Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
1 Samuel 7:12
Things had been bad for Israel. They had lost the high priest and both of his sons and the Ark of the covenant all within a few days of each other. When they got the Ark back, it went to the nearest place to it, not back to where it had been previously. Things simply were not right. Samuel put his finger on the pulse of that wrongness (7:3) and told Israel to stop worshiping other gods.
Israel wanted God to help them; wanted God to defeat their enemies and keep them safe. But their idolatry prevented God from doing this. It’s not that He was incapable of doing those things, but that His holiness precluded helping Israel in the midst of their idolatry.
Once Israel turned back to God and cleared out the idols, God’s help was immediate and decisive. Not only did He fight on their behalf, but He soundly defeated the Philistines. Samuel set up a stone to remind Israel of God’s help and that is where this morning’s verse comes into the story.
Now, whether Ebenezer is the place God’s help stopped because Israel stopped there or because God decided that was the place things were going to wind down for that moment is unclear. But one thing is certain, Ebenezer marked the place to which God’s help had gotten them and reminded them that God’s help was readily available.
Now, I have no Ark to be stolen or returned, but I have been through times when God’s presence seemed a distant thing and the Ark was a visible symbol of God’s presence. I haven’t been oppressed by anyone in the physical realm (that I’m aware of), but there are temptations that are persistent almost to the point of being oppressive. During those times (and all other times) I need help. When God’s presence seems distant, I need to draw near to Him. When temptations and difficulties become oppressive, I need to cry out to God for help. Samuel didn’t stop crying out for God’s help until the victory was won. So, too, must I continuously call for God’s help until the temptation or the trial has passed. And, when the victory is won, I need to set reminders and markers. This far has God helped me gain victory over a temptation or trial. This far have I relied on the help of God to carry me through. To continue further, I must continue to rely on God.