"And I will build an altar
And stack it stone by stone
'Cause every Ebenezer says, 'I've never been alone'
My faith will surely falter
But that don't change what You've done
'Cause every Ebenezer points to where my help comes from"
- Just As Good, Chris Renzema feat. Ellie Holcomb
One month. One month to the day since we lost Dad. It's been a month filled with heartache, sorrow, and grief. Pain and anguish often set up camp in my heart. Confusion and doubt often come knocking on the door of my mind. It's been the most arduous month my family has ever been through.
When you've lost someone, you often find that you drift from day to day. It is almost as if life is happening around you and yet you're weirdly detached from the reality that is surrounding you. You have interactions with others but your mind is a million miles away in a million different pieces.
I imagine it's like looking through those old View Master Classic Viewers with the image reels. I distinctly remember playing with some as a kid and thinking how cool it was to be looking through these bizarre contraptions at various images. *CLICK* There's an image of a serene valley with wild animals grazing. *CLICK* Now the scene has changed into a night sky with stars and galaxies too numerous to count. *CLICK* It's the image of an underwater environment bursting with life and color.
I've found in this season of loss the sentiment is recognizable. You pull the lever of the View Master of your life and each day you experience such a wide range of emotional images that it's difficult to get on steady ground. *CLICK* You remember something that always made them smile and the pain bubbles back up to the surface. *CLICK* You see the spot they always sat in while watching TV and you know that seat will never be filled and the tears begin to build up in your eyes. *CLICK* You find yourself laughing at a joke they told because you saw something that reminded you of them. *CLICK*... *CLICK...... *CLICK*.
The images and memories that pop into my mind are markers. They are reminders of a time that I wish I would have cherished more. They make me smile and they make me tear up. They are dear to me. They're reminders that I had a earthly father who loved me and his family so well and in that I'm blessed.
As these reminders play out in my mind, I'm reminded of how the people of Israel set up their own markers to remember their Heavenly Father. They set up stone altars to remind themselves of the great things God had done in their lives and how much He loved them.
In 1 Samuel 7, we read about the prophet Samuel erecting one of these markers after a season of pain Israel had come through. Israel had been fighting against the Philistines for years. The Philistines were greater in number and better equipped and thus defeated Israel handedly on two occasions. In that last battle, Israel even brought the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred seat of the Presence of God, into the foray and ended up losing the fight and losing the Glory of God.
These people weren't just overpowered. They were defeated.
Fast-forward and the ark is brought back to Israel by the Philistines (turns out God ensured the Philistines knew how powerful the God of Israel truly was). When the ark returns, Samuel returns and pleads with Israel to turn back to God and serve Him alone. The people repented and gathered in a city called Mizpah which wasn't far from Jerusalem in order for the prophet to pray on their behalf.
The Philistines heard about this little gathering and decided it would be a prime opportunity to officially wipe out these annoying people who serve a bizarrely powerful God. As Samuel was offering sacrifices and praying for the nation, the Philistines show up in full battle array, but something incredible happened.
God answered the prayers of Samuel and the people. The Lord thundered so mightily that day the Philistines were thrown into confusion and the rout was on.
It's at this point we see the crux of story happen. Samuel erects a stone and names it Ebenezer.
Thus far the Lord has helped us.
It became a marker for Israel.
Every man, woman, and child who looked upon that stone would see the evidence of God's help. They would no doubt know the story of the struggles of their people. They would know of the defeat and the heartache and loss. But they would also know that they didn't experience those seasons alone.
Ebenezer points to where their help comes from.
My heart resonates with this story and there are some takeaways I've gleaned from it:
Ebenezer is erected for difficult seasons
Our stones of remembrance are often built for critical times. We build our altars of stone so that when we experience troubling times in our lives, we can look back and see that "thus far the Lord has helped us."
My good friend Pastor Russ Moore discusses this process in his book Hope for the Wilderness (I highly recommend this book to everyone and encourage you to go to Amazon once you've finished reading this post and purchase a copy for yourself and a family member - it's that good [I'll link to it at the bottom]).
Russ describes how we need to get into the habit of making a "POS".
A pile of stones, you heathens.
He explains how God instructed Israel throughout the Old Testament to build monuments or altars of stone to commemorate special times in their history. They were instructed to do this not because God is narcissistic but because God understands how quickly we forget His goodness when the rubber meets the road. God understands we are visual creatures and need reminding *often* that we are not alone.
Russ is on to something. Our piles of stones are built as reminders for when life is difficult and the road is hard. They emphasize that God isn't done working in our lives and that His goodness is infinite and endless. Even in hard times we can see God's goodness and sovereignty in Ebenezer.
Ebenezer is erected for who is coming after us
Samuel erected Ebenezer in an area of Israel that the whole nation could get to. It was a high-traffic region where people for generations would see the stone during their day-to-day routine. It was placed in a spot where travelers throughout the country coming to and from Jerusalem would see what God had done.
This is so significant.
The prophet didn't want just the current generation of Israel to see what God had done for His people. He wanted future generations and anyone coming and going to see that "thus far the Lord has helped us."
We build altars not just for us. We build them for our children. We build them for our grandchildren. They are markers for our progeny that point to the faithful hand of God in our lives and in the lives' of our family.
When our children or anyone in our family is beset by trouble and turmoil, we can point them to Ebenezer and tell them how God was faithful then, He'll be faithful now. He walked us through that dark valley, He'll walk you through this one too.
Ebenezer is erected to remind us of who God is
Ebenezer reminds us of the sovereignty and power of God. Ebenezer reminds us of the faithfulness and steadfastness of His character. Ebenezer emphasizes God's infinite goodness and His endless compassion.
It highlights God's love for His children.
It promotes our trust in His perfect plans.
It beckons us to surrender to His sovereign will.
It points to where our help comes from.
In the midst of our darkest and most tumultuous seasons, Ebenezer redirects our focus from the maelstrom around us to the majesty of our King. It's guides us to the Anchor of our souls.
That's the key. We don't worship the stone. We don't exalt Ebenezer. We worship the God that Ebenezer points to. We rejoice that Ebenezer signifies God has saved us and restored us.
Thus far the Lord has helped us.
It all points to Him.
So how does this apply to my season of loss?
How does this apply to your season of _______ ?
Fill in the blank for yourself because we will all go through various trials and challenges.
I've discovered for myself that if I look on those still images and markers I mentioned earlier, I can see that God, most emphatically, has helped me thus far. He has walked with me in the deepest valleys and has sung over me in the darkest nights.
In the midnight hour, I'm reminded of where my help comes from.
Is it still painful? Absolutely.
Is it confusing? Often.
Is there misery and sorrow? Most definitely.
Have I ever been alone? Never.
How do I know this?