout.
Through the loss of his father, the poverty that he and his mother endured, and the many times he could have lost his life when he rolled with the wrong crowd.
God was his sure, certain, immovable help through the season of his life when he didn’t know or even cared about God. He had arrived at this point in his life only because of God’s intervention in his life.
1 Samuel 7:12 verses
1 Samuel 7:12 KJV
Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer [that is, The stone of help], saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
1 Samuel 7:12 NIV
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
1 Samuel 7:12 NLT
Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”
Final words on what is an ebenezer
As you can see, Ebenezer has a rich meaning. It comes from a place of being intentional about remembering how God has shown up in our lives.
It calls us to remember the faithfulness of God when our backs are seemingly against the wall.
I hope you enjoyed this Ebenezer Bible study. I pray you have been inspired to establish your own Ebenezer, for the glory of God.