Ebenezer in a Dream

In the ESV Bible, the phrase “but God” appears in the narrative 43 times, changing the direction of the story.  Ebenezer the squirrel, the blog’s mascot, represents these memorials of God’s intervention in the world and in our lives.  As a squirrel can unexpectedly draw our attention, I write about these moments to draw our attention to God as a reminder that adding God to our circumstances can change everything.  One of the times the words “but God” appears is in Genesis 20:3, which says:

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.’”

This “but God” Ebenezer comes during Abraham’s sojourn in Gerar, where Abimelech was king.  Similar to an earlier story from Genesis 12, Abraham lies and says his wife Sarah is his sister in order to stay out of trouble.  In this case, Abraham explains his reason for lying as: “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’”[1]  Ironically, Abraham inadvertently here proved there was no fear of God in his own life at this moment, by prioritizing an assumption he had made about Abimelech’s character above the absolute knowledge of God’s character, who does not lie.  Be careful about what you’re certain of.  It might be wrong.

Just like each of us, even the heroes of our faith are not perfect and seek their own means of finding prosperity apart from God.  How God deals with them therefore reveals His grace with real people, and also has lessons we can learn from.  In response to this “but God” dream, Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham to avoid sinning with her.  The dream revealed the power of God to Abimelech, who “took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him.”[2]  Abimelech even gave Abraham 1,000 pieces of silver and told Sarah it was “a sign of your innocence in the eyes of all who are with you, and before everyone you are vindicated.[3]

Ebenezer, the ‘but God’ squirrel, is behind more than you know.

Although Abraham ended up shamed by this situation, God ended up glorified.  God was always in control, even when Abraham was faithless.  Of this story, the Life Application Study Bible notes: “How many times has God done the same for us, holding us back from sin in ways we can’t even detect? We have no way of knowing—we just know from this story that he can. God works just as often in ways we can’t see as in ways we can.”  In other words, there are often many Ebenezers we are not even aware of.  We may benefit from “but God” moments in the lives of others, as Abraham did with Abimelech.  Therefore, next time you see a squirrel (or the next 100 times), thank God for His many mercies toward you that you haven’t even noticed.

“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” – John Piper

[1] Genesis 20:12
[2] Genesis 20:14
[3] Genesis 20:16

A Prayer of Complaint: Psalm 64

Do you ever just feel like complaining about the bad things and people in this world?  While we might hold back complaining to God, thinking He prefers ACTS prayers – focused on Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication – He is infinitely and steadfastly loving and patient, and will listen to whatever we have to say.  David shared Psalm 64 with us as an example.

Read how David begins the Psalm:

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
            preserve my life from dread of the enemy.”

Basically, David begins this Psalm by letting God know what’s coming: a series of complaints.  In the next verses, David complains about evil plots against him happening in secret, and those who can’t wait to ambush him.  David complains about how good evildoers are at what they do.  He writes:

“Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
            from the throng of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
            who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
            shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
            they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, ‘Who can see them?’
They search out injustice,
saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.’
            For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.”

By “diligent search” they have found every method available and used every skill they have to attack David, and the evildoers are impressed with their ability to be unjust and to attack “the blameless”, “shooting at him suddenly and without fear.”  A lot of time and effort has been put into these secret plots.

The blog’s mascot: Ebenezer, the “But God” squirrel.

How will David stand against such attacks?  He won’t, but God[1] will, as David continues in verses 7 through 9:

But God shoots his arrow at them;
            they are wounded suddenly.
They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;
            all who see them will wag their heads.
Then all mankind fears;
            they tell what God has brought about
            and ponder what he has done.”

The wicked, after much “diligent search,” gathered their “swords” and “arrows,” the words they would use to attack David and God’s people.  But because we have God, when we complain in prayer we don’t stop once our complaints have been aired – we continue with the “but God” part of the prayer, which comes with these three main implications:

  • First, that we need not respond in kind, because God needs only one arrow to bring them “suddenly” to ruin.  We are saved by His strength.
  • Second, we need not respond in degree – If our enemies are extraordinarily diligent or skilled in their plots, we do not need to match their effort, because it is God who takes care of us.  All the time and effort put in by the wicked in brought to nothing in a moment, and in that moment, “all mankind fears.”  We need not be intimidated.
  • And finally, any success of God’s enemies is temporary.  Someday He will resolve every complaint of injustice and silence every accusation against His people.

Therefore, as the Psalm ends:

“Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD
            and take refuge in him!
Let all the upright in heart exult!”


[1] See the earlier posts Two Words That Might Save Your Soul and Meet Ebenezer, the Blog’s New Mascot, on the significance of Ebenezer the squirrel and the words “But God”

An Ebenezer in the Sky

Photo by Stainless Images on Unsplash

Ebenezer the squirrel, the blog’s mascot, represents memorials of God’s intervention in the world and in our lives.  The times when He changes the course of events, and when the narrative is changed by the words “but God.”  In the ESV Bible, this phrase appears 43 times, including:

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” – Genesis 8:1

The phrase first was used in Genesis 3:3, when Eve says to the serpent, “but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  As we know, Adam and Eve fell to temptation, eating the fruit and therefore providing us a warning that we should live by God’s words, not just quote them.

However, the second time we see “but God” it is a reminder that God intervenes to save sinners.  Sin started with one rejection of God’s word, but by Noah’s time, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.[1]  God had Noah build an ark for his family to escape the coming flood of judgement, and the last verse before Genesis 8:1 says, “the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.[2]  Even for Noah and his family, the ones God chose to save, 5 months alone in an ark may not have felt like salvation.  “But God…made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.

Today, if salvation seems far away, if the flood around us feels like it’s not going away, even if it’s been months since we’ve had a “good day”, God gave us an Ebenezer especially for this occasion: the rainbow.  Genesis 9:14-16 says:

When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

When you see a rainbow, in the sky or anywhere, remember it as a sign of God’s love for His people, for sinners who rejected Him, but who He chose to save anyway.  He will deliver all of God’s children from the flood because His covenant is everlasting.

Also, keep an eye out for Ebenezer (still the blog’s mascot) as an ongoing series here, covering the 43 direct “but God” references, but also others.

[1] Genesis 6:11-12
[2] Genesis 7:24

Don’t Ignore Ebenezer Today

Reminders of God’s word can guide our daily lives, but only if we follow those reminders.  A while ago, I introduced the blog’s mascot, “Ebenezer, the ‘But God…’ Squirrel.”  Ebenezer is a reminder that however difficult or frustrating our situation, if we actively and intentionally inject God into the situation, He can and will show us the best way forward.  However, what if we try to say “But God” but take the wrong path anyway?  If we do, we are not alone.

Ebenezer, trying to get your attention.

A search of the exact words “but God” in the ESV Bible gives 43 results, and the first one is found in Genesis 3:3, which says “but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  This verse occurs when the serpent in the garden questions God’s word that Adam and Eve were limited by God in what they should and shouldn’t do.  Eve, the speaker in the quote above, responds rightly that God had been specific about what not to do.  As most of my readers will know, even though Eve knew God’s word, the serpent was able to convince her to ignore it.

As they say in the financial industry, “past performance is no guarantee of future results,” but I will guarantee anyway that today and every day every one of us face temptation to do something God wants to protect us from.  I also am confident of the words “but God…” that “If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely,” as I quoted earlier from James Montgomery Boice.  But we must live by them to be transformed by God, not just quote them.

Today, pray that we all would be distracted by God’s word as easily as we are sometimes distracted by a passing squirrel when we are tempted to ignore His voice in our souls.  And if God delivers you from temptation today, make a note, a perpetual “stone of help” that God’s word is good!

Keep an eye out for Ebenezer as an ongoing series here, covering the 43 direct “but God” references, but also others.

Meet Ebenezer, the Blog’s New Mascot

Every blog needs a mascot, right?  Well, maybe not every blog, but this morning I decided this one does.  Before I introduce him, a little backstory on where he came from.

Boston is one of my favorite places to visit, and when I was there last October, we got this great picture of a squirrel in Boston Common.  The squirrels there ignore people most of the time, instead of running away like squirrels usually do.  But this one was not afraid of us at all; he walked right up and stared us down.  He stayed like this long enough for us to take a picture and was still around after we walked away.  For squirrels, fear of humans is a learned behavior and, in some environments, they just go about their business, unconcerned.

Ebenezer, at home in Boston Common

He was a great contrast to the “squirrel moments”[1] dogs (and people) have when they are “distracted by random nothingness.”  The Facebook page where I share this blog is called “A place to inject hopeful reminders of eternity into the distraction that is Facebook.”  I’ve used this squirrel as my social media picture before to joke that it was the best way to draw attention, and if people are easily distracted by squirrels, why not use one to distract people toward the blog?

So, this squirrel is now the mascot for Driving Toward Morning!  But he needs a name.  What to call him?

Meet Ebenezer
Many people know the name Ebenezer from Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, but in the Bible an Ebenezer is a stone monument constructed as a tangible and visible reminder of God’s past help for His people.  Ebenezer means “stone of help,” and such monuments were built in Genesis 28:18, 35:14, Joshua 4:9, 1 Samuel 7:12 and elsewhere.  Only this morning did I make the connection that when I write, I’m often trying to create a type of written Ebenezer.

For example, inspired by a devotional about Ephesians 2:4, I wrote a post about the power of the words “but God.”  In it, James Montgomery Boice says: “The words ‘but God’ show what God has done. If you understand those two words – ‘but God’ – they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.”[2]

So, I’ve decided to name him “Ebenezer, the ‘But God…’ Squirrel,” but you can just call him Ebenezer.  Whenever I see Ebenezer, I hope to be pulled back into awareness of God’s help when I am distracted or frustrated.  I hope to be reminded to store up treasure in heaven as squirrels store food for the winter.  I hope to fear God and not man.  I hope to be encouraged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), as every squirrel I see reminds me that interrupting the seeming chaos of the world with “but God” can change everything.

Next time, and every time, you see a squirrel, I hope you are reminded of the same.  The world is not random, and God is relevant to your situation, whatever it is.

If you’re ever in Boston and see Ebenezer, say hello to him for me.

[1] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=SQUIRREL%21%21
[2] From “November 7.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).