The Need for Memorials
Our culture is currently undergoing a purge of monuments. A rabble has taken upon itself to wantonly tear down statues and deface memorials without benefit of public discourse, or the decisions of elected representatives of the people. While there may be many good reasons to reevaluate and discuss the removal of some of these commemorations, we are being robbed of that opportunity to think things through and remember the reasons for these statues by the actions of a few.
Neither the erecting of monuments or the corresponding attempt to erase history are new phenomena. Throughout the history of mankind there is something within us that has desired to put up monuments to cause us to remember, to be remembered, or to worship. These have been for good, and not-so-good, purposes. One of the earliest biblical mentions of such a monument was the building of the Tower of Babel, and that definitely was not a good purpose or outcome (Gen. 11:1-9). Saul built a monument to himself (1 Sam. 15:12), as did Absalom (2 Sam. 18:18), neither of which really deserved the honor. In fact, tradition has it that people used to go and throw stones at Absalom’s memorial to show their rejection of his insurrection, and take their rebellious children to the monument to remind them of the outcome of such treachery against their parents.
Many such monuments throughout history were meant merely to call attention to oneself and, hopefully, extend their legend beyond their lifetimes, but others, like Nebuchadnezzar’s were meant to be worshipped (Daniel 3). Often memorials and statues were toppled or defaced by those who later rose to power. Names were erased, features altered, statues ground to dust, and temples honoring a deposed deity were taken apart and used to build roads. Even with impressive works left behind for posterity, mankind’s memories are incredibly short and fickle.
Not all monuments were self-serving or idolatrous. These memorials did serve a God-authorized purpose, helping people remember important truths. Jacob set up stones when he encountered God in the desert, and when he made a covenant with Laban. When God parted the Jordan for Israel to pass into the Promised Land, He instructed them to take 12 stones out of the middle of the riverbed to set on the shore as a monument to His power and faithfulness to Israel. This was not only to bear witness to themselves of what God had done, but to testify to the next generations: “In the future when your children ask their fathers, ‘What is the meaning of these stones?’ you are to tell them…” (Josh 4:21-22). Later, the tribes whose land was on the other side of the Jordan put up a replica of this monument, so that no one would forget that they, too, were part of God’s people (Josh 22:9-16).
Samuel raised a single stone, a standing stone, naming it Ebenezer, which means, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” The specific events which this stone commemorated were a spiritual renewal in Israel and the resulting defeat of their enemies. Because Israel had turned their hearts to the Lord, their God had come to their defense (see 1 Sam. 7). There are two important truths we will look at from this passage. First, we need to remember what God has done for us, and this may require some form of memorial. Second, God is our Helper, and we wouldn’t be where we are today unless He is.
All throughout the Book of Deuteronomy Moses pounded into the Israelites the importance of remembering. Not only was this essential for each individual, it was vital for them to carefully instruct their children, to purposefully pass it down. Without this intentional transmission of corporate memory, the natural inclination of man to forget would extinguish the corporate identity and truths of their relationship to their God. We need only turn the pages to the book of Judges to see the consequences of the people forgetting this identity and truth. The refrain of the book of Judges was that “everyone did as he saw fit.” With no central basis of religion or law transmitted to the generations who hadn’t personally experienced it, people quickly deteriorated and extreme error crept into their thinking, living, and forms of worship.
God continually calls us to remember, right up to the final book in the Bible: “Remember the height from which you have fallen” (Rev. 2:5). Jesus gave us the memorial of the Lord’s Supper so we can remember His death and its meaning until He returns. It may take other memorials to help us get back on track or stay the course. Certainly we need regular times of Bible reading and prayer, but we may also need alarms on our watches or phones, verses taped to the bathroom mirror or fridge, screen savers with verses or calls to prayer, or other “memorials” which intrude on our tendency to get into autopilot and forget to remember, and thereby fall from the heights of our love for God.
The best part of all of this is the knowledge of the truth that God is our Helper. The word ezer, as seen in Eben-ezer, means helper. Eve was made to be the ezer for Adam. Ezer does not mean some inferior lackey, as demonstrated by the fact that God calls Himself our Ezer, and He is anything but inferior. God is our Ezer because without Him as our Helper we would be done, over, incomplete, helpless, inept, undone, incapable, without hope (are you getting my drift?)…It isn’t that we just need a little help. Without God’s help nothing is possible—at least nothing of eternal consequence. God wants us to remember and we have God’s powerful help so that we can remember. What He asks, He enables: He will help us to remember if we are committed in that direction.
So when we raise an Ebenezer, we aren’t just remembering God; we are remembering our helplessness apart from Him. We are humbling ourselves, acknowledging that Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Ebenezers honor God by reminding us that there is no other effective helper to whom we can turn to on earth or in heaven—there is no Ezer for us apart from Him.
Let us not forget that the second important element of remembering and raising Ebenezers is to carefully pass these memories to others, particularly our children and children’s children. Tell them your story of God’s faithfulness in your life. Perhaps even write it out and present it to them as a part of your legacy. Maybe have a family memorial day each year where you celebrate and talk about that Ebenezer, adding any new episodes of God’s Ezer-ness in your life. It could be a great New Year’s tradition or some other day you set aside during the year.
Let’s begin right now, just thanking God for the truth that we have come this far only by His help, and we owe everything we have and are to Him.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries
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