Thomas E. Tyson
"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far has the Lord helped us' " (1 Sam. 7:12).
This was not the only Ebenezer. There was another onenot a stone, but a town of the same name, the place where the famous "let's use God" event transpired. You probably know the story:
Godliness was at a low ebb in Israel, as illustrated by Hophni and Phinehas. These two sons of Eli, who were priests of the Lord, were wicked men. They forcefully appropriated for themselves sacrificial meat that was supposed to be offered to the Lord, thus "treating the Lord's offering with contempt" (1 Sam. 2:17). They even slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tabernacle (vs. 22). Finally, they refused to heed their father's rebuke (vs. 25).
But the rot had spread beyond the tabernacle. After Israel suffered a defeat at the hands of the Philistines at Ebenezer (losing four thousand on the battlefield), her leaders concocted the bright idea of bringing the ark of the covenant from the tabernacle of the Lord at Shiloh into the camp of the Israelite army as they faced another battle against the Philistines. "This will guarantee that the Lord will be with us," they reasoned.
It didn't work, however. The Philistines were frightened, all right. "A god has come into [their] camp," they exclaimed (1 Sam. 4:7). But they decided to put up their best fight anyway. The result? They literally clobbered the Israelites, slaughtering 30,000 this time (including Hophni and Phinehas), and they captured the ark (vss. 10-11).
When Eli heard of the ark's fate, he fell back off his chair, broke his neck, and died (vs. 18). Phinehas's widow, before dying in childbirth, named her son Ichabod (meaning "no glory") and said, "The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured" (vss. 21-22).
(The Philistines, by the way, found it a real bother to have the ark around. Check out chapters five and six of 1 Samuel if you doubt that the Bible contains any humor. After several months of trouble, they sent the ark back.)
So, the town of Ebenezer, although meaning "stone of help," served to remind Israel of something less than sparkling military success, not to mention covenantal obedience. Yet the prophet Samuel, whose heart was considerably more in tune with the Lord's will and honor, did not despair. When, twenty years later, the Philistines again attacked Israel, Samuel prayed and sacrificed to the Lord.
This time, pleased with his prophet's intercession, the Lord was with Israel indeed. "That day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites" (1 Sam. 7:10). After the Israelite soldiers chased their enemies home (so that they "did not invade Israelite territory again"vs. 13), Samuel raised his Ebenezer and declared, "Thus far has the Lord helped us" (vs. 12).
Thus far has the Lord helped the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, too, in our ministry of Worldwide Outreach! Consider just this sampling of data:
In Eritrea, the young church planted last year is growing both in numbers and in grace. Four former Muslims have been baptized. Community health work is providing more avenues for the spread of the gospel. Even the U.S. Army helped out by reconnecting an old well with the water system at the Ghinda clinic.
In Suriname, six young men in the Dutch-language work show keen interest in spiritual matters. In Kachonga, Uganda, a church-planting effort currently numbers three hundred people.
In the area of Home Missions, we have been planting nearly one church per month for two years running. And, significantly, the growth has been distributed throughout the denomination. Every one of our twelve presbyteries has planted at least one new church during that period of time. Today, the average organizing pastor in the OPC has had at least five years of pastoral experience and is thirty-six years of age. The average size of the mission work when it receives its organizing pastor is ten people larger than it was a decade ago. As of September 1996, the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension lists twenty-nine mission works, ten additional groups forming OP mission works, and five full-time regional home missionaries working to establish more mission works.
The ministry of Christian Education has also been blessed by the Lord's help throughout its range of activities. Fully fifty-seven ministers now serving in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have received mentoring through summer and/or yearlong internships at some time since 1983. New Horizons magazine continues to serve as a journal of the Reformed faith and our denominational newsletter to almost 10,000 OP homes (as well as many others). Great Commission Publications, which provides Sunday school materials to over 1,300 subscribing churches, is now financially self-supporting and preparing to expand its ministry. The fifth printing of the revised Trinity Hymnal is almost exhausted (bringing total distribution of the hymnal to 110,000 copies). The entire first printing (3,000 copies) of the Committee's booklet What Is the Reformed Faith? was mailed out within two months. Churches are responding to encouragement to initiate or reinvigorate the catechetical instruction of our covenant youth.
But there is much work still to be done. A medical doctor is needed for the clinic at Muruu, Kenya, as well as teachers for the soon-to-be-reopened Bible school there. (As we go to press, it appears that a doctor has come forward to serve!) Reapers are needed for the ripe grain field of Eritrea. Fully supported church planters are needed for numerous core groups all over the U.S.A. who desire to become established as OP churches. If a sixth regional home missionary could be installed in another presbytery during 1997, he would provide strategic impetus to church extension. A committee appointed by Great Commission Publications is hard at work preparing Trinity Songbook, a compilation of contemporary hymns for use in worship. A subcommittee of the Committee on Christian Education is seeking to develop concrete plans for improving the training of future OP ministers.
All this and much more will, of course, only come to pass as the Lord decrees and blesses. But he uses appropriate meansand that means us. He moves the hearts of people to present themselves for missionary service, either full-time or short-term. He gifts men for ministerial service and extends them his call, both inwardly through the working of his Spirit and outwardly through the approval of his church.
Another means that he is pleased to use is the prayerful and faithful stewardship of money that he has put into Orthodox Presbyterian hands. That's where the Thank Offering comes in, and that's why we have selected "A Stone of Help" as the theme for this year's special offering for Worldwide Outreach. Let us raise our Ebenezerthus far the Lord has helped us, indeed!
Let our Thank Offering this year stand as a memorial stone calling attention particularly to that wonderful help! And let it stand as an Ebenezer by which we offer ourselves and our substance as means in God's sovereign hands for the doing of his work.
He, still helping the Worldwide Outreach ministry of the OPC, will receive all the glory and honor for the resulting eternal blessedness. Our Ebenezer will constantly remind us of that.
Mr. Tyson is the general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education. Reprinted from New Horizons, November 1996.