In Hebrew Ebenezer means “Stone of Help.” The word “Ebenezer” comes up three times in the Bible, all in the book of I Samuel. It was the place that the Israelites set down camp when they were warring with the Philistines, who were camped at Aphek. They commenced to fighting and the Israelites lost 4,000. So then the Israelites decided they needed the big gun, and they sent to Shiloh for the old Ark of the Covent to pump up the troops. Pump them up it did. The Israelites hooped and hollered. The Philistines got scared, but decided they would rather fight than become slaves. But despite the Isralites enthusiasm, and the Philistines fear, the Philistines really gave them a whomping this time, killing 30,000 Israelites and taking the Ark of the Covenant for themselves.
You know you’ve been bested when the man in charge falls over dead when he hears the score. That’s exactly what Eli did when he was told about losing the Ark after getting the casualty report. But he was 98, and pretty out of shape, even for a 98-year-old. Meanwhile, the Philistines took the Ark from Ebenezer to Ashod, and set it next to the statue of their God, Dagon. The first night Dagon fell over, so the next morning the set the statue back up. The following morning Dagon was over again, and this time his head and both hands were off.
If they Dagon decapitation wasn’t enough, the people of Ashod also came down with a rash of tumors. Suddenly the people of Ashod wanted nothing to do with the Ark, so the people of Gath said, “We’ll take it!” It was moved there, then the Gath people came down with tumors. It was then moved to Ekron, even though they said no thanks, and they were afflicted by tumors.
This Ark shuffling hot-potato all took about seven months. The Philistine leaders decided that Israel should probably have their Ark back. So they sent it back, and included with a guilt offering of 10 pieces of gold, five crafted to look like the mice that were ravaging their land, and five cast to look like those terrible tumors that they kept breaking out with. Although roughly 1,000 years before the first Christmas, this is one of the first Biblical accounts of a tasteless gift exchange. But they put the Ark, five gold mice and five gold tumors on a cart, hitched it to a couple of cows, and sent it on its way.
The Beth-shemesh field workers rejoiced when they received the Ark, but the descendents of Jeconiah didn’t, and 70 were struck dead. This made the Isrealites a little Ark wary, so they quietly put it away for about 20 years at Kiriath-jearim. Finally Samuel convinced the people of Israel to turn away from their other Gods, and to focus their hearts on the Lord. They complied, and when the Philistines attacked again, the people of Israel were victorious in a big way, striking the Philistines down all the way to Beth-car.
Then comes the third and final use of the word Ebenezer in the Bible: I Samuel 7:12 – Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between MizPah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer, for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”