I was in Bible College and I remember the OT professor speaking about “Ebenezer." It was a familiar term but not in the way he used it. I grew up in Detroit, MI and there are several churches with the name Ebenezer tied to them and that’s where it ended. Thank God for a moment of clarity and a guy who loved the Old Testament.
The professor’s insight brought life to the meaning of Ebenezer! He gave me reason to say the word with meaning and not just see it on a billboard. Below is a brief summary of what was discussed in this class:
The Hebrew word for "Ebenezer" is actually two words pronounced together: Even Haazer. Written in Hebrew it looks like this:
It is usually transliterated as a proper name by dropping the definite article (Ha) from the Hebrew word for "place" (Ezer) and putting it together with the Hebrew word for "stone" (Even) to create: "Ebenezer." The etymological roots of the word, thus defined, should demonstrate that an "Ebenezer" is, literally, a "Stone of Help."
In 1 Samuel 4:1-11 and 5:1, the Ebenezer is strangely identified with a particular site, about four miles south of Gilgal, where the Israelites were twice defeated by the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant was stolen. These battles took place, however, before the site was actually named Ebenezer. It was like someone saying that Dinosaurs once lived in Dallas County -- they did, but not when this area was called "Dallas." Likewise, the two battles mentioned in 1 Samuel 4 and 5 took place at Ebenezer, but some time before it was so-named.
The site wasn’t named Ebenezer until after the Israelites finally defeated the Philistines, and took back the Ark of the Covenant. To commemorate the victorious battle, Samuel set up a marker-stone, named it "Stone of Help," and thereby the site became identified with the stone and with the place where God’s miraculous help aided them in their victory over the Philistines. The stone, standing up-right, was called "Ebenezer," and the site naturally took on that name as well.
Literally speaking, an Ebenezer is a "stone of help," or a reminder of God’s Real, Holy Presence and Divine aid. Spiritually and theologically speaking, an Ebenezer can be nearly anything that reminds us of God’s presence and help: the Bible, the Sacramental Elements, a cross, a picture, a fellow believer, a hymn – those things which serve as reminders of God’s love, God’s Real Presence, and God’s assistance are "Ebenezer’s."
I am encouraged again to memorialize the things God has done for me and through me. The Ebenezer lifestyle will perpetuate deep gratitude and tradition that will remain and show the world our God is alive and intends to do good for those who love him.
Take some time to write down the things God has done for you just this year and you will be amazed at how he’s been protecting you, calling you, and conforming you. I know I am!