"Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us." (1 Samuel 7:12)
Many Christians have joined in the singing of a familiar verse in an old hymn, without knowing its great meaning: "Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I've come." When the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines, the old priest Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, all died the same day, as did Phinehas' wife, in childbirth. It was a tragic day for Israel.
But then the people returned to God, under Samuel, and 20 years later the Lord gave them a miraculous victory over the superior armies of the Philistines. In commemoration of this deliverance, Samuel set up a stone monument in the same place where the Philistines had captured the Ark 20 years before, calling the stone "Ebenezer," a name which was always associated thereafter with the site (1 Samuel 4:1; 5:1).
Now "Ebenezer" means "Stone of Help," and seeing it would always remind the people, whenever they might later come to fear the circumstances around them, that God had been their "help in ages past," and thus could be trusted as their "hope for years to come." Only God is truly able to help in times of great need, but He is able! "From whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2).
It is well to remember those times in our own lives when God has helped us in some special way. We forget so easily, and the sin of ingratitude is cited by God as one of the first harbingers of imminent apostasy (note especially Romans 1:21). A physical token can help us remember, but whatever it takes--remember! God will hear and answer our prayers for future help, too, but "with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Philippians 4:6). HMM