Hymn writer Robert Robinson (1735-1790) was eight years old at the time of his father's death. He was a bright, strong-willed child, who became increasingly more difficult for his mother to handle. When Robert was 14, she sent him to London for an apprenticeship with a barber and hairdresser. He proceeded to get into even more trouble as he drank and gambled with rowdy friends.
At 17, Robert and some of his buddies decided to attend a George Whitfield evangelistic meeting, fully intending to disrupt the service, but the Lord had other plans! As Whitfield preached, young Robert felt it was directed to him. Toward the end of his sermon, Whitfield burst into tears and cried, “Oh, my hearers, the wrath's to come! The wrath's to come!” Those words haunted Robinson for three years until finally he yielded his heart to Christ on December 10, 1755, at the age of 20. Soon after he answered the call to preach and in 1758 Robinson penned the words to immortal hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”
While singing that hymn in church a few weeks ago, I noticed for the first time the strange and cryptic words of the second verse, “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” If you are like many who have sung this song, the word “Ebenezer” immediately brings to your mind visions of old Ebenezer Scrooge from Dickens’ Christmas Carol, screaming at Bob Cratchet to conserve coal and get to work. Yet, we all know that is not the idea behind this song. Where, then, does the term Ebenezer originate, and what does it mean?
After some research I discovered the meaning lies in an obscure story in 1 Samuel 7, when the prophet Samuel and the Israelites found themselves under attack by the Philistines. Fearing for their lives, the Israelites begged Samuel to pray for them in their impending battle against the Philistines. Samuel offered a sacrifice to God and prayed for His protection. God listened to Samuel, causing the Philistines to lose the battle and retreat back to their own territory. After the Israelite victory, the Bible records: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’ ” (1 Sam. 7:12).
The word Ebenezer comes from the Hebrew words which simply mean “stone of help.” When Robinson wrote his lyrics, he followed the word Ebenezer with the phrase, “Here by Thy great help I’ve come.” An Ebenezer, then, is simply a monumental stone set up to signify the great help that God granted the one raising the stone. In Robinson’s poem, it figuratively meant that the writer—and all who subsequently sing the song—acknowledge God’s bountiful blessings and help in their lives.
The next time you sing about raising your Ebenezer, you will be able to “sing with the understanding” that you are acknowledging God’s help in your life (1 Cor. 14:15). Whatever we have done, wherever we have wandered, He will receive and restore us by His grace. Perhaps we should keep a small stone or token on a desk or shelf as our own Ebenezer—a powerful, visible reminder that by God’s help we have come this far in life, and He will see us through to the end. -DM