He is one of Charles Dickens’s most remembered characters, though hardly the most loved. His pre-transformation portrait likely hung over the Grinch’s mantle. He was gruff, selfish, and downright ornery. His name was one whose irony is likely lost on this generation–Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s also a bit ironic that some now believe it was Dickens, more than the modern secular culture warriors, who most removed Christ from the Christmas holiday celebrations in the West. I’ll leave that up to cultural anthropologists to debate. I’m more interested in his first name–Ebenezer.
Every now and then when people are thumbing through a song book the conversation will come up about “all those songs with words that we don’t know.” You know, lyrics like, “Night with ebon pinion brooded o’er the vale.” In those conversations, someone will talk about how we shouldn’t sing songs with words like that, because we should “sing with understanding” (any Church of Christ raised person knows why that’s in quotes). So, it’s usually suggested those songs be skipped, and they usually are. Because, you know, it’s like so hard, and we totally can’t be expected to, like, learn new vocab, dude. I don’t, you know, go to church for, like, grammar lessons. For real. (Yes, I was a teen in the 80′s.) You get the picture. The problem is, when we willingly choose to be too lazy to learn a couple of new words, we loose more than vocabulary. We loose the encouragement, knowledge, and wisdom those words could have had, and were actually meant to bring us.
Picture it. Somewhere between Mizpah and Shen. 11th Century B.C. The Israelites are at the bottom of the barrel. They have been humiliated militarily, nationally, and spiritually. The ark of the Covenant, the very symbol of God’s presence in their midst and the reminder of the special covenant they have with Jehovah God was lost in the Battle of Aphek (1st Samuel 4). They are close to wiped off the map entirely. For 20 years, they mourned the loss of the ark. They “lamented after the Lord” (1st Samuel 7:2), but they also still clung to their idols. It took those 20 years to finally wake them up. One day Samuel spoke to the house of Israel, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines,” (vs. 3). So Israel did just that, and gathered at Mizpah, where they cried out to the Lord, and offered a lamb to the Lord in repentance. As this was happening, the thunder of Philistine troops approached. They continued with their sacrifice, and God thundered back. Literally. 1st Samuel 7:10b-11: “But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car.”
In their celebration the Israelites kept the humility of the their repentance. They knew they’d been outgunned. Their fate had been that of the soldiers of the Alamo, but God had reversed the tide and their Santa Anna had gone whimpering home. As we still do to this day, they erected a monument to the victory of the battle over the Philistines, “and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. [Samuel] named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us.”
This is the imagery of today’s hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. The second stanza (at least in our hymnals, there are more to the original hymn than we have) is: Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I‘ve come; and I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home; Jesus sought me when a stranger, wand’ring from the fold of God; he to rescue me from danger interposed His precious blood.” The image of Israel’s monument is the image of our own celebration of God’s deliverance: the cross, celebrated every Sunday in the sharing of the Lord’s supper. In both stories we find a people who are spiritually wandering, in both a people who are being pursued by an enemy who seeks their final destruction, and in both, repentance and the shed blood of a lamb, and the thundering of the God of heaven have changed the tide. When we lift the cup, we gratefully raise our Ebenezer. “Hither by Thy help I’ve come.”
Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise;
Teach me ever to adore Thee;
May I still Thy goodness prove,
While the hope of endless glory
Fills my heart with joy and love.
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I‘ve come;
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home;
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wand’ring from the fold of God;
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee;
Never let me wander from Thee,
Never leave to God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
- by Robert Robinson,