“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, Till now the Lord has helped us.”
1 Samuel 7:12 (ESV)
I remember the relief that I felt when I saw the sign. I was in familiar territory. Twenty-five years ago, Dawn and I were living on the east coast in a small town just outside of Jacksonville, North Carolina. As a crow flies east, we were about 20 miles from the sandy Carolina beaches. Inland were dense pine forests sparsely populated with a good representation of “salt-of the-earth” kind of folk. We lived in Onslow County. I used to joke about driving to Raleigh just to experience traffic, because where we lived, everything was “on slow!” It wasn’t uncommon to get behind an old gentleman on the Haw branch Road who was driving along about 10 miles an hour inspecting the tobacco crops with the door of his truck “cracked” so he could push it open to “spit” from his own plug of “chew.” Places like Chinquapin and Pink Hill were on the local map. I learned some invaluable leadership lessons and met some dear friends during those years in North Carolina.
While living there, I served on the leadership team of a local church as the minister of worship. The growth that we experienced during that season afforded me the opportunity to travel frequently as a consultant for local churches desiring to develop a progressive worship team. On the way home from one of my ministry trips, I decided to take a short cut in order to save some time. Little did I know I would spend an extra hour winding through the maze of “9-mile” and “5-mile” roads (they all seemed to have those kinds of names – either that or some word with “branch” behind it) that formed the back road web through that pine forest. My vivid memories of some tall tales told by some of the locals reminded me that I didn’t want to run out of gas out there after dark. Yea, you guessed it, the gauge was pressing hard against the “E.”
At night, black pavement winding through dense trees all starts to look the same. Fear can play tricks on your mind – especially when there’s little light and you’re all alone. At first, I wasn’t too worried. I reminded myself that God hadn’t given me a “spirit of fear, but power, love and a sound mind!” “Yea, riiiite!” I muttered. “I just need some gas!” I had to be running on fumes and then I saw the sign! Highway 258 – I knew where I was! “Phew! Thank you Jesus!” I could get where I was going now, because I saw something familiar. What relief!
Simple stories like this remind us of the importance of landmarks in our lives. Proverbs 22:28 says, “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” (ESV) Other translations say “boundary stone.” Landmarks were used for several important reasons: 1) Ownership – property lines were identified. 2) Guidance – you can’t know how to get where you’re going if you don’t know where you are.
3) Remembrance – something important that shouldn’t be forgotten happened in that place. The presence of God was revealed – an altar was built (Genesis 28:16-19). The power of God was manifested; a pile of stones was erected (Joshua 4:1-7). I could multiply examples.
All three of these are obvious areas in our spiritual lives. We’ve been marked by God – we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Good to know when the enemy of our soul tries to settle into our lives and claim “squatter’s rights.” Run him off! When it comes to guidance, we’re navigating the geography of faith and doubt, fear and peace. Necessary tools of spiritual travel.
Here, I think Ebenezer has more to do with the last one – the principle of remembrance. That day, Israel’s perennial enemies, the Philistines had attacked again. Samuel the prophet was also judge and ministering before the Lord when the attack came. God thundered and threw the Philistines into confusion and Israel routed them that day. Samuel erected the Ebenezer stone. Ebenezer means, “thus far has the Lord helped us” or “till now the Lord has helped us.” It was put there to remind the people of God that He was their salvation, their source and strength.
You might think – I sure could use one of those right now! I contend that you have some – you just need to look back in your history and be reminded. That’s where I prayed and God answered. There, I was in desperate need and God supplied. At that place, my child was sick and God healed her. Back then, I was lost and the Lord found me! That’s where the Lord helped me – and there. Oh and at that place in my life, too! Once in a while, a positive look backward can fuel you with faith for a new forward look.
Or maybe you need to cry out to God today and meet Him right where you are and start on your journey with Him! That would be a landmark day!