Their names have been ensconced in literary tradition, however, their origin tells a different story. The arch nemesis of the Israelites, the Philistines, were still causing trouble for Israel. The people gathered for war, but they could not gain the upper-hand. Israel was slaughtered. More than likely the people had seen the reverential procession of the Philistine god, Dagon, and their comparative nature presumed they needed the same procession. They brought in the ark of God. Not for worship, not for consolation, but as a charm of good fortune. They celebrated the arrival of the ark but never invoked the divine power of which the ark represented. They were not interested in the God of the ark. They only wanted His power at their point of inconvenience.
One heroic believer made the observation that when believers come into trials, many times, they treat God like the spare tire instead of the steering wheel. When we have a need or when the time is convenient for us, then we can call upon God. This trivialization of the Lord led to a fatal defeat for Israel and the loss of their trinket, the ark. Eli falls backward and breaks his neck at the news of losing the ark of God. Phineas’ wife gives birth to a son and names him Ichabod, the glory has departed. The country was war ravaged. Women had lost their husbands and sons. The economic system was off-kilter. It was an infamous day in Israel.
The Israelites worship became disjointed, even after the ark’s return seven months later. Finally, Samuel recognized the beginnings of a revival when the people “lamented after the Lord.” He knew this at a tender time in the nation’s heart. He gathers the people for a ceremonial dedication, but the horrid Philistines put together a strike force and attacked Israel. The Lord displayed His strength for Israel and fought for them. “Then Samuel took a stone…and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). With this name, Samuel points to the history of Israel and highlights all the help the Lord has given. The people of the world bear an arm of flesh. Some trust in chariots and horses, but they were going to remember the name of the Lord who will fight their battles for them. Hitherto and evermore the Lord would help them.
What’s the difference between the Ichabod scene and the Ebenezer scene? Both involved the attack of the Philistines. The ark of God is present in both scenes. The difference was the people’s sincere devotion to God. Divine help only comes when we are complete devoted to God. Someone has said, “You know something is an idol when you are afraid of losing it.” The people used to be more afraid of losing the ark than drifting from the God of the ark. Once they lamented after the Lord, God intervened.
Lord, I praise you, Because of who you are,
Not for all the mighty things that you have done.
Lord, I worship you, because of who you are.
You’re all the reason that I need to voice my praise
Because of who you are