Viewpoint: Are There Ebenezers in Our Lives?

Contributed By Church News

  • 16 November 2014

A choir was rehearsing “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” when a member questioned the meaning of a phrase.

Article Highlights

  • Ebenezer is a biblical name that means “stone of help.”
  • Covenants we make with God could be Ebenezers in our lives.
  • What other Ebenezers could there be in our days?

“The stone Samuel raised and called Ebenezer, more than just a monument of gratitude, was a visual symbol of the goodness of God to the Israelites, their total reliance on Him, their repentance and their determination to serve Jehovah, thus forsaking the false gods they had worshipped.” 

A ward choir had been rehearsing for a pre-Thanksgiving Day performance of the Robert Robinson hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

In reference to the opening line in the second verse, “Here I raise my Ebenezer; here by thy great help I’ve come,” a thoughtful member of the bass section posed the question, “What is the meaning of Ebenezer?”

Using an electronic device, a soprano hastily searched the Internet and then provided a quick answer: Ebenezer is a biblical name that means “stone of help.” Thus, the line in the hymn text is saying, in effect, “Here I raise my stone of help.”

During the ensuing week, the choir director took occasion to look up the origin of Ebenezer in the scriptures. He found it in 1 Samuel 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

The context of that passage, as found in chapters 4–7, is this:

The Israelites had twice been defeated in battle at that location. On the first occasion, after the slaughter of 4,000 of their force by the Philistines, the Israelites fetched the sacred ark of the covenant from Shiloh. The ark was viewed as a tangible symbol of the presence of Jehovah among them. They expected that the nearness of the ark would result in their military success and deliverance, as it had hitherto done.

But the Israelites did not reckon the fact that they had corrupted themselves with the worship of idols, specifically the fertility god and goddess Baalim and Ashtaroth and the abominable practices associated with them. Under that circumstance, the expectation of protection from the ark thus amounted to blasphemy.

With vain confidence the Israelite force shouted, initially causing the Philistine army to fear. But the Philistines rallied and engaged the Israelites, this time slaying 30,000 of their soldiers and capturing the ark.

The Philistines placed the ark in the temple of their god Dagon. Subsequently, the false idol repeatedly fell on its face and was eventually mutilated. Moreover, God beset the Philistines in the city with a severe plague.

Attributing the misfortune to the presence of the ark, the superstitious Philistines sent the ark back.

With the ark back in Israelite custody, the prophet Samuel effected a major reform among his people, declaring to them, “If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:3).

The people hearkened to Samuel, confessing their sins and fasting. At their urging, Samuel importuned the Lord for deliverance from the invading Philistines; this time, the Lord’s people prevailed in battle. The protecting hand of the Lord was with them for the rest of Samuel’s life.

The stone Samuel raised and called Ebenezer, more than just a monument of gratitude, was a visual symbol of the goodness of God to the Israelites, their total reliance on Him, their repentance and their determination to serve Jehovah, thus forsaking the false gods they had worshipped.

Are there messages we can draw from this? As suggested in Robinson’s hymn text, are there Ebenezers in our lives?

One such Ebenezer might be a personal and collective pattern of conduct whereby we serve the Lord continually, striving always to obey His commandments and promptly repenting when we fall short.

The basic observances of our worship—prayer, scripture study, Sabbath day observance, serving God and our fellow beings—strengthen us to avoid the temptation to slip into placing before the one true God what can turn into the idols of our day.

The covenants we make with God might be regarded as Ebenezers in our lives. So also might be our partaking the sacrament.

The ordinances of the temple could be considered our Ebenezers, symbolizing our highest aspirations of glory, exaltation, and eternal lives.

The temples themselves, structures of beauty and holiness, can be for us more tangible Ebenezers, reminding us of our commitment to serve and trust God.

In this dispensation, many monuments have been erected to commemorate various events and aspects of the latter-day Restoration of the gospel, such as the Joseph Smith Monument at his birthplace in South Royalton, Vermont; the monument to the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon at Richmond, Missouri; and the monument to the Eight Witnesses at Liberty, Missouri.

This Is the Place Monument in Salt Lake City commemorates the arrival of the Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley under the leadership of President Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Identical Eyes Westward sculptures, one near the base of that monument and the other on the bank of the Mississippi River in Nauvoo, Illinois, depict Joseph Smith and Brigham Young contemplating the gathering of the Saints in the Rocky Mountains preparatory to taking the gospel to the world.

Together, these monuments of the Restoration are to us an Ebenezer, reminding us of the goodness of the Lord to His covenant people in the latter days and His readiness to bless and prosper us as we remain faithful.

The Book of Mormon is a figurative Ebenezer to each one of us. This is reflected in the oft quoted passage, “When ye shall read these things, … remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3).

By conveying some added meaning to the phrase “here I raise my Ebenezer,” the ward choir director hoped to influence the spirit of the choir’s performance by instilling in the heart of each member a remembrance of God’s goodness to us collectively and individually.

May that remembrance influence each of us.