Last weekend at church, we sang a number of songs in our worship service. It’s been a part of our church’s initiative of periodically celebrating worship outdoors, a holdover from the pandemic years. We have embraced the idea of turning “parking places into sacred spaces.” Janet and I love the outdoor experience. In fact, I wish that we would do it more often.
One of the songs that we sang is one of the old standards – “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Like so many of the old hymns, this song contains stanzas that are difficult to understand. Things such as “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love,” seem out of place in a worship song.
But the truth of the matter is that many of these lyrics are autobiographical in nature – in other words, the composers of the hymns wrote their words based on their own relationships with the Lord. In this case, Robert Robertson, the composer of the hymn, recalled a time in his own life when he was walking the wrong way.
Then, he was influenced by George Whitefield, a powerful preacher. Robertson, in his own right, eventually became a very well known preacher himself and was finally convicted to write this most famous hymn in 1758. It has been a congregation favorite for more than 250 years now.
Sometimes, there are words or phrases in these songs that we really don’t know the meaning of. “Come Thou Fount” has this issue also. There is a line in the hymn that says,“Here I raise mine Ebenezer/ hither by thy help I’m come.” What in the world does that mean?
In fact, the The Hymnal Revision Committee for the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal received requests to alter this stanza by omitting the term “Ebenezer.” Nobody really understood what the phrase meant but, like so many of us, people continued to sings words that they had no understanding of. Studying the Scripture and finding no better alternative, the committee decided to leave the language the same as it had been from the beginning.
So exactly where did the word “Ebenezer” come from? Well, it’s from a Bible verse… Simply put, in the 7th chapter of 1 Samuel, we are told about a conflict. The people ask Samuel to intercede on their behalf and that day, they are delivered by the Lord and rule the day.
In grateful appreciation for the Lord’s help in winning the battle, Samuel raises a stone – a reminder of the Lord’s help that day. He named the stone “Ebenezer” – roughly meaning “stone of help.” So Samuel created a memorial, a reminder, of the victory. In some ways, it is similar to Joshua’s priests building a tower of stones as the people crossed the Jordan River as they entered the Promised Land. Stones, including boundary markers, were used to memorialize significant events.
So raising an Ebenezer was a way of saying that the Lord has delivered or helped in some significant way. Those of us who remember the grace of God and His help throughout our lives also “raise an Ebenezer” in recognition of those times. Granted, the language may be a little dated, but the meaning is crystal clear once you know the history.
Tonight’s verse is from 1 Samuel, the very verse that “Come Thy Fount is based on… We are told, in 1 Samuel 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.”
My encouragement this evening is that it is important to remember the times in our lives when we felt the presence of the Lord and recall all the help that He has given us. My prayer is that we may all be bold and show others how we put our faith in the Lord, raising an Ebenezer in the process. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…