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.’”
In English, Ebenezer is a man’s name. Today it is quite uncommon, apart from its association with A Christmas Carol. In the time of Charles Dickens, men were called Ebenezer, though I’m not able to judge how common the name was. So, for example, in 1840, three years before Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, a man named Ebenezer Elliott, who identified himself as a “Corn-Law Rhymer,” published a book of his poetical works (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1840).
The name “Ebenezer” is not original to the English language. In fact, it is an Anglicized version of a Hebrew noun, which is itself composed of two Hebrew words. In 1 Samuel 4:1, for example, the Israelites camped at a place called Ebenezer. This name is a combination of the Hebrew word for stone (eben) and the Hebrew word for helper (‘ezer). Thus, an ebenezer (literally, ha-eben ha-‘ezer) would have been a stone that offered some sort of assistance. In 1 Samuel 7:12, the judge Samuel sets up a stone as a monument in remembrance of God’s special help. It was a “help-stone” that reminded the Israelites of God’s care. It was rather like those little monuments you find along highways throughout the United States. They commemorate some event long past, helping us to remember what we would otherwise forget.
Charles Dickens, though not orthodox in his Christian faith, was certainly familiar enough with the Bible to have known the meaning of the name Ebenezer. Given this knowledge and his attention to character names, it’s likely that he chose the name “Ebenezer” quite intentionally. Ebenezer Scrooge was not only a man with a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping” character. He was also to serve as a monument for readers of A Christmas Carol. Dickens intended Ebenezer Scrooge to remind us of things we ought not forget, lest we end up like Jacob Marley and the other spirits who walked the earth in sorrow, dragging the heavy chains they forged in life.
Do you have “Ebenezers” in your life? Are there people, perhaps even fictional characters like Ebenezer Scrooge, who remind you to be generous and joyful? Do you have physical objects, like Samuel’s “help stone,” that remind you of God’s faithfulness? When life gets crazy, when work is a pressure cooker, when you feel overwhelmed or despairing, where do you turn to be reassured of God’s grace and care? Do you live in such a way that you might be an “Ebenezer” for those in your life? When people see you, do they see God’s goodness alive in you?
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Take a few moments to consider the questions in the last paragraph.
Gracious God, thank you for all the reminders you give us of your grace. Even more, thank you for the grace represented by these “Ebenezers.”
As I live my life today, in every place, may I be such an “Ebenezer,” an embodied sign of your grace. May I live with joy and generosity that flows from your Spirit.
To you be all the praise and glory! Amen.