Here I raise my Ebenezer;When I was growing up in the Southern Baptist church, we always sang it as
here by thy great help I've come
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;I don't know which words are original. The lines always puzzled me, but that's all right. Not every thing said in church has to be comprehensible to a child; in fact, many things said in church should be beyond the grasp of a child.
Hither by thy help I've come.
Later on, when I learned more about the Bible, I realized that Robinson was referring to the story of Israel's victory in I Sam. 7:12: "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." In the biblical/Israelite context, "Eben-ezer" (Hebrew אבן העזר, eben ha-ezer, "stone of help") is a victory stele; in the context of Robinson's verse, "Eben-ezer" is the poem itself, which commemorates God's grace.
However, the reference is now apparently deemed too obscure for today's congregations. The line "here I raise mine Ebenezer" is variously changed to:
Here I find my greatest treasureOnly the last preserves an echo of Robinson's original meaning. It's too bad that biblical literacy has declined to the point that a scriptural metaphor is written out of the hymnbooks.
Here I pause in my sojourning
This my glad commemoration
It's also interesting to check back and see how the ancient versions dealt with Hebrew eben ha-ezer.
- The Septuagint both transliterates Αβενεζερ and translates it λίθος τοῦ βοηθοῦ, "stone of the helper."
- Jerome just translates as lapis adiutorii, "stone of help" ("stone of the helper" would presumably have been lapis adiutoris).
- The Targum translates as does the Septuagint אַבַן סָעְדָא, aban sa'ada "stone of the helper," vocalized as a participle. The Aramaic Bible volume by Harrington & Saldarini, by the way, mistranslates the targum as "stone of help."
- The Peshitta translates as kepha d'udrana, "stone of help."
BIBLIOGRAPHY: The full text of the hymn as well as a MIDI file of the tune most often used with it ("Nettleton," by John Wyeth) can be found here and here. D. J. Harrington and A. J. Saldarini, Targum Jonathan of the Former Prophets (Aramaic Bible vol. 10; Wilmington, 1987) must be used with great caution; it contains many inaccuracies.
UPDATE: The connection of this post with Martin Luther King Day is so subtle, I have been advised to make it explicit. MLK began his ministry at his father's church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Ralph Luker writes:
As we look to the new millennium, King would wish for us an Ebenezer, a stone of help, a "beloved community." There, rather than exploiting each other, modest folk make modest sacrifices to help each other along the way, like the cleaning lady who gave her mite during the Depression to save the church from foreclosure or those who walked rather than ride a segregated bus in service to the common good. "Here I raise mine Ebenezer," I can hear them sing:Read the whole thing.
Hither by thy help I've come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
UPDATE (1/18): I've continued to look at this verse and there's even more of interest in it than I at first thought.
First of all, I notice that the Old Latin, as quoted in Augustine, City of God, reads with the Septuagint (and Targum) "stone of the helper":
Assumpsit lapidem unum et statuit illum inter Massephat novam et veterem, et vocavit nomen eius Abennezer, quod est latine Lapis adiutoris, et dixit: Usque hoc adiuvit nos Dominus.... Lapis ille adiutoris medietas est Salvatoris.
He took one stone and set it up between the old and new Massephat [Mizpeh], and called its name Ebenezer, which means "the stone of the helper," and said, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." ... That stone of the helper is the mediation of the Saviour.
Second, the OL Massephat novam et veterem, "old and new Massephat," is based on the LXX ἀνὰ μέσον Μασσηφαθ καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τῆς παλαιᾶς, "between Massephat and the old [city?]." This implies that the Greek translator, instead of השׁן, "ha-Shen," had something like ישׁנה, "Jeshanah" (which looks like the word for "old"), and that is in fact what the NRSV has: "between Mizpah and Jeshanah."
Third, I find that two major reference works have made mistakes about this verse. First of all, HALOT (the new Koehler Baumgartner) refers (s.v. שׁן II) to the Peshitta reading for the place name as bet yashan, which implies an original "Jeshanah," with the LXX and OL. Their inference is correct, but they misstate the evidence: the consonants byt in the Peshitta are not part of the place name but are the Syriac word "between." The text reads beit Mispya le-beit y-sh-n, "between Mizpeh and between Y-sh-n." (The BHS apparatus gets this right.)
Also, in the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on "Jeshanah," we read that I Sam 7:12 should "read 'Jeshanah' on the basis of the Targum, which has y-sh-n." As we have seen, it is the Peshitta that supports that reading, not the Targum, which reads with the Masoretic text.
One of my professors at Fuller, W. S. LaSor, used to tell us all the time: "Anyone can make a mistake, even major scholars. If it's important, check it for yourself." Guess he was right.