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Friday, November 27, 2009

Here I Raise My Eben-ezer

Times were bad in Israel when Samuel became the prophet. The sons of the previous high priest had brought scandal to the tabernacle by committing serious sins, and the people in general were not much better. They had begun worshiping other gods, and they had just lost two major battles to the Philistines. Their wickedness was so great that the Ark of the Covenant could not help them, and in the second battle the Philistines not only slaughtered 30,000 Israelite soldiers, they also captured the sacred ark.

Such was the situation when Samuel became the prophet and judge of Israel.

Knowing he needed to tackle the source of the problem, Samuel called the Israelites to repentance, telling them that if they would turn away from false gods and serve God only, “he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines” (1 Sam. 7:3). Humbled, the people repented, and Samuel gathered them together to a place called Mizpeh, near the site of the two battles Israel had just lost. There, the people fasted and Samuel prayed for the people.

With all Israel gathered in one place, the Philistines recognized an opportunity and brought their armies to Mizpeh. Frightened, “the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines” (1 Sam. 7:8). So Samuel took a lamb and offered it as a sacrifice. While he was sacrificing the lamb, the Philistines came up to begin their attack, but “the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, . . . and they were smitten before Israel” (1 Sam. 7:10).

The miracle of this deliverance was not lost on Samuel or the Israelites. Twice they had been beaten in this same place. As a people, they were at one of their lowest points; they had been so weak even the Ark of the Covenant could not save them. And during a worship service—when they had not gathered with armies and weapons but with fasting and prayer—their enemies had come upon them to destroy them. The likelihood of an Israelite victory was slim. But God fought their battle on that day. To commemorate God’s deliverance, Samuel set up a stone monument in the place of battle. As a token of gratitude and praise to God, he called the stone Eben-ezer, which means “stone of help.”

Like Samuel and the children of Israel, we all have great reasons to praise God. As he did for Israel, he has fought many battles for us, and through His Son, he has offered us a deliverance no less miraculous than the deliverance given the Israelites that day near Mizpeh. May we, like Samuel, raise an Eben-ezer in our lives as a token of gratitude and praise.

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