Years ago, my wife Jackie and I were moving 3,000 miles away to the east so I could return to school and embark on a new career. The small church that we attended gave us a loving send-off, a gift of money to help with expenses, and a small plaque that read: “He who hath helped thee hitherto will help thee all thy journey through.”
This is apparently a quote from Charles Spurgeon, a great 19th-century Baptist preacher. But I did not know that then. I was sure that this must be a quotation from the Bible. I looked to find it there, but my search was in vain.
I remembered that Jacob, when he set out on a long journey east to find a wife, encountered God at a place called Bethel. He swore an oath, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God” (Genesis 28:20-21 NIV).
Jacob attempted to make a bargain with God. The fact is that when he returned twenty years later, Jacob had much more than food, clothes, and a wife. He had two wives, almost a dozen children, servants, and vast wealth in the form of herds of animals. God had given him far more than he had asked for. Furthermore, God had promised to make him the father of a great nation, through whom all the world would be blessed—he would be the ancestor of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.
Another relevant biblical passage is 1 Samuel 7. There, the people of Israel were under constant threat of attacks from the Philistines. The prophet Samuel told the people to commit themselves to God. When they did, God gave them victory in the ensuing battle. Verse 12 says: “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (KJV). This stone was an expression of thanksgiving and worship, but it was also an expression of something more. Mizpeh is only about twelve miles from Jerusalem. The Philistines were still occupying a considerable amount of the territory that had been promised to the people of Israel, and the Philistines still had a large army that would continue to be a threat to Israel for years to come. Samuel’s monument was an expression of gratitude but also a prayer for continued help from God, a recognition that the war was not over, that there was still a long way to go.
This understanding was aptly expressed in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” written by 18th-century pastor Robert Robinson:
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
It was also expressed in John Newton’s song “Amazing Grace” written in 1772:
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
Jackie and I still have that plaque hanging on our wall, and when we move to a new townhouse in the next few weeks and prepare for semi-retirement (I will continue to write and edit because writers can’t not write), it will go with us. It has proven to be both encouraging and prophetic. When Jackie and I set out on our journey years ago, we did not attempt to bargain with God. But we were committed to serve Him. When we returned eleven years later, I had two children, a career, and enough wealth to buy a house. God had cared for us, as He had cared for Joseph. This is both our testimony, that God has been faithful and has blessed us immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), and our prayer, that God will continue to be with us and help us until our earthly journey is over.