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Sunday, 13 February 2011

"Remove not the ancient landmark."

"Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set." KJV Pro. 22:28

Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us KJV 1 Sam. 7:12

The prophet Samuel had called Israel to repent of their idolatrous connections with paganism and serve Jehovah only (1 Sam. 7:3). Amazingly, Israel responded - they repented and renewed their commitment to the LORD. Prayer was key to Samuel's secret of success, as emphasised in verse 5, 8 and 9. And so the Philistines were discomfited after having dominated Israel for 20 years (7:2). It was but a temporary reprieve (9:16), yet a significant one. Samuel records this victory by setting up a stone, and calling it ‘Ebenezer,’ meaning in Hebrew, a "stone of help."

Setting up a stone was practiced in the ancient Middle East, either to place a boundary marker on a property, or to inscribe details of battle-victory on a stone, which marked the place of conflict. It thus bore witness to future generations who would view it, or read it. Joshua did this very thing to mark out Israel's tribal boundaries. Also, in Josh. 24:27 we read he set up a stone to help Israel remember and to recognise what God had done through his leadership, a stone of revelation for new readers. A new generation later looked at the stone, which spoke to them words of challenge and comfort; it reached them from the past and helped to shape their future:

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day . . . And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there . . . [and] said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the LORD which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.

The stone wasn't seen as just a dead, inanimate thing; it was existentially prominent and it personified the message it spoke. It inspired, excited and spoke to the viewer about his own future. Vernon McGee asks: "Friend, has God brought you to this point? Is He leading you today? Is He guiding you? If He has, you can say, “Hitherto [up to this point, up to the present time] God has helped us.”

I think of the King James Version (1611) of the Bible as that "Ebenezer" - that stone of help. It is a witness to me that I live in a culture which has inherited some wonderful benefits of past spiritual victories, against superstition and error. It witnesses to a day when men in humility refused to impose their theories on the Hebrew and Greek Text, or use the Bible so they can show others how clever they are. It also witnesses to a previous century of dreadful bloodshed (the sixteenth century) where supposed Christians shed each other's blood for refusing to believe a loaf of bread and a cup of wine could be turned - in a moment and by a priestly formula - into the actual physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. All heaven wept at the sight of the flesh of godly men (like Bishops Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer) melting off them, as the fire from the faggots did its agonizing, slow but deadly work. The KJV witnesses to the refusal to put church tradition on a par with Scripture, and it witnesses to the need for each individual to bow humbly before God with an open Bible in his hands, saying, "Father, teach me what it means, please! I want you to teach me first-hand, and show me everything I need to know." The KJV witnesses to a perfectly preserved Hebrew and Greek Text, which is as accurate, for all practical purposes, as the Originals from which it came. It witnesses to an amazing group of 50 or so mighty scholars who spent most of their study hours (most of their hours!?) reading Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic and Latin. They believed the ancient book, the Bible, was different from every other book, and so it should be treated differently from every other book! It witnessed to a scholar who thought it a necessary thing to memorise the New Testament in the Greek text, word for word, and who thus knew every word by heart. What we might say beauty and sexuality is, when combined, to a man looking for personal fulfilment in human relationship - so the KJV's beauty and accuracy is, to a man looking for truth in spiritual relationship. Are you that man?

Let me finish with another quotation (four paragraphs) from McGee, which speaks to me:

"A businessman said sometime ago, , “You know, the use of time might be likened to the terminology of banking. Yesterday is a canceled check; tomorrow is a promissory note, but today is cash. Spend it wisely.”

"Do you recognize God in your life? That is what Samuel meant by that Eben-ezer stone. It was a stone of revelation. Someone once said, “I am very interested in the future because I expect to spend the rest of my life there, and I want to be reasonably sure of what kind of a future it is going to be.”

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Dr. R. A. Torrey always said that Romans 8:28 was a soft pillow for a tired heart.

"We all need an Eben-ezer stone. I trust that you have one in your life."