Hitherto Hath the Lord Helped Us

1 Samuel

Hitherto Hath the Lord Helped Us

October 16th, 1960 @ 8:15 AM

Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

1 Samuel 7:12

10-16-60    8:15 a.m.

Would you like to turn to 1 Samuel, chapter 7 and follow the message this morning entitled Hitherto Hath the Lord Helped Us?   Ebenezer: the stone of the help; Hitherto Hath the Lord Helped Us, 1 Samuel, chapter 7:

And the men of Kirjath-jearim came, and fetched up the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified—set apart—Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord.

And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years…

[1 Samuel 7:1-2]

It was twenty years when this incident happened that is going to be described in chapter 7. The ark stayed there in Kirjath-jearim for about [twenty] years and is only mentioned one time, and that incidentally, in the long years that it abode in that little Judean village.  It stayed there until David brought it up to Jerusalem and built there for it a special tabernacle [1 Chronicles 13:3-13]; and then finally, of course, Solomon built for it the famous and beautiful temple [1 Kings 8:1-9].

And the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.

And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.

Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only.

[1 Samuel 7:2-4]


Now, may I pause to make a comment on that?  They were serving Baalim; “im” is the Hebrew plural, so Baalim would be “Baals.”  There was a Baal, and here was a Baal, and there was a Baal, and yonder was a Baal.  The whole land was soaked down in idolatry.  Baal was the male Phoenician god: they were serving Baalim and Ashtaroth.  That’s another form of the Hebrew plural: “-oth.”  The singular of the goddess is Astarte.  Ashtaroth, plural; Astarte, singular.  She was the female Phoenician goddess.  Baal: the god of the sun who is represented in the earth with a stone pillar;  Astarte: the queen of the heaven—whom many people worship today in America—the queen of heaven, whose symbol was a graven image, graven out of wood.

The whole land was filled with shrines of those images.  And it’s a strange thing how God visits in kind punishment from heaven.  It was in the shrine of this goddess Astarte, in the city of Beth-shan, that they took the armor of Saul and hung it up as a trophy, when the Philistines destroyed the armies of Israel on Mount Gilboa and when they slew Saul and his sons [1 Samuel 31:1-10].  Isn’t that a strange thing, worshiping Astarte, and it’s in the shrine of Astarte that they hang up the symbol of the ignominious, inglorious defeat of the armies of God?

You can just take that through all time, and all tide, and life, and all history, and you’ll find it working out again and again: God visiting in kind, in kind—in the same manner and way and type—the thing that provokes Him and brings His wrath upon His children.

For example, let’s just take a few of those.  Jacob deceived his father—that’s the way he won the blessing [Genesis 27:1-29]—but Jacob himself is deceived by Laban, the father of Leah [Genesis 29:18-27].

The sons of Israel sell Joseph down into Egypt [Genesis 37:26-28], but God is not done.  Down into Egypt those same brethren who sold Joseph will ultimately come [Genesis 42:1-3].  And when they looked upon the crying and sobbing of that younger brother when they sold him to the Ishmaelites [Genesis 37:27-28], the day came when those brethren in Egypt fell in tears and in fear and in crying [Genesis 50:18-19].

Abimelech, the son of the concubine of Gideon—Abimelech slew on a great rock the seventy sons of Gideon, his half-brothers [Judges 9:4-5]; and it was a great, heavy rock that was thrown by a woman on the head of Abimelech that slew him [Judges 9:53-54].

Saul spared Agag the Amalekite [1 Samuel 15:8-9] against the clear interdiction of heaven [1 Samuel 15:3].  It pleased Saul’s vanity to have that king tied to his chariot, the great Agag of the Amalekites.  And it was at the hand of an Amalekite that the last stroke was struck that took away the life of Saul [2 Samuel 1:5-10].

Isn’t it a strange thing?  And David slays Uriah because he has violated the home of that good man [2 Samuel 11:2-24].  And in the household of David, Amnon violates Tamar, his own sister [2 Samuel 13:10-14], and Absalom slays Amnon [2 Samuel 13:28-29].

In the same place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, the prophet Elijah said, “There shall the dogs lick up thy blood” [1 Kings 21:18-19].

You just have a hard time escaping that judgment of heaven.  And there it is, here in this seventh chapter of the Book of Samuel: serving Baal and serving Astarte and gathering to themselves the tempestuous thunderous judgments of God [1 Samuel 7:3].

Now, let’s go on after that comment:

And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord.

And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the Lord.  And Samuel judged Israel in Mizpeh.

And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel.  And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines.

And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that we may be saved out of the hands of the Philistines.

And Samuel took a suckling lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord; and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord heard him.

And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the Lord . . .

[1 Samuel 7:5-10]

Now may I make a comment there before we go on?  It was in that same place at Mizpeh that, twenty years before, the Philistines had overwhelmed the armies of God and had taken the ark as a prize and had slain the sons of Eli: Hophni and Phinehas [1 Samuel 4:10-11].  And after twenty years, when the Philistines saw that the children of the Lord were gathered together in Mizpeh [1 Samuel 7:7], in that same place, the lords of Philistia sent word to all of their coast saying, “Look, look.  There are those feeble wretches who sinned away their day of grace.  There they are gathered together.  Let us go up and smite them and slay them and destroy them as we did twenty years ago in that same and identical place” [1 Samuel 4:1].

But there’s a whole lot of difference between Hophni and Phinehas and Samuel.  That’s why I wanted to make the comment: what a difference.  What a difference a man of God does make in the destiny of a people and in the destiny of a nation.  That’s not Hophni there; that’s not Phinehas there; this is God’s man, and he’s not proudly strutting in egotistic vainglory, having the priest carry the ark before him into battle.  This man is on his face; he’s on his knees, and before the sacrifice of a suckling lamb; tender of years and helpless, except as God is a helper [1 Samuel 7:8-9].  This man is a man of prayer and intercession and appeal.  Marvelous thing, the difference that a man will make; just let him come into the scene, just let him appear on the horizon, just let him stand up to speak, and the whole world changes.

Do you remember the story of Aaron and the golden calf? [Exodus 32:1-6].  But when Moses came down from the mount, the whole thing changed [Exodus 32:6-].  Do you remember the disciples down in the valley, when the Lord was being transfigured on top of the mount [Matthew 17:1-3], and they had in their midst a boy who was possessed?  And they tried to cast out the possession, and they had no power over the kingdoms of darkness, and from every side the enemies were making fun and mocking the disciples.  Then Jesus came down in the midst, and the whole world changes [Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:1-3, 14-29].

Do you remember how these prophets of Baal had taken over the whole life of the nation of Israel?  And then Elijah appeared: one man against all of the prophets of Jezebel and Ahab [1 Kings 18:19-40].

Do you remember how the Rabshakeh came and shook his fist at little Jerusalem and bound it in an iron cage and threatened to destroy the city and the people?  And Isaiah, and Isaiah said to King Hezekiah, “Do not you be afraid.  God says, ‘I will put a hook in his nose’” [Isaiah 37:29].  I went out to the fair yesterday and looked at those fine animals.  Do you notice those fine animals with a hook in their nose, a ring in their snout, a ring in their nose?  I guess it would be pretty easy to lead somebody around if he had a chain tied to a hook in your nose.  That’s exactly what God says about this ostentatious Rabshakeh and Sennacherib his king.  “I got a chain in My hand,” says the Lord God, “and it’s tied to a hook in his nose.  Don’t you be afraid, good King Hezekiah, I have sent My servant Isaiah to tell you I have got a hook in his nose, and I will lead him back by the way that he came.”

Oh, what a difference, what a difference, what a difference.  And what a difference any man can make in any class, or in any department, or in any church, or in any city.  Just one man: what a difference!  This is Samuel.  This isn’t Hophni.  This isn’t Phinehas.

And the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel . . .

[1 Samuel 7:10]

”Like we did twenty years before, we’ll wipe them off the face of the earth”—

 . . . But the Lord—but the Lord thundered with a great thunder that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.

And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them. . . .

[1 Samuel 7:11]


 And here is my text—

Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh—between the watchtower—and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, (Eben ha azer; ezer , “of the help”), saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.

[1 Samuel 7:12]

“Ebenezer.”  Now in the Hebrew, as in the Greek Septuagint, as in the English here, the key word, the emphatic word is “hitherto”: “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” [1 Samuel 7:12].  And that little word “hitherto” links the past to the present to the future, and with the great sweep of its meaning, binds all history and all our lives in the hands and in the presence and before the face of God.  Hitherto.  Hitherto.  Hitherto.  “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

Samuel, can you think that that word goes to the past, for the last twenty years they’ve been ground under the iron heel of Philistia?  Hitherto.  Does it include all of the transgression at Shiloh and the destruction of that sacred shrine? [ Samuel 2:12-25].  Does it also include the war that destroyed the armies of God and took away the lives of Hophni and Phinehas? [1 Samuel 4:1-22].  “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”  I tell you, you stagger before things like that.  Do you mean these wars hitherto, the Lord helping us?  Do you mean these flauntings and this awful holocaust that we now face?  Hitherto that the Lord helped us?  Does that text mean what it says?  That all of these tempests and sorrows, and all of the disappointments and frustrations, and all of the tears and heartaches that fall into every life—does it mean that hitherto the Lord hath helped us?  [1 Samuel 7:12].

All I am is a voice and an echo.  I do not originate my message.  I don’t think it up.  I just repeat.  I just echo.  I just read and say what God hath written in His Book.  And the Book says that hitherto all of the agonies of the war, all of the oppressions of the Philistines, all of the tears and heartache that brought that dear wife of Phinehas to her dying bed, saying, “Name this little boy Ichabod, for the glory is departed from Israel” [1 Samuel 4:21]—all of the tears and sorrows and heartaches and disappointments and frustrations, all of it is a part of that hitherto, hitherto.  Even in that is God helping us.

 I’m not saying that it doesn’t take great commitment and great faith and illimitable yieldedness to look up in the face of the destruction of all that Job had, and the destruction of all of his children [Job 1:13-19], and finally the destruction of his own health and happiness [Job 2:7-8].  I’m not saying it doesn’t take faith and illimitable yielded commitment to look up and say, “The Lord gave, and He took away [Job 1:21].  Shall I receive at the Lord’s hand good, and not evil? [Job 2:10].  “Though He slay me, yet shall I trust Him” [Job 13:15].

But I do say that God includes it in His merciful providence for our lives.  This is a part of the discipline of His children.  He is getting us ready for a great life that is yet to come.  “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” includes all of the past.  “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” [1 Samuel 7:12], and that included the ministry of Samuel.  For twenty years he’s never been mentioned, he’s never referred to; you would think he had fallen outside of the orbit of God’s grace and God’s ministry.  But no: in the backsliding in apostasy of God’s people, day by day, week and year by year, Samuel has been making that circuit from Ramah to Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpeh, with the good Book in his hand, teaching the good knowledge of the Lord [1 Samuel 7:16-17].  And he’s been praying, and he’s been teaching, and he’s been working, and that “hitherto” includes that ministry of Samuel that resulted in this great revival.

“And it came to pass while the ark abode at Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long” [1 Samuel 7:2].  It seemed a long time.  I have heard God’s people say, “I can’t remember when we had a great revival.  I can’t remember when I have seen people and heard them shout for joy because of the salvation of God.  It’s been a dearth.  It’s been a drought.  It’s been long.”  “And it came to pass . . . that the time was long, for it was twenty years.  And all Israel lamented after the Lord” [1 Samuel 7:2].  That’s the ministry of this godly man, Samuel.  And they lamented: they hungered and thirsted after God, crying maybe because they couldn’t cry, burdened because they weren’t burdened, their hearts filled with care and anxiety because they didn’t care, praying because they couldn’t pray.

Let me tell you what revival is.  When you think of revival, don’t you think of the big streamer, and the big advertisement, and the big show, and the big headline, and the drum, and the band, and the parade going down the street, heralding and trumpeting the days of the revival.  That’s not revival.  Let me tell you what revival is.  Revival is God’s people in contrition, and in submission, and in repentance, and in confession, on their knees, coming back to God.  That is revival!

And all Israel lamented after the Lord [1 Samuel 7:2]: “O God, has Thou cast us off forever?”  Are we to be under the iron heel and oppression of our enemies forever?  “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of these years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” [Habakkuk 3:2].  It included the ministry of Samuel, and that “hitherto” included that present.  “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” [1 Samuel 7:12].  Why, bless your heart.  And when Samuel got through offering that suckling lamb and when he got through praying, the Lord heard him, and while he was offering and while he was praying, the Philistines drew near to battle [1 Samuel 7:9-10].  But the Lord—that “hitherto” included the present—the Lord said to Gabriel, “Gabriel, look down there: My servant, Samuel, on his face, and the people called by My name pouring out water before Me [1 Samuel 7:6], a type of symbol of their contrition and their weakness, lamenting after Me [1 Samuel 7:2].  Look at that, Gabriel, look at that!  Gabriel, bring Me My fiery steeds!  Gabriel, bring Me My chariot of flaming fire!  I am going to drive them across the heavens, and when I get to where those uncircumcised, blaspheming, scorning, mocking, infidel Philistines are, I am going to let heaven fall on them.”  Fire, and rain, and smoke, and brimstone, and hail, law me!  Law me.  When God got through shaking the heavens and got through thundering and discomfiting the Philistines [1 Samuel 7:10]—the “hitherto” included that: the Lord fighting for His children and remembering His children.

And the “hitherto” links us to the future; “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” [1 Samuel 7:12].  Oh, me, the promise of the days that are yet to come!  “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”  What He did for the folks who trusted in His name in the Old Book, God is able to do for us.

Some of them He led through the fire.

Some of them He led through the flood.

Some of them He led through the waters.

All of them He leads through the blood,

Some through great sorrows; but God gives us song

 In the night season and all day long.

[from “God Leads His Dear Children Along,” George A. Young, 1903]

“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” [1 Samuel 7:12], and it has the promise of the future.  What it holds, what it brings is known but to God, but it’s enough that He hath promised to go with us.  “For He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Therefore shall I say, The Lord is my helper and I shall not fear what men,” or devils, or Satan, or the past, or the future “may do unto me” [Hebrews 13:5-6].  “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” [1 Samuel 7:12].

Here I raise mine Ebenezer.

Hitherto by God’s help have I come,

And I hope by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home.

[“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Robert Robinson, 1757]

Amen!  And God bless us and speed us in the way.  And now, brother singer, let’s change that hymn.  What’s the number of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”?  Number 313:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.

Streams of mercy never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;

Hither by Thy help I’ve come.

And while we sing that blessed song—if you have a dear old Christian mother, while she worked around the kitchen, you heard her sing that song, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” —and while we sing it, somebody you, give your heart to Jesus. Somebody you, put your life with us in the church.  A family or just one, while we sing the song and make the appeal, would you make it now? Come this morning, while we stand and sing.