1 Samuel 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; (Stone of help) for he said, "Till now the Lord has helped us."
Much valuable instruction, much encouragement to thankfulness may be found in considering the place where the stone of help (Ebenezer) was set up. That Ebenezer stone was set up "between Mizpah and Shen" This was of course, the place of the battlefield where the Philistines routed by the thunder of God from heaven in 1 Samuel 7. But that place had a previous history in the life of Isreal. The name, Mizpah is associated with several locations in Scripture, but this one was in the land of Benjamin, during the days when Samuel was a Judge. It had been the place of a terrible defeat, and was intended to be a place of a spiritual renewal - but it became a place of God's deliverance as well.
Twenty years before on that field Israel was routed. (1 Samuel 4:1-22) Twenty years before, Hoplini and Phineas, the priests of the Lord, were slain upon that ground, and the ark of the Lord was taken, and the Philistines triumphed.
Even as we gather to share our thanksgiving, Let's also remember our defeats. The times this past year when we presuming upon the Lord, went out in our own strength and found ourselves weak as water, our feet on sand instead of on the rock of our salvation? Or those times when we felt the Lord was distant when He was right beside us all along. It is likely that on the field of Ebenezer there were the graves of thousands who had been slain in that previous fight. Those burial mounds were a visible reminder of the Isreal's past and its failures. Spurgeon says: "Let the graves of our past proud notions, the graves of our self-confidence, the graves of our creature-strength and boasting, stir us up to praise the Lord who has Up till now helped us." If there have been defeats, it is our fault, not His. Returning to the field between Mizpeh and Shen would refresh their memories concerning their sins, for it was their sin that conquered them. Had not their hearts been captured by sin, their land had never been captured by the Philistines. Had they not turned their backs upon their God, they would not have turned their backs in the day of conflict. "Brethren, let us recollect our sins; they will serve as a black foil on which the mercy of God shall glisten the more brightly." That God should be so good is marvelous, but that He should be so good to you and to me, who are so rebellious and imperfect, is a miracle of miracles. It is with surprise and wonder our souls ought to feel God's goodness to us. Our hearts and our lives are so far from perfect; our faith weak and frequently unbelieving; our pride; our impatience; our lukewarm love-with these in view-we should indeed be surprised that behind those clouds, the sun of divine grace continues to shine upon us, and that the abundance of heaven's mercy is revealed in us. "Oh, Lord, when we recollect what we might have been, and what we really have been, we must say, "Glory be unto the gracious and merciful God who Up till now has helped us."
That spot would remind them of their sorrows. What a mournful chapter in Israel's history is that which follows their defeat by the Philistines. Good old Eli, you remember, fell backward and broke his neck; and his daughter-in-law in the pangs of her travail cried, concerning her child, "Call him Ichabod, for the glory has departed, because the ark of the Lord is taken." Their harvests were snatched away by the robbers; their vintage was gleaned for them by alien hands. Israel had twenty years of deep and bitter sorrow. Well, friends, let the remembrance of our sorrows also inspire us with a profounder thankfulness while we erect the stone of Ebenezer. In remembering our own times of confusion, and those moments we are embarrassed to even think, let alone talk about, let us raise a stone before the Lord, and let us write thereon, "Up till now the Lord has helped us," for it is the Lord's rule to bring good out of evil, and so to prove his wisdom and magnify his grace. If you have been discouraged, doubtful and fearful and even felt deserted by your God, and today the glory of God's grace is still resting on you, pile up the stone, and anoint the pillar, and write there, "Ebenezer, Up till now the Lord has helped us."
As this place had been the spot of their defeat, their sin, their sorrow, so now before the victory, it was also the place of their repentance. (I Samuel 7:1-10) They assembled there to repent, to confess their sins, to put away their false gods, to cast Ashtaroth from their houses and from their hearts. It was there that they saw God's hand and were led to say, "Up till now has the Lord helped us." Spurgeon suggest that God responds to us when we are diligent in dealing with our sin. It is then that God will be most valiant in routing our foes. You look to that work within and battle and overcome sin, and God will look to the work without and overcome your troubles and your trials for you. "As we pile that stone thinking how God has helped us, let us shed tears of sorrow to think how ungrateful we have been. Yes, with our joy for pardoned guilt we mourn that we pierced the Lord, and with our joy for strengthened graces and ripening experience, we must mourn over ingratitude and unbelief. Up till now the Lord has helped thee, and yet thou didst once say, "My God has forgotten me." Up till now the Lord has helped thee, and yet you did murmur and complain against him. Up till now the Lord has helped thee, and yet you did once deny him like Peter. Up till now the Lord has helped thee, and yet you eye has gone astray after vanity, and you hand has touched sin, and you heart has played the wanton. Let us repent, my brethren, for it is through our tears, that we shall best perceive the beauty of these grateful words, " Up till now has the Lord helped us."
Ebenezer was a place of lamentation after the Lord. They came together to pray God to return to them. So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, "We have sinned against the Lord." (1 Samuel 7:6) So while we express gratitude for the past, let us pray to God for renewed grace. The place of revival should be the place of gracious thankfulness. Mizpeh was the place of renewed covenant, and its name signifies the watch-tower. These people came together to renew their covenant with God, and wait for him as upon a watch-tower. Whenever God's people look back upon the past they should also renew their covenant with God. A watchtower is an appropriate place to watch for the coming of the Lord. But it is also a place to scan the horizon of our lives to see where there are enemies lurking: sin, temptation, spiritual neglect or deadness. Come to Mizpeh, the watch-tower; come to Mizpeh, the place of the renewal of the covenant, and then set up your stone and say, "Up till now, the Lord has helped us." The children of Israel could with heartier joy say "Ebenezer!" than we can. We have had our many sins, our share of sorrows, and some defeats by reason of our own foolishness. As we gather to share thanksgiving, we ought also to humble ourselves before God, and lament after him, and desire to behold him, and to dwell very near him, and renew our covenant again. Mizpah become the place where God would act mightily. Philistia came to attack and was overwhelmed by thunder from heaven. The old commentators remark upon the spiritual types and symbols here - They cried to the Lord in prayer and an ublemished lamb was sacrificed by Samuel - these point to The Lamb, which is God's son. To God's even mightier work of salvation. God's voice spoke from heaven like thunder - "This IS my beloved Son!" and he came forth to rout our foes.
Listen again to Spurgeon, "Beloved, if aught of good has been accomplished, or if you and I have routed sin, how has it been? Not by our strength, not by our power, but by the glorious voice of God. When the gospel is truly preached it is God thundering. It may sound as feebly as a child's voice when we tell of Jesus crucified, but it is God thundering, and I tell you, sirs, the thunders of God never so smote the heart of the Philistines as the gospel of Christ does the heart of convinced sinners. …. But to God be the glory-to God-to God-to God alone!"
Samuel's inscription may be read in three ways. First, with an emphasis upon the central word - The LORD has helped us. It is God alone who deserves the glory! Then by looking backward. The words "Up till now" seems like a hand pointing in that direction. Look back. What do you give thanks for this morning? Surely among the great and small bounties we will share will be much testimony to God's mercy, loving kindness and faithfulness. But then the text may be read a third way,-looking forward. "Up till now" means there is yet a distance to be traversed. There will be as Spurgeon puts it: "More trials, more joys; more temptations, more triumphs; more prayers, more answers; more toils, more strength; more fights, more victories; more slanders, more comforts; more lions and bears to be fought, more deep waters, more high mountains; more troops of devils, more hosts of angels yet. And then come sickness, old age, disease, death. Is it over now? No, no, no! We will raise one stone more when we get into the river, we will shout Ebenezer there: "Up till now the Lord has helped us," for there is more to come. Courage, brethren, then; and as we pile the stones, saying, "Up till now the Lord has helped us," let us just gird up the loins of our mind, and be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be revealed in us, for as it has been, so it shall be world without end." And unto God be glory forever. Amen.