OUR EBENEZER – Sermon by Egan Yip
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Welcome back to our weekly Sunday worship. Last week was the first Sunday of the month, so we had a break from our usual messages. Let’s get back into things with our weekly recap.
Last time, we had quite the unusual Bible story. It came from 1 Samuel. The Philistines had just won a major battle against the Israelites. Thousands of Israelites were slaughtered. The Israelites had brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle, thinking it would ensure their victory. But what happened? They still lost. When news of this defeat and loss of the Ark reached the ears of the Israelites, they were in despair and lost all hope. The glory had left Israel. What were they going to do now? They had already lost the battle with the Ark, and so it did not look like they would be able to get the ark back.
But then we get a glimpse into the situation with the Philistines. The Philistines get the ark, and it really feels like they have won. They even put the ark into the temple of one of their gods, the one called Dagon. Then things start to get eerie. After the first night, Dagon idol falls down in front of the Ark. They put Dagon back up. After the second night, they find Dagon on the floor again, this time with its head and hands broken. Then the outbreak happened. The whole city is afflicted by a mysterious disease. People were dying and sick. They move the ark to another city. Same thing happens. They do it again. But now they realize that this isn’t a solution. If they keep the ark, they will all die. And so they decide to just send back the Ark to Israel.
The main point of that message was the power of God. We may sometimes fall into the thought that nothing will happen if we do nothing. But that’s not true. Even as we just sit here in this room, the world is in motion, and God’s hand is constantly doing things all over the place that we just don’t see or recognize. The Israelites despaired over the loss of the ark because they realized that they wouldn’t be able to bring it back. They worried over nothing because God brought the ark back to the Israel by His own power.
With that, let’s get back into the story. We’re going to be looking at 1 Samuel 7 today. We’ll begin by reading the first four verses.
1 So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord. 2 The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.
Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. 3 So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.
Here we have a bit of closure to our message last time. The Philistines return the ark to the Israelites, but the Israelites don’t really have a proper place for the ark. The Israelites do not yet have a temple. So they bring it to someone’s house and they have someone guard it. And for twenty years, that is where the ark is. So that’s what happens to the ark for the moment.
What we read next is more relevant to what we’ve been talking about. See, this is why context is always important because the Bible doesn’t always spell things out easily for us. When we first read about this whole situation with the Israelites losing the ark, we don’t quite understand why. I did present a possibility by discussing how the high priests were corrupt and immoral, which is why the Lord put them to death. But is that really supposed to be a reflection of the immorality of the Israelites as a whole? Yes. When the leadership fails to trust in the Lord, the people will follow. The Israelites didn’t understand why they kept getting destroyed in battle. They didn’t ask God. The Bible didn’t tell us outright. But now we find out why: they were still stuck in their same old ways that we saw in the book of Judges. They were unfaithful. They believed in the Lord. We saw that in how they thought the Ark would save them. But they also worshipped other gods. That’s not good. So Samuel explained it to them: If you want to really repent, if you want to really turn back to God—then you have to get rid of everything that holds you back from worshipping Him alone. That is the only way to make things right with God. It’s the only way to receive God’s favor and deliverance.
So many times when we preach the Gospel, when we talk about God, we forget about this important point. What do you have to do for salvation? Believe in Jesus. But that’s not the whole story. Believe ONLY in Jesus. This is where the Ten Commandments help. Understanding the teachings of the New Testament assumes you have a good grasp of the Old Testament. You shall have no other gods before me. It isn’t enough to believe in God or believe in Jesus. You have to also be faithful to Him. I think we can probably find a lot of Christians today that won’t get this. They’ll go to church. They’ll confess faith in Christ. But no one can serve two masters. And in this world, it’s easy to follow many masters. You may idolize people and practically worship them. You may idolize things that interest you or make you happy, and that’s basically addiction—whenever you are addicted to something other than your relationship with God. And many will certainly idolize wealth. You may believe in Jesus, believe in His salvation and His truths—even wholeheartedly—but unless you devote yourself to Him, it just doesn’t matter. That’s a false security and a false faith because those who love Jesus will keep his commands, and that includes faithful devotion to the one and only. Let’s continue reading. Verses 5 and 6.
5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader[a] of Israel at Mizpah.
Seven chapters later we finally get to this point. The title of the book is Samuel, but most of it so far has not really been about him or just about when he was a boy. Now, we see here that Samuel takes the leadership position of Israel. He becomes their judge, their last judge. Already, things have turned completely around. The Israelites realized they messed up. They first got rid of their idols, and then they confessed their sins. They were now ready to worship and serve the Lord their God only.
Let’s continue on. 7-13.
When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.
10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. 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. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,[b] saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
13 So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines.
The Philistines did not learn their lesson. After all the trouble they went through because of the ark—the amount of people that died, the suffering and terror they went through—they still wanted to defeat Israel. The moment they heard about an opportunity with all the Israelites assembled in one place, the Philistines gathered up their troops once again to attack the Israelites. But this time, the entire situation was flipped. It would not be their victory. They were the ones to suffer a crushing defeat. The Lord impacted the tide of battle. There was loud thunder. He caused confusion and panic among them. The Israelites fought and slaughtered them.
And then in verse 13, we get a happy ending to this little story arc. In the beginning was all doom and gloom. But now the Philistines have stopped invading. As long as Samuel lived, God was against the Philistines. During the time of Samuel, the Israelites did not have to worry about the troubling Philistines.
One final thing that I just want to point out before we wrap everything up is the small detail that we read about in that ending.
In verse 12, Samuel sets up a stone to commemorate the occasion. He called it Ebenezer. The word Ebenezer might be familiar to you because it’s the name of Scrooge in the Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge. But some of you may have heard it mentioned in some older Christian hymns. It means stone of help, which is why Samuel says the Lord has helped us.
This is a detail that seems kind of insignificant, and yet it is also happens a fair amount in the Old Testament. Whenever something about God happens and is very important to the person, they tend to put a stone in remembrance of the event. It happens during moments of great joy, when God has undeniably shown his favor or revealed himself. And I think that is a good behavior or habit to have. I admire it. I respect it. And I think there is something in that act that we can take from it.
Even though I say that, I’m not suggesting that we follow literally their example in putting up a stone and giving it a name. That’s how they did things in their culture and it made sense to them. But such an act would not make sense in our culture. People will find it strange if you put a large rock or altar outside your house. And you certainly can’t do that along the road or at school or work. Instead, we should attempt to find ways to help us personally remember the special moments in our lives that we recognized that God was here or God was on our side. Whether or not you do this… or how you do this is up to you. I mean, maybe you can write in a journal the significant times you felt that God has been your help. Maybe you can take a photo of something specific about those times and just keep them safe somewhere. Or maybe you can create like a collection of items that remind you of that event, and you have a nice shelf on display that acts like an Ebenezer. But I feel that this would be a good thing. I say this because we can easily and quickly forget the good things that God has put into our lives. And it is very important that we remember what he has done for us because it will help us during difficult times and it will help us keep our faith when we recognize just how much God has helped us through our lives.
Categories: ENGLISH SERMON