🔼The name Ebenezer in the Bible
The name Ebenezer (or rather: Eben-haezer) appears three times in the Bible, and appears to apply to two separate locations:
- The place where Israel camped just prior to the fateful battle with the Philistines in which the Ark of the Covenant was abducted (1 Samuel 4:1 and 5:1).
- A memorial stone which Samuel erected between Mizpah and Shen when the Lord defeated the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:12). Samuel named the stone Ebenezer and said, "Thus far YHWH has helped us".
It was not uncommon for the Israelites to erect memorial stones, or even to name these stones. There were also an Eben-bohan-ben-reuben (Joshua 15:6), an Eben-gedula (1 Samuel 6:14), an Eben-haezel (1 Samuel 20:19) and an Eben-hazoheleth (1 Kings 1:9). It is, however, not clear why modern translations insist on consistently omitting the "Eben"-part of these names, except that of Eben-haezer, which most translations insist on transliterating as Ebenezer (the Dutch Statenvertaling is one of very few that do it right and reads Eben-haezer).
🔼Etymology of the name Ebenezer
The name Ebenezer (or rather Eben-haezer) consists of three elements. The first part of our name is the noun אבן ('eben), meaning stone:
The final part of our name comes from the verb עזר (azar), meaning to help or support:
And in between these two elements sits the definite article ה (he), which so many translations omit. But this article is important and leaving it out changes the meaning. In Hebrew the article is much rarer than in English and when it's used it's used quite deliberately.
Because of the definite article, the name Eben-haezer doesn't simply mean Stone Of Help (NOBSE Study Bible Name List, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names), but it means Stone Of The Help, which in Hebrew denotes an emphasized specification. Eben-haezer didn't commemorate getting help in general or even the help that God gave. Eben-haezer commemorated the help that God is.