Hither by Thy Help We’ve Come (1 Samuel 7:12)
Here [we] raise [our] Ebenezer; hither by Thy help [we’ve] come… (words from Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing by Robert Robinson, age 22, 1757).
We all love Bible stories. I want to tell a favorite again today. Let’s go back to the time of Samuel. Few people know that he served Israel as both judge, high priest, and prophet. A “judge” was an accomplished leader, chosen by God, capable of leading politically but especially militarily. A “high priest” always came from the tribal line of Levi, often noted as a descendant of Aaron, who was responsible for leading the people religiously. A “prophet” would be God’s spokesman, telling people what God wanted and often predicting events in the future.
In Samuel’s day Israel had been in the land of promise, Canaan, for at least 300 years. The OT book of Joshua tells us that the time had been spent battling to secure territory from the land’s evil inhabitants and then occupy and consolidate it. God, always righteous in His judgments, had declared the Canaanites so steeped in evil that they could only be completely annihilated – erased from the land. They were too dangerous spiritually for Israel to live among or near them.
But Israel thought otherwise and disobeyed God’s decree. They defeated the Canaanites militarily but allowed many of them to live... and live together with them. It was a grievous disobedience that led them to spiritual adultery. Israel broke their part of the covenant made with God through Moses at Mt. Sinai.
So settling into their respective allotments of land, they let the people of the land live among them with their evil thoughts and ways, intermarried with them and added worship of their false gods to worship of Yahweh God. God responded by punishing them with those very same people, allowing them to become “thorns in their side.” The book of Judges plainly shows us the picture: Moses and Joshua are long dead and there is no strong spiritual leader for the tribes. This verse sums up the whole situation: “In those days there was no king in the land and every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).
Oppression was local since unfaithfulness was local. God would allow a nearby enemy to oppress a tribe (or more) until they became helpless and cried out for God’s help. Then God would raise up a “judge” to lead and deliver them and lead them back to covenant faithfulness.
Samuel’s mentor was a high priest named Eli – also a judge. He had led Israelites living in the south of Canaan to victories over the Philistine nation.
Samuel’s birth story is included in all children’s Bible Story books (see OT, 1 Samuel). We praise his mother Hannah in Mother’s Day sermons as a heroic woman. Indeed! Beyond question, she was a hero of faith. It’s a wonder the Hebrews writer omitted her from Faith’s Hall of Fame (ch 11). Hannah and Peninah were both wives of one Elkanah. Peninah was fertile and gave Elkanah children. But Hannah was barren – scripture says God had “closed her womb.” We see in the rest of the story that this was part of God’s working a plan to bring the great leader and reformer Samuel into the world. But Hannah knew nothing of that plan and barrenness was a strike at her heart – every woman’s main role in her culture was bearing children, particularly male children.
To Elkanah’s credit, he loved Hannah dearly and honored her. He took his family every year to Shiloh to worship at the tabernacle and when the family ate the leftover meat from their sacrifice, he would give Peninah and each of her children a portion, but Hannah received a double portion (because he loved her).
One particular year on this pilgrimage Hannah was distraught with sadness and pouring out her heart in prayer to God, fervently asking for a child. Lost in her emotion, sobbing, she begged God to remember her and give her a son… and she promised to give her child back to God to serve Him all of his life. High Priest Eli, watching nearby, thought she had inappropriately come to the altar drunk. He began to rebuke her for the offense. But Hannah protested being fully sober, only overcome with sadness, and she told Eli her story. His reaction was to join her prayer: “Go in peace. May the God of Israel give you what you have asked him for” (v 17). And God did! When her son came she gave him the name “asked of God” – Samuel. And she did – i.e., kept her word! She gave Samuel back to God as a small, just-weaned boy. Samuel was at God’s tabernacle as a gift to God. And Eli trained him to be a priest and a man… and a Judge and prophet, too.
In time, Eli would die when news that the revered Ark of the Covenant had been captured by invading Philistines in a battle at Aphek. Eli’s evil sons, Hophni and Phineas, were also killed in the battle. All three deaths were God’s judgment for Eli allowing his sons to dishonor God in their service as priests.
Samuel was soon grown and Israel fully recognized him as God’s man. He led them first to put away all their idols and return to worshipping God alone. Then he led them in a victorious military campaign against the Philistines at Mizpah…
And that brings us to my Memorial day message for you. There at Mizpah, after God had given the victory over their enemy, Samuel… “…got a big stone [and] set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer (stone of help). He said, ‘The Lord has helped us every step of the way’” (1 Samuel 7:12).
How much has God helped us along the way… as a nation? …as a church? …as His child?
As United States citizens, we should acknowledge God has helped us along the way. We are no longer a “Christian nation” any longer; perhaps we never were. But many of our 333M neighbors are God-lovers and God-seekers. God has surely raised up leaders along the way to bring us liberty. Believing men founded us on a moral code He delivered. He gave character and courage in our hearts to fight and die for freedoms for all – freedom to worship, pursue life and liberty and happiness. As Americans we should gratefully raise stones of remembrance.
As members of this church family at Bono – though surely not perfect on any day of our existence, we can see that God has helped us to successful ministry in the past and now to what we are able to do today. God has continuously raised up humble, faithful people – generation after generation in and around this little burg of Bono – who have sacrificed and worked and served and trusted Jesus to provide, and He has not left that trust unfulfilled. As God’s family in this place, we should gratefully raise our stones of remembrance.
Every born-again disciple should recognize that God has helped him/her this far along the way. Have we “laid hold” (Paul’s words). No, in process. I speak for me – though I have heard many of you say the same… Surely God has led me to blessings and growth and then to service far above my wisdom and abilities. I fully confess that I have done it on the shoulders of innumerable godly people – parents and family and teachers and spiritual mentors and writers who deserve far greater accolades than I ever gave them (due to my ignorance of their contributions). So here today, as a Jesus’ disciples, a son/daughter of God, I must gratefully raise my stones of remembrance to God and those who have helped me be of kingdom use.
God made the promise, “I will be with you” a number of times in the Bible story to the heroes of our spiritual family:
Abraham (Genesis 26:3); Jacob (Genesis 31:13); Moses (Exodus 3:12); Joshua (Joshua 1:15), Gideon (Judges 6:16); Solomon (1 Kings 11:38); to His chosen people Israel (Isaiah 43:2).
In the New Testament, Jesus told us that “as we go into all the world preaching the gospel [He] will be with us always” (Matthew 28:18-20)
And the Holy Spirit… John 14:16: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever…”
To Paul… Acts 18:6: “For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
Blessings of Obedience (Deuteronomy 31:1ff.)
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high... All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:
- You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
- The fruit of your womb will be blessed, the crops of your land and the young of your livestock…
- Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
- You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
- The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you…
- The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you…
- The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.
- The Lord will make you the head, not the tail…
Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.
Curses for Disobedience (Deuteronomy 31:15ff.)
However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:
- You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.
- Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.
- The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
- You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.
- The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.
- The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess…
- The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron.
- The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.
- The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies… and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away…
- The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark.
- You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.
“Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come…
And I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.”