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
The Philistines returned the Ark to the Israelites and everything looked good for a moment. The people of the town had the Levites handle the Ark and offered a burnt offering on a massive stone, but some men of the town looked inside the Ark and things started to go badly.
People died. The leaders of the city called to the next city over and asked them to take the Ark. Those people did, but 7:2 says that all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD. They wanted things to be right, but seemed unaware of how to make them right.
Along comes Samuel and tells them to return to the LORD with all [their] heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among [them] and direct [their] hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone (7:3). So they do. The Israelites get rid of all the idols and go so far as to fast and pray and wait on the LORD at Mizpah.
The Philistines see this and decide that it is an opportune moment to attack. The people briefly freak out (7:7). They respond appropriately, asking Samuel to keep praying to God on their behalf and God answers. Samuel makes an offering and God makes some noise and the sound confuses the Philistines so much that the Israelites are able to utterly defeat them and chase them for a while.
At the place where the Israelites could no longer pursue the Philistines, for whatever reason, Samuel sets up a stone as a reminder. And that event is this morning’s verse.
In several places in the Old Testament, people set up stones and piles of stones as reminders and “witnesses” to things that happen. As an example, Joshua has the Israelites grab massive river rocks when they cross the Jordan and make a pile of them next to the river as a reminder that they crossed on dry ground and took those stones from the river bed.
It is good to have reminders of the goodness of God toward us. Some suggest that keeping a journal is a good habit to get into. I do not disagree, but not everyone is willing to take the time to journal. I make the time to keep this journal, but that is about as much time as I am willing to give. Perhaps it might be better to keep a log of the times that God steps in and acts on my behalf. At the end of each day, it might do to review the day and just jot down notes of the times that God has intervened and the progress He has made in areas of my life. Was there a situation during the day in which I would have responded in a way that did not please God but found that I responded in a way that pleased God? If yes, I should note it down. And I should return to this log frequently so as to see the progress God is making in the same way that the Israelites who passed by the stone that Samuel set up would see it and remember that God had helped them.
And that, I think, is my application. I need to find ways to give myself reminders of the progress that God is making in my life. It is easy to lose sight of just how far God has already brought me when I can clearly see how far I have yet to go. It is like standing on a mountain top and looking at the road stretching down the mountain and across the valley and not looking at all the road already traversed behind me. Both are necessary for context so I can be encouraged at how far I have come and be challenged to keep going.
Father, thank You for all of the progress You have made in my and in my life. Thank You for all of the times that You have directly stepped in and down great things on my behalf. Please help me to know the right way to mark those occasions and to keep myself encouraged by the road already traveled and challenged by the road still ahead.