Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Remember Ebenezer Scrooge?

One of the early American hymns, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, had, in my opinion, some puzzling lyrics in its second verse:

"Here I raise mine Ebenezer;"
"Hither by Thy help I’m come;"

I crack a smile at the mention of "Ebenezer." My first thoughts are that of Ebenezer Scrooge.   And Scrooge seems so out of place in a church hymn book, much like the London Bridge is so out of place half way around the world in the middle of the desert in Arizona.

My Ebenezer? What's up with this? Let's start at the beginning.

When Israel was ruled by judges, the Philistines were in the land and those troubling times were described as:

"In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

Judges 21:25 (King James Version)

Sound like today?

Recently, Raiders of the Lost Ark was broadcast on television. In this movie set in 1936, US Army officers approached Indiana Jones about their concerns that the Germans were coming close to finding the lost Ark of the Covenant. The Nazis believed that the Ark possessed great mystical powers, and that anyone who brought it into battle would be invincible. Of all ironies, the Jews in the Old Testament thought the very same thing and painfully found out otherwise.

Now, go back to the time of judges in ancient Israel, in particular the times of the last judge, Samuel.  Israel went to war - again - with the Philistines and took the Ark of the Covenant with them. (I Samuel 4 - 6) The Israelites treated the Ark as their "good luck charm" and with it they deemed themselves to be invincible in battle. Instead, the Jews suffered a devastating defeat. The Philistines won the battle and captured the Ark.

Only the Ark was not such a blessing to the Philistines.  Everywhere the Ark went, plagues were sure to go. This supreme spoils of war became a hot potato, and it was passed from village to village.

"You take it."
"No, you take it."
 ... etc.

The Philistines had enough and wanted to get rid of it. They put the Ark on a cattle driven cart and sent it back to Israel.

But it was not such a blessing to the finders of the real lost Ark. The Israelites mishandled it, daring to look inside it.  Many died and the people felt devastated. Yet, they should have known better. The Law of Moses gave explicit instructions on how to properly carry and care for the Ark and they just ignored it. It would be another twenty years before the children of Israel were ready to receive the Ark, again.

Finally, the Israelites repented of their idolatry and turned their hearts back to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At Mizpeh, the people gathered and the prophet Samuel prayed unto the Lord, offering sacrifices, while the people confessed their sins. The Philistines attacked again, but this time the Lord gave Israel the victory - the first great victory in a long time.

"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."

I Samuel 7:12 (King James Version)

Note: Ebenezer means literally - Stone of Help

I don't think it was happenstance that Dickens chose the name Ebenezer Scrooge for his protagonist in "A Christmas Carol." This Ebenezer, much like the humiliated Israelites, eventually repented of idolatry - in his case, the love of money. Ever since 1843, this Ebenezer has become a model of repentance and redemption.

Ebenezer Scrooge can be an Ebenezer - a stone of help. His story can help us remember the Spirit of Christmas. Who it is that really helps us? Not Santa Claus. Not the uncertainty of riches. But the Lord when we seek Him with our whole heart.

Wise men - and women - still seek Him.

Question: This Christmas and the rest of the year, what is your Ebenezer?

Picture from Wiki Commons: Charles Dickens-A Christmas Carol-Title page-First edition 1843

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