John T. Willis

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

In 1758, Robert Robinson wrote the song: "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." John Wyeth's "Repository of Sacred Music" was put to music in 1813. For approximately 200 years, Christians have sung this song throughout the world. Here are the three stanzas:

Stanza 1: Come, Thou Fount of ev'ry blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise;
Teach me ever to adore Thee; May I still Thy goodness prove,
While the hope of endless glory Fills my heart with joy and love.

Stanza 2: Here I raise my Eben-ezer; Hither by Thy help I've come;
And I hope by Thy good pleasure Safely to arrive at home;
Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wand'ring from the fold of God;
He to rescue me from danger Interposed His precious blood.

Stanza 3: O to grace how great a debtor Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness like a fetter Bind my wand'ring heart to Thee;
Never let me wander from Thee, Never leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

In my opinion, the thoughts of this song are beautiful and uplifting and inspiring. I do not know whether Christians and churches still sing this song or not. I REALLY wish we would keep THIS song alive. It communicates a GREAT MESSAGE of God.

Having said all this, as a serious teacher and preacher of the Bible, would you allow me to make a few observations about ONE LINE in this song. It is the first line of the second stanza:
Here I raise my Eben-ezer; Hither by Thy help I've come.

1. Observation 1: Visiting with my students and my church and other churches where I have taught and preached, over five decades or more now, most people have no idea what this line really means. Here I raise my Eben-ezer. What does this mean? Where did this line come from?
Well, it comes from 1 Samuel 7:12, and one needs to study and think about and pray over the context of 1 Samuel 7:5-14. The Philistines had defeated the Israelites in two battles, and in the second battle, the Philistines killed the priests Hophni and Phinehas and captured the ark of the covenant. 1 Samuel 4. The Philistines took the ark of the covenant to the temple of the Philistine god Dagon, where Yahweh embarrassed Dagon in his own temple, in which Dagon lost his head and his hands. Tumors broke out through the land of the Philistines. 1 Samuel 5. The Philistines sent the ark of the covenant back to the Israelites, and the Israelites kept the ark of the covenant at Kiriath-jearim for 20 years (1 Samuel 6:1-7:4).
Now, Samuel instructs the Israelites to gather at Mizpah. The Philistines think the Israelites are going to rebel against the Philistines, and the Philistines attack the Israelites. Samuel beseeches Yahweh to intervene, and Yahweh overthrows the Philistines. To CELEBRATE this mighty act of God, "Samuel took a stone [Hebrew "eben"] and set it up betwen Mzpah and Jehanah, and named it Eben-ezer; for he [Samuel] said, 'Thus far the Lord has helped [Hebrew 'ezer] us."
This is why is it imperative that our teachers and preachers MUST learn Greek and Hebrew. This is a WORD PLAY communicating a tremendous biblical truth: "Eben-ezer" means literally "stone of help." The monument that Samuel set up to commemorate this event means "stone of help," because up to this point in the history of God's people "The Lord has HELPED us." What a great lesson God's people can learn from this text, properly understood.

2. Observation 2: The Bible presents MANY WORD PLAYS which God uses in scripture to communicate His truths. But God did this in Greek and Hebrew. In the New Testament, a few examples are: Messiah; Barnabas; Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani; Marana tha; Hosanna; etc.; etc. NO!!! NO!!! NO!!! Certainly not all Christians need to know Greek and Hebrew. This is NOT my point. However, we MUST have qualified people who know Greek and Hebrew to keep the people of God "on track."

3. Observation 3: In our text, God "helped" his people. One line of thought [or assumption] is that the "helper" is INFERIOR to the one helped. If so, God's people are SUPERIOR to God. A great parallel is Psalm 121:1-2 [using the Hebrew word `ezer]:
"I life up my eyes to the hills--
from where will my HELP come?
My HELP comes from the Lord [Yahweh],
who made heaven and earth."
Now, according to Genesis 2:18, Yahweh says: "I [Yahweh] will make him [the first man] a HELPER [Hebrew `ezer] as his partner." Many people have assumed and thought and argued that THEREFORE, a woman is INFERIOR to her husband--or, a woman is INFERIOR to a man. Now THINK--Is this concept biblical? If so, God is INFERIOR to human beings, BECAUSE God HELPS people. In my opinion, this just does not make sense. We get caught in a hierarchy that is JUST NOT BIBLICAL. Women walk hand in hand as "partners" to men, NOT as INFERIORS. Read the Bible.

How do YOU respond? What are your ideas? Share with others and with me.

John Willis


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