Cheryl Treadway and her three children were being held hostage by her boyfriend, Ethan Nickerson. He evidently was high on methamphetamine and threatening her with a knife if she attempted to leave. Trapped and scared, Treadway took the only course of action she could think of — she received permission from Nickerson and then ordered a large pepperoni pizza online from Pizza Hut. And with her order, she added a comment in the notes box: “911 hostage help.”
Alarmed employees called 911, officers went to Treadway’s home, and they were able to free Treadway and the children and arrest Nickerson without any injuries. Unsurprisingly, the Pizza Hut manager said, “We’ve never seen that before.” No, we wouldn’t expect that she had seen that — when we need help, Pizza Hut isn’t usually on the top of the list. Parents, or friends, or school teachers or counselors, pastors, and policemen all make it to the list of probable helpers, but not pizza store employees.
When you are oppressed, suffering, attacked, criticized, and persecuted, where do you go for help? In spite of his despair and questions of God, the psalmist turned to the Lord, asserting, “All Your commandments are faithful; They have persecuted me with a lie; help me!” (Ps. 119:86) Because he recognized the faithfulness (truthfulness and trustworthiness) of God, the psalmist turned to God for help.
When we are discouraged and being attacked by others, as the psalmist was, the temptation is to think that God does not care and is either incapable of helping or unwilling to help. But the psalmist’s simple heart cry, “Help me!” is a reminder about the nature of God. He is a God who helps. He does not despise our weakness; He is sympathetic to our weakness. He is not uncompassionate; He loves His children and always desires what is best for them. He is not impotent; He is able to do all that we need. Simply stated, He wants to help and is able to help.
And the Scriptures testify often to God’s ability to help:
- God is a help against the enemies of Judah (Dt. 33:7)
- God is a shield of help to the people of Israel (Dt. 33:29)
- God is a help to the afflicted and need (Ps. 70:5)
- The one who is in need and seeming helpless can look to Heaven and find help from the Lord — the maker of Heaven and earth (Ps. 121:1-2; see also 124:8)
- The one who is helped by God is blessed (Ps. 146:5)
- It is folly for Israel to be opposed to God who is her help (Hos. 13:9)
The psalmist uses the same root word when he asks for help from God in Psalm 119. He goes to God because it is in the nature of God to help. He is predisposed to help.
One of the most well-known names of Christmas literature is Ebenezer Scrooge. His last name has become synonymous with miserly, stingy, and tightfisted people. Scrooge was predisposed to selfishness and self-absorption. Scrooge was on no one’s “call when in need” list. And writer Charles Dickens makes that point ironically with Scrooge’s first name as well.
The name Ebenezer appears in one context in Scripture. The nation of Philistia captured the Ark of the Covenant in battle when Israel foolishly took the Ark into battle as something of a good-luck charm (1 Sam. 4:3-11). The Ark was of no benefit to the Philistines, however, as the false god Dagon repeatedly was found bowing to the Ark (1 Sam. 5:1ff). So in fear the Philistines returned the Ark to the Israelites (1 Sam. 6), though they again attacked the Israelites in 1 Samuel 7. The Israelites were fearful of being defeated again and so they asked Samuel, “Do not cease to cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines” (v. 8). So Samuel prayed and God graciously answered — “But the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel” (v. 10). Nothing else is said about the defeat, but it had to be powerful and definitive.
So how did the Israelites respond to God’s act of gracious help? “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.'” The stone was a testimony to the power and gracious help of God; and so future generations would know that God was a God of help, Samuel named it “the stone of help.” God helps. Everything that Ebenezer Scrooge was not, God is. However inadequate human helpers might be — either by intention or by frailty — God is infinitely gracious, loving, and capable of helping. He is our help.
In 2018, we will all face trouble, difficulty, trial, and even persecution. And in those burdens, we may be tempted to seek temporal help and we may be tempted to ignore or discount the power of God to help. The story of Ebenezer and the testimony of the Psalmist is that God’s Word is a powerful help in our every trouble, for it points us to the God who will sustain us in all things.