God decided to send His angel with the Israelites to lead them into the Promised Land and since Moses was not going to lead them beyond the Jordan river, God tasked him to write down all that he had been told for the Israelites to follow. The first five books of the Holy Bible, the Pentateuch, are recognized by the Jews as holy word of God. The book of Deuteronomy contains a summary of the journey of the Israelites from Egypt and of God’s commandments. Moses commanded the people to teach the word to their children and all future generations to make them aware of all that God had done for their ancestors. Not only the obedience of the Israelites is recorded but even their acts of gross violation of God’s word are written down to act as a memorial for all ages to come.
God calls those things which do not exist as though they did (Romans 4:17). God saw that darkness filled the whole earth, which was ‘tohu va bohu’ – empty, desolate, without form and void and yet commanded ‘Let there be light’ to invest the glory of His Son, through whom everything was created in that emptiness (Genesis 1:2-3). The emptiness getting filled with God’s Living Word produced the God desired fruit of creation. Again when God formed man of the dust of the ground and ‘breathed into his nostrils’ to make him a living being, He sowed a part of Himself into that pile of dust (Genesis 2:7). When King David sees the heavens and God’s handiwork declare the glory of God and that ‘Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge’, he finds all of creation as markers to remind us about all the blessings that have been bestowed on us by a loving God (Psalm 19:1-2).
When that same God prohibits man from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil to save him from death, He sets up a boundary marker to warn Adam of stepping out of God’s Divine protection on disobedience (Genesis 2:16-17). Cain worships God through His offering of the fruit of the ground but not the fruit of his own effort and the offering is rejected by God for the reason that it was supposed to be an offering of thankfulness to remember how God had sustained him till that time (Genesis 4:3). Any offering to the LORD is not like an investment for future blessings, help and protection but a reminder of the blessings received thus far. That is why God has prohibited man to place offerings before any manmade object. Moses commanded the Israelites not to set up a sacred pillar (standing stone) which the LORD your God hates (Deuteronomy 16:22) for this is in direct contravention to the Commandments of God (Exodus 20) of not creating any graven image.
But Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, ‘and there called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God’ (Genesis 21:33). Jacob set up the stone that he had used under his head ‘as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it’ and he changed the name of the place from Luz to Bethel and made a vow to pay a tithe of all that God would give him (Genesis 28:18-22). Joshua asked the twelve chosen men from the Israelites to take up a stone from the midst of the Jordan River so that these could be set up as ‘a sign’ for the future generations to ‘be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever’ (Joshua 4:4-7). All of these instances were setting up pillars to honor the LORD but the act in itself was accepted by God.
The issue here and in the commandments is about what an object is used for and to whom it is meant to identify. It does not mean that God’s Word can be distorted in any way through a different interpretation than what was intended. Any object that replicates any pagan ritual for worship of Jehovah God is violation of His commands. Prophet Samuel commemorated the Israelites victory over the Philistines in Mizpah, where the Israelites had gathered together to confess their sins and repent (1 Samuel 7:12). A stone was set up between Mizpah and Shen and it was named Ebenezer by the Prophet. The Philistines were then subdued and the Israelites regained all the cities and territory from their hands. The stone was set up as a reminder to the Israelites about God’s help in subduing their enemies.
What does Ebenezer mean? – Ebenezer has two words ‘eben’ meaning stone and ‘ezer’ meaning ‘help or helper’. Eve is called ‘ezer kenegdo’ a suitable help meet for Adam and Ebenezer means a stone of help illustrating that ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’. In like manner the twelve stones set up by Joshua were to remind the Israelites of all that the LORD had done for them in the past and to encourage and strengthen them about faithfulness of God and His assured help in the future.
The shortest route to travel from Egypt to the Promised Land was only 11 days long but the LORD took them on a longer route for a long period of slavery to Egypt had established such stones in their minds to change their entire mindset to a perpetual state of slavery. God first took Israel out of Egypt, which was an easy task, and then went about taking Egypt out of them. The Israelites are the chosen people to reveal God’s glory to others in the world but they were reluctant to let go of the memorials set up in their hearts and let God change their hearts to Him. The Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron craving for ‘pots of meat and bread’ that they had in Egypt and to erase that God provided them meat of the quails and Manna, ‘the bread from heaven’ (Exodus 16:2-4).
Because of Moses’ sin of hitting the rock twice, Moses was not permitted by God to lead the people into the Promised Land. All that the LORD had done for the Israelites and the mankind from creation itself had been written in the first four books. When the time for parting with his people had come for Moses, he spoke to the Israelites and his words are recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy which was written to ‘remind the people what God had done till then and to encourage them to have hope and follow God and listen and obey His commands in the future. This book is a memorial to remind how God had helped them till then.
It may not be the intent of the worshipper but when we adopt a custom or ritual that places the tool of worship equal to the Object of worship, the sin is committed and from a reminder it becomes an idol. The devil tried to take the body of Moses from Archangel Michael who was deputed by God to bury him at an unknown place (Jude 1:9). Satan wanted to create a memorial to Moses to show him as the savior of Israelites to lead them away from God to the worship of Moses.
Hebrew word ‘mizbeach’ (mizbaakh) means ‘altar’ and offerings to God were made on the altar in the early times and later in the Tabernacle or the Temple. Noah offered sacrifices on an altar (Genesis 8:20) and Abraham built and altar, placed wood on that and ‘he bound Isaac and placed him on the altar, upon the wood’ (Genesis 22:9). The fundamental purpose of such an altar was to serve as a memorial of manifestation of God and Jacob called such a pillar as ‘Bethel’ (the house of God) after pouring oil on it. Eventually this practice was stopped among the Israelites for others also started setting up sacred pillars as idols or as images of their gods as part of their worship. Among the Israelites such practice had stopped before the ministry of Lord Jesus and the cross came to seen as ‘eben ezer’ by many believers as a memorial to the salvation through the crucifiction of the Lord and it is worn around the neck in a chain.
Relevance of an Ebenezer for a believer – The sacrifice on the cross, resurrection, ascension and glorification of Lord Jesus and the Day of Pentecost are important events for a believer and celebrated like a Jew celebrates the decreed festivals. These days are important to remind me what the LORD God has done for us through His Son. But equally important is the day of my baptism and new birth for on that day I received the fullness of the blessings of Lord Jesus’ work. Thereafter many instances are important for me as milestones, to remind me of God’s helping hand in my life. I do not revere any of these days but I remember these to thank the Lord for what He has done in the past and get encouraged for the future. Such a milestone or Ebenezer is a reminder for me of the past while assuring me of my assured future in the Lord.
A doctor friend in Jalandhar is always mindful of the way some missionary had visited his grandfather with the message of the Gospel, about the education of his father and all the help he has received in the past from the Lord. He has various Ebenezer stones for his life and rejoices in remembering these while praising God and seeking help for the future. The Amalekites attacked Israelites and Moses sent Joshua with select people to fight them and He himself stood on the ‘top of the hill with the rod of God’ in his hand. Moses raised his hands in prayer and Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ hands until the going down of the sun by which time Joshua had defeated the Amalekites (Exodus 17). God commanded Moses to write this ‘for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua’ and Moses erected an altar there and called it ‘Yahweh Nissi’, the LORD is my banner or rallying point (Exodus 17:14-15). Joshua remembered this incident when the Israelites attacked Ai (Joshua 8:18 & 26). The LORD commanded Joshua to stretch out the spear that was in his hand towards Ai for God was giving it into their hands. Joshua did not ‘draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai’ (Exodus 17:14-15). An Ebenezer is created to be a reminder as also to understand the lesson of obedience and faith from it for future.
Our citizenship is of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and ‘We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one’ (1 John 5:19). In this world our Ebenezer is the Cross of Calvary, assuring us of our salvation and kinship with God the Father and God the Son. But we are in a spiritual battle and this memorial reminds us of God’s Divine help for the future also and helps in guarding our hearts from wandering. The LORD’s mercies never cease and are renewed every morning for His faithfulness is great (Lamentations 3:22-23). The cross reminds us of the great mercy of God the Father through the sacrifice of His Son and the Day of Pentecost further seals this bond. After doing all this ‘how shall He (God the Father) not with Him (Lord Jesus) also freely give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32). The various times in my life through sickness, lack and adversity, God has answered my prayers and all these memorials assure me of His continuous help for the future. When the devil tries to discourage me through his lies, I counter it with the testimonies of many recorded in the Holy Bible and then show him my Ebenezer pillars. Lord Jesus has raised up the pillar of help in Calvary and like King David I can confidently declare ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea (Psalm 46:1-10).
The Ebenezer that Lord Jesus has set up in our hearts is further strengthened by the Holy Spirit. God has prepared a place for us in His heavenly mansion and we expectantly wait to enter that one day. This is not wishful thinking on our part but a solemn assurance from the Creator of the world.