Good morning, Church. Welcome to another beautiful Sunday morning at Andover Vineyard online. It’s wonderful to be able to share God’s Word with you all today, to be able to meet online and to catch up with you all via technology. I’m so grateful to God for the incredible minds He’s given software engineers and infrastructure gurus and everyone who has made it possible for us to meet like this today.
We really are living in the future – and it’s amazing.
Before we start, let’s pray together.
Lord, thank You for all You have done – both now and in the years that have gone before. We praise You for all of Your great and mighty deeds, and we thank You for your infinite, boundless grace and love for each of us. Help us never to forget how great You are, all You have promised us, and how much You have already done for us.
Yes, we’re living in the future. As Hedley mentioned in last week’s talk, if this lockdown had happened even a few years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to meet online like this at all. That would have been terrible! The coronavirus crisis is very hard, but made so much easier to bear by the fact that it’s happening now, in this modern age.
What I want to talk to you about today, however, is the past. Specifically, remembering the past. I want to talk to you about stones of remembrance.
There’s a beautiful old hymn – Come Thou Fount, written by Robert Robinson – which includes these four lines:
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
“Raise mine Ebenezer” – that’s a weird sentence, right?!
What IS an Ebenezer?
That’s what we’re here to find to find out. Turn with me (or open your device) to 1 Samuel 7:3-13
Samuel Judges Israel
3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”
4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.
5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.”
6 So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.
7 Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines.
8 And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.”
9 So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him.
10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel.
11 And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
The context of this passage is that the Ark of the Lord had just been returned to Kiriath-Jearim in Israel from the Israelites in Beth-shemesh, who had received it back from the Philistines. The Philistines had previously captured the ark and put it into the temple of their god, Dagon.
Hilariously (at least to me), every night, Dagon would fall face down in front of the Ark. The Philistines would put him back upright again, but he kept falling down before the Ark of the Lord. Not long after the Philistines put God’s Ark in their pagan temple, their idol was found with his head and hands completely severed from his body. They removed the Ark of the Lord from their temple, but wherever they put it, the people of those towns were afflicted with haemorrhoids and plagues of rats until, eventually – in desperation – the Philistines returned the Ark to Israel.
The Israelites celebrated the return of the Ark of the Lord and their priest, Samuel, gave them the injunction I’ve just read: turn from your gods and worship the one true God.
All of Israel agreed. They swore an oath to keep God’s Word. Then God gave them a mighty victory over the very same Philistines who’d just returned the Ark.
It’s what Samuel does next that God has been speaking to me about this week.
Samuel sets up a stone of remembrance – an EBENEZER.
We need to do the same.
Now, this isn’t the first time we see stones of remembrance in the Bible.
Interestingly, an earlier reference to stones of remembrance occurs at the very same spot – Mizpah (also called Galeed).
Jacob flees Laban
This story involves Jacob, who was running away from his father-in-law, Laban, with his wives and children and flocks and all that he had. He was running to his brother Esau, to find shelter from Laban. But Laban tracked him down and demanded an explanation for his sneakiness.
They nearly came to blows and things could have gone very badly for both sides. But God was with Jacob and brought peace. He appeared to Laban in a dream and warned him not to harm Jacob or his family, or take anything that belonged to Jacob.
Genesis 31:44-50 tells us what happened next. Laban says to Jacob:
44Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.”
45So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar.
46And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap.
47Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed.
48Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore he named it Galeed (which means witness),
49and Mizpah (which means watchpost), for [Labaln] said, “The LORD watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight.
50If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.”
May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are apart
Jacob flees Esau
Many years before this, Jacob’s sneakiness had gotten him into trouble again and he had to escape for his life from his brother Esau – the very man he was running to now!
When Jacob was running away from Esau, he spent the night in Bethel.
That night, he had a dream about a ladder descending from heaven and angels moving up and down on it – the famous “Stairway to Heaven”.
In Genesis 28:18 we read,
So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.
The name of the place – Beth El – House of God – was based on that vision.
Joshua leads the Israelites into Israel
Long before Samuel arrived on the scene, before the Israelites had a home, when Joshua led them into the Promised Land, they crossed the river of Jordan at Gilgal.
Joshua 4:1-6a tells us:
1 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,
2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man,
3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”
4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe.
5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel,
6 that this may be a sign among you.
The story later goes on to explain that they didn’t only set up the stones on the shore of the Jordan, where they camped. They also set up twelve stones inside the river, at the place where the priests were standing, holding the Ark of the Lord, while the whole of Israel crossed the flooding Jordan on dry ground.
The rocks were reminders of what God had done.
It’s so important to remember and honour God and all that He has done
If you use the Bible app YouVersion, you may have seen the reading plan ‘Through the Bible in a Year, by Nicky Gumble (who founded Alpha). I’m busy working through it at the moment. This week, I was really struck by the observations he drew from Psalm 50. He says:
“When it comes down to it, there are only two possible attitudes to God. We can honour Him or we can hate Him. For God says, ‘Those who sacrifice thank-offerings honour Me’ (Ps.50v.23).
He contrasts those who ‘hate My instruction’ (Ps.50v.17a).
Those who ‘hate’ God ignore him and ‘forget God’ (v.22). The twentieth century saw the terrible consequences of the actions of those who forgot Him and hated His instruction.
As the great Russian novelist, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, considered the great disasters ‘that swallowed up some 60 million’ Russians, he saw the principal trait of the twentieth century was that ‘people have forgotten God’.
The contrast to forgetting God is a life honouring Him – one full of thankfulness and praise: ‘It’s the praising life that honours Me. As soon as you set your foot on the Way, I’ll show you My salvation’ (v.23, MSG).”
– Nicky Gumble
So today, I’d like to leave you with
Three Rs for Rocks of Remembrance
1. Record it
In law, we have the concept of an eye witness: someone who saw an event and can provide credible testimony of what happened. In a trial, that eye-witness testimony is recorded and becomes something tangible, something official.
How do you steward the deeds and words and promises of God?
We need to treat our encounters with God as having that kind of weight. They are weighty, official, real Things, and we need to treat them as such. We need to record them in some meaningful way that we can look back on.
That is what a stone of remembrance is: it’s a physical embodiment of the mighty acts of God. Impossible to miss. The name given to one of the first places where a rock of remembrance was erected is Galeed, which means witness. It’s an official record of a solemn act.
And that place’s other name, Mizpah – the name that survived history to Samuel’s day – means watch post. It’s a look-out spot. It’s a device that helps ensure we don’t forget.
Think of a contract: you make a promise to do something, and set up a way to remind yourself of what you’ve promised and keep watch against infringement. A wedding ring is like that: a tangible, visible way of saying to the world: I have promised to be faithful to someone. It makes it so much harder to break that promise. In the same way, a rock of remembrance becomes a place to keep watch against any infringement of the contract.
2. Reverence it
Reverence what God does and says and shows you.
In Psalm 77:10, David says:
And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.”
But then I recall all you have done, O Lord ; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. By your strong arm, you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. When the Red Sea saw you, O God, its waters looked and trembled! The sea quaked to its very depths. The clouds poured down rain; the thunder rumbled in the sky. Your arrows of lightning flashed.
Psalms 77:10-17 NLT
When we worship God – no matter what the circumstances – we find a new, deeper connectedness to the Father.
Thanking Him, praising Him, appreciating Him – it unlocks something in us and sets us free.
3. Recount it
Over and over again in the Bible, God exhorts the Israelites: Tell your children.
It’s so clear from the passages of scripture that God really, really cares that our children see and know and experience our faith. From Adam to the end of Revelation, we’re reminded to pass on what we’ve seen and heard to our children – and that includes our spiritual children. It’s really clear that He LOVES our children. He has no grandchildren – our children are His children. And He’s given us the sacred duty and awesome privilege of sharing Him with them. In fact, He commands us to do it.
Just listen to what it says in Psalm 78:3-5 (this is The Passion Translation)
3-4 We’ve heard true stories from our fathers about our rich heritage.
We will continue to tell our children
and not hide from the rising generation
the great marvels of our God—
his miracles and power that have brought us all this far.
5 The story of Israel is a lesson in God’s ways.
He established decrees for Jacob and established the law in Israel,
and he commanded our forefathers to teach them to their children.
We’ve just finished Passover (about ten days ago). This year, our family followed a Passover devotional for each night of Passover, and what really struck me about this is how the entire festival is designed to draw questions out of our children – to encourage them to ask why? – so that we can create opportunities to answer and tell them why we do these things.
We do these things to remember what God has done for us. To remember how great and powerful He is. He is able.
We need to record His mighty acts and wonderful promises – write them down, reflect on them, return to them again and again, ponder what He’s done and said and shown us, meditate on these things. So that we don’t forget. So that they become part of us. And so that we can tell others.
As we do this, we strengthen our faith. We spark faith in others. We ignite joy. And we overcome.
Let’s pray together:
O Lord, Who can be compared with You LORD our God,
who is enthroned on high?
6You stoop to look down
on heaven and on earth.
7You lift the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
8You set them among princes,
even the princes of Your own people!
9You give the childless woman a family,
making her a happy mother.
Yes Lord, You are great and mighty. You have done wonderful things – more wonderful than we can imagine! You are our God and our King, our Lord and our Father. You are our Saviour and our Brother and our Friend.
Help us never to forget. Restore the joy of our salvation.
We love You, Lord.