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Grace and remembrance

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebeneezer, saying, "Thus far the Lord has helped us."  (1 Samuel 7:12)

We don’t know much about the stone. We don’t know what kind of stone it was, how much it weighed or any of its vital statistics. All we know is that Samuel set it up between Mizpah and Shen. Oh yes, he gave the stone a one-word name, Ebeneezer.

They say the third time is a charm and undoubtedly for some it is, at least it was for Israel. They had been defeated twice by the Philistines. In addition, they had lost the ark of the covenant and Eli, Samuel's mentor, had died as had Samuel's sons, Hophni and Phineas, and Phineas' wife. In fact, things , were going so bad for Israel that just before her death, Phineas' wife named her newborn son Icabod, meaning the glory had departed from

Israel.  Indeed, it had.

However, God had not forgotten his people, they had forgotten Him so when Israel repented, He forgave. It happened at a place called Mizpah, where the people drew water and poured it out while confessing (pouring out) their sins. The Philistine decided this was an opportune time to once-and-for-all rid themselves of the pesky Israelites, so they launched an attack.  Israel cried out to God to save them and He did, causing loud thunder that sent the Philistine army into complete chaos.  The men of Israel chased the Philistines back to Beth Car. Samuel went and got the stone.

He named the stone Ebeneezer, meaning thus far the Lord has helped us. It seems to me that he placed the stone there for a couple of reasons.

First of all, he wanted to acknowledge God's role in what had transpired. He wanted to make it clear that the glory did not belong to him or any of the other Israelites. It did not belong to any special strategy they had come up with or any weapons they had made. It belonged toGod. He was the reason for their victory. 

It’s not any different today, is it? The good and perfect gifts we enjoy come down from above, James tells us. The next time we are tempted to take credit, we should instead bend our knees and bow our heads in gratitude.

There is, I believe, another reason why Samuel placed the stone there.  It was not merely a stone of acknowledgment; it was also a stone of remembrance. Samuel put the stone where he does so that in the latter years of his life, whenever he passed by, he would be reminded of what God had done for him. He put it there so that when any of the Israelites from that generation or future generations pass by they would remember what God had done for them. 

Why remembrance? Aren’t our minds already cluttered up enough with our ever expanding, never ending lists of present and future things to think about, remember and do?  Why risk overloading our delicate circuitry with blasts from the past?

Number one, because if we do not, we will forget. Number two, because it is important that we remember. I guess you could sum it up by saying we cannot forget the importance of remembering. That is why we need Ebeneezers.

This is a good place to stop and say that the fact that we are fast forgetters isn’t always bad. There are some things that are simply not worth remembering. There are some things we should choose to forget as God does when He chooses to forget about sin that He has forgiven.

However, if forgetting isn't always bad, it isn't always good either. In fact, there are some things we can never afford to forget, they are just that important. In a town where I once lived, there was a monument in memory of the millions of Jewish people murdered in the concentration camps of World War 2. Inscribed upon the monument were these words:

                       The Holocaust . . .

                       . . . a massive crime.

                       Too terrible to remember . . .

                       . . . too dangerous to forget.

 

The more I think about it, the more I realize that there is something to the phrase, Too terrible to remember, too dangerous to forget. Who enjoys thinking about the slaughter of all of those innocent people? What is pleasant about dwelling upon yet another example of man's inhumanity to man?  Nothing. Yet it is too dangerous to forget and so we must remember. What was it Santayana said—those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it?  There are some things we cannot afford to forget. There are some things we must remember.

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