When you read through the Old Testament, you see that God’s people have been creating symbols, or altars, since the time of Noah to evoke memories of what God had done for them. These altars, usually made of stones, were set in place for all to see and know what God had done in that place — that God had helped his people here.
In 1 Samuel 7:3–12 we find Samuel leading the people of Israel into a time of worship. For 20 years leading up to this day, the people of Israel had turned a blind eye to the altars and truths of God, in search of false hopes and gods. Finally, they realized their need for the Lord and turned back to him.
Now notice what happened. Samuel instructed the people that if they wanted to return to God, they must first confess and turn away from all the idols they had in their lives. They could not return to God while holding on to the things that kept them from him. The second thing he told them to do was, as a congregation, come out and worship God together. They had to, as a whole, seek after God through prayers and praises. So they had to confess and then praise.
So as the people of Israel were heading out to Mizpah, the Philistines (who were major enemies with the nation of Israel) came to the same place to attack. When the Israelites saw this, they began to worry. They weren’t out there to fight, they were there to worship. They were worried about their lives, so they went to Samuel and began praying.
There in verse 9, the Bible shows us that Samuel, on the behalf of the people, literally began crying out to God for help. Literally, he begins to voice out loud his concerns to the only one who could do anything about it. He didn’t run to the strongest men there to see if they were ready to fight. He didn’t start counting up their possible weapons. He didn’t quickly look around to see if there was an easy escape route. He, when faced with trouble, cried out to God because God was the only answer. God was the help they needed.
Ok, so here’s what just happened. Samuel is praying and interceding for the people, which pleases God. The Lord then thunders against the Philistines. And I don’t think this was like thunder in a storm, because the text describes that when the Philistines heard it, they were sent into a panic. Literally, their forces are scrambled in fear and they are defeated because God acted on behalf of his people. He helped in their time of need. God did what only God could do because God’s people only sought after him.
And after the Israelites found victory with God, this is what the Bible says:
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
— 1 Samuel 7:12
Samuel, in awe of God’s power on display, sets up an altar, or a symbol, for the people to see. And he calls this altar Ebenezer, which when translated means, “The Stone of Help.” He does this so that when anybody crosses that place, they would remember that God is not distant from his people in their needs, but that God is a God who helps with our problems.
I think that as Samuel was marking that place with God’s victory, he was saying God had helped to that point, what more are we going to see? Today is the same. I challenge you to remember God’s faithfulness to you till now and celebrate his help as you continue to follow him.