Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love.
Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood;
O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen how I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry, take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry me to realms of endless day.
--attr. Robert Robinson, 1758
I have always loved the hymn Come, Thou Fount, and especially its reference to the raising of an Ebenezer. Maybe that’s just because the mating of tune and text is so good. Even though hardly anyone knows what an Ebenezer is, there is a great deal of energy in the pounding Eh-Ben-Ee-Zer. It is so confident, so sure. It kind of reminds me of pounding a stake in the ground.
Building altars to various gods was a common practice in the Bronze Age and before. In the region of Sidon and Tyre (the West Coast of modern Israel on the Mediterranean), Alters to Ashteroth were often set up. Ashteroth is an altered rendering (pardon the pun) of Astarte, the fertility goddess who found her way into Greek mythology as Aphrodite. In fact, the reason the Jews wrote the word as Ashteroth rather than Astarte is because this goddess was considered indecent by the early Jews, and they preferred not to mention her name.
Baal worship was also common. Baal simply means “lord” and can have referred to any of the gods of the Northwest Semitic peoples. Once El, the god of the Hebrews, asserted himself in the region, the distinction was quickly made, and all other gods were now termed generally as Baals. They are just “lords.” Even a minor political official could be called Baal. Various altars were erected to honor regional Baals.
It was at a place called Mizpah in Benjamin (the area just north of Jerusalem) that the prophet Samuel gathered the people of Israel together after the Ark of the Covenant was lost to the Philistines (Indiana Jones fans beware: the Ark wasn’t lost at this time. It was simply captured, and was later returned). This happened around 1080 BC, just before Saul was anointed as the first King of Israel.
Following the capture of the Ark by the Philistines, Samuel ordered a large stone to be upended and named it Ebenezer, which means “Stone of help.” At the time, Samuel had said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” You will find all of this laid out in 1 Samuel, chapter 7. It is a good read once you know what you’re reading. I hope all this background information helps.
The main point of this Morning Watch is not to demonstrate my research skills. It isn’t even to raise up the idea of an Ebenezer. It is to say that God’s help is always near. Israel did not lose the presence of God when the grand, gilded Ark of the Covenant was taken away from them. Just as in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the holiday came anyway. The presence of God came to Israel even though all they had as a focal point for worship was a big stone.
God is ready to help you! You may be homeless and penniless. You can still set up an Ebenezer and worship him, for he is good. You may need to let go of the idols you’ve set up in your life and pursue worshipping the true God. Set up an Ebenezer and worship him! You may find yourself at the end of a series of real defeats, at a time in your life when you’ve been publically humiliated because you lost something or didn’t navigate the current at work correctly and ended up dashed upon the rocks. Set up an Ebenezer and worship him!
God is not a god of circumstance. He is a god of substance. That is why he is called the Rock of our Salvation. No matter what your circumstance, set up an Ebenezer, and worship him!