Of course he was referring to the old standard with the line, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.” Now he has a point. How many of us sing that line, violating the injunction to “sing with the understanding,” found in 1 Cor 14? The solution though, is not to get rid of the song, but to educate our understanding. The song is straight out of the scriptures, yet because I don’t know what it means am I to cut that word out of my Bible? No, I am to study the word of God and learn what it means.
The Israelites had been worshipping idols again, and the Philistines conquered them. Finally, after twenty years, Samuel brought them to repentance, and God helped them fight and win against those perennial foes. To memorialize the victory, Samuel raised a stone and called it Eben-ezer, the stone of help. With God’s help they had conquered their enemies. Isn’t that how we conquer ours? Isn’t it with God’s help that we can defeat the devil and overcome sin? We should raise an Ebenezer in our lives to remind us of the help God gives us every day of our lives. Now go sing that song with understanding, don’t just get rid of it.
Yet, while I knew the Ebenezer story, that whole incident reminded me that I often sing other songs and think, “What does that mean? I need to look it up,” and then I go away and forget to do just that.
Do you sing the song with the line, “Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age the same?” All my childhood I thought people just didn’t know how to spell Sabbath correctly. But finally one day several years ago, after singing that line over and over and meaning to go look it up, I finally remembered and did.
“Sabaoth” means “armies” or “hosts.” Whenever we say “Lord of hosts” we are simply translating Lord Sabaoth to English. In fact, many newer translations do exactly that. But to me there is something more awesome and reverential about the ancient word “Sabaoth” than the simple word “armies” or “hosts.” Maybe it is because those words are often used to refer to a nation’s army, while the other always and only refers to God’s army--and what an army it is! That word reminds me that He is the one who is supreme over all the innumerable hosts of spiritual armies, armies we could not fight against no matter the number of our soldiers or the strength of our weapons. Isn’t the commander of that army far more powerful than anything we can imagine?
And doesn’t that make you feel far more secure as His child? Doesn’t His promise of help (Ebenezer) and vengeance on our behalf with his spiritual army (Sabaoth) seem more certain, and more powerful? And don’t you want to make sure that you are not on the receiving end of that vengeance? James promised that when those who have been defrauded cry to God, that Lord of Sabaoth will hear. I would shiver in my boots if I were the one doing the defrauding but shout from reassurance if I knew that army would be fighting on my behalf.
So the next time you sing a song you don’t really understand, don’t just throw away the song. Look it up. Study a little. (You’re supposed to be doing that anyway!) Maybe you will find strength in the discoveries you make about the powerful God you serve, and that strength will help you live a better life today.
Who is the king of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, oh gates, even lift up everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in. Who is the king of glory? The LORD of hosts [Lord Sabaoth], he is the king of glory. Selah. Psalm 24:8-10.