Vol. 6, No. 10
~ Page 10 ~
The recent best selling book, The Prayer of Jabez, written by Bruce Wilkinson, was the "surprise religious book" of the year 2000. It has sold over seven million copies. Every book writer would like to boast of such success. That success has spawned a marketing phenomenon that includes books for kids and teens, T-shirts, coffee mugs, a desk calendar, a study Bible, a devotional guide, a website and a reminder coin -- all in the name of Jabez. This book, or any of its related merchandise, might very well be under your Christmas tree this year (given by some well-meaning friend or relative).
I realize that this book enjoys some popularity among our brethren. I see no problem with that as long as the reader is able to see past the hype surrounding the book, as well as the pseudo-promises and the false teachings of the author so as to derive some benefit from the commentary provided. The apostle John wrote, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). The trouble is that the largest portion of the reading public is not so discerning.
All that the Bible tells us about Jabez is found in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, which reads, "And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested." This text is found in the midst of a long list of genealogies. First Chronicles chapters 1-10 cover genealogies and history from Adam to the death of Saul, King of Judah. First Chronicles chapters 11-29 cover the reign of David. The purpose of the Chronicles was to provide ancient genealogical material and to give the rank and order of the priests and Levites who were to resume their official activities upon the Jew's return to the Promised Land after their captivity in Babylon. Certain historical events are interspersed in these genealogical records. The brief passage about Jabez is one of them.
What can we learn from a study of Jabez and his prayer? Hopefully much! Charles Hodge said that he has written two books on prayer, but his next book on prayer will include the prayer of Jabez. We should never get too old to learn. In regard to this Old Testament saint and his prayer let us notice the following.
Jabez was one of the noble sons of the tribe of Judah (vs. 1). Jabez certainly excelled many in his generation. He is not, however, the central figure of the Book of Chronicles. That distinction belongs to David. Jabez is a man of small renown. Yet, much can be learned from God's faithful sons and daughters no matter how great or obscure they may be (Hebrews 11:32-40).
His mother named him Jabez, as she said, "Because I bare him with sorrow." Literally, his name means, "that which causes pain." Expositors love to speculate as to the reason for a mother so naming her son: Did she bring him into this world with an unusually difficult delivery? Was the time of his birth contemporary with the event of her widowhood (if such she was)? Was his name intended to denote some poverty and/or hardship in her life? It appears that the sorrow refers to unusual difficulty surrounding childbirth, rather than to any attendant circumstances of domestic trial: "Because I bore him in pain" (RSV); "Because of the pain he caused his mother during birth" (CIV).
Whatever the reason for his name we know that by comparison Jabez "was more honorable than his brethren." To his mother Jabez was associated with some particular sorrow. Sometimes where there is sorrow in earlier events, there will be great comfort in the sequel. At times we have to sow in tears before we can reap in joy.
The prayer of Jabez tells us something of the type of man he was. People who pray such prayers usually excel in character. From the heart of this honorable man his noble prayer is here recorded in a few words.
The Prayer of Jabez (vs. 10)
"Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed." We often ask God to bless us when we pray. The word "indeed" suggests blessings that are truly blessings. Paul used the designation "indeed" to describe widows who were truly destitute, with no children or relatives to care for them (1 Timothy 5:3). There are many things for which people wish that might be more curses than real blessings, i.e., money, power, honor and success. Jabez wanted what God considered best for him -- blessings indeed!
"Enlarge my coast." Bear in mind that the Chronicles were written after Judah's captivity. The returning remnant found themselves back in the land of promise with land to be reclaimed (cf., Deuteronomy 12:20; 19:8). We know nothing of the occasion surrounding Jabez's prayer, but rather than greed for more land it may have been a request for the recovery of acreage wrongfully taken from him.
It would be proper for Christians today to ask God to enlarge their "borders" in the figurative senses of service and activity in his church. Are you comfortable with the least amount of work and service that you can do? Ask the Lord to enlarge your borders! Take advantage of opportunities. Don't bury your talents! No one should be content with the spiritual status quo -- there is so much to do, learn and enjoy. The fields of evangelism are white unto harvest!
"And that thine hand might be with me." Jabez acknowledged the providence of God in his life (Ezra 7:9; Psalm 80:17). In our "enlightened" age men often want to shut God out of his own created sphere. Some people attribute all things to chance, fate or circumstance. Men sometimes boast that they can do well enough without God (Luke 12:16-21). The Old Testament Jews, as do faithful Christians today, typically believed in the personal God who created the universe and sustains it by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).
"And that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me." Jabez prayed that he might be able to face any evil and not be overcome by it. We are taught by Jesus Christ to pray in a similar fashion (Matthew 6:13; cf., James 1:14).
It is right for us to love the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. It would be wrong for us to make it more than it really is. Mr. Wilkinson calls the prayer of Jabez the "miracle of Jabez" (p. 90). He assures us that if we use the prayer of Jabez we will see miracles happen (presumably after one has purchased his book). Mr. Wilkinson writes, "God will release His miraculous power in your life now" (p. 92). Miraculous powers were given to Jesus' disciples (Luke 10:1-17), his apostles (Matthew 10:1) and those upon whom the apostles laid their hands (Acts 8:5-6). Miracles were for the purpose of confirming the word of God (Mark 16:17-20). They were later eliminated with the completed revelation of God's will for man (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). There is nothing in the prayer of Jabez that offers miraculous power for God's people today.
The book promises to supernaturally change your life. Wilkinson writes, "Join me for that transformation. You will change your legacy and bring supernatural blessings wherever you go" (pp. 91-92). There is a transformation available to us today, but it is through the Gospel and its application in our lives (2 Corinthians 3:18). There is nothing in the prayer of Jabez that offers such a transformation to God's people today.
People should not use this prayer as a mantra, ritual or ceremony. They should not put it into the realm of counting beads or another "Hail Mary." Mr. Wilkinson believes the strength of the prayer of Jabez lies in its rote repetition every day. He says he has prayed this prayer every day for thirty years (p. 11). Wilkinson has cast this petition into the same mold as the misnomer, the "Lord's prayer" (Matthew 6:9-13). Why would this not be vain repetition in prayer? (Matthew 6:7). The person who merely says the prayer of Jabez as a prescribed routine evidently misses the sentiment that it breathes and he fails to grasp the doctrines that it teaches. There is nothing in the prayer of Jabez that offers help through mere repetition.
Finally, the prayer of Jabez is not a prayer uttered through Jesus Christ, our heavenly mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). As spiritual priests in the church of Christ, it is the chief function of all Christians to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). The prayer of Jabez is a petition in the typical Hebrew form during the Mosaic era. Jewish prayer usually covered five areas: (1) requests for blessings, whether temporal or spiritual ["Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me"], (2) deprecations of evil of every kind ["and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me"], (3) intercessions on behalf of others, (4) thanksgiving for blessings conferred upon us, and (5) praises to God. Mr. Wilkinson takes us to the wrong covenant to learn to pray (Hebrews 7:11; 8:7). In this he fails to handle aright the word of truth by not recognizing the distinction between the covenants (2 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 8:13). As children of God we have a heavenly Father to whom we pray and a loving Savior as our heavenly Mediator.
The prayer of Jabez teaches us four truths: (1) God ought to be acknowledged as the source of our prosperity [physical and spiritual] (James 1:17), (2) God is the source of all our strength (Ephesians 6:10), (3) God is the only sufficient protector against sin -- through his Word (Psalm 119:11; Matthew 6:13), and (4) God answers prayer (Matthew 6:6; 1 Peter 3:12). And, just as in the case of Jabez, James tells us that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).
May we appreciate the prayer of Jabez for what it is -- a wonderfully instructive Old Testament petition. May we also avoid the mistake of taking this prayer beyond its proper context and meaning for our lives.