Jabez’s prayer constrains us to do business with God, because the Word of God reminds us that our God is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. The prayer itself is the only clue we have as to what made him honourable. The important thing is this: his honour was from God, not from men. He stands out among people simply because he wants to be honoured by God.
Jabez was more honourable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain’. Jabez called upon the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked.
So in turning to look at Jabez and his prayer, I want us to look at three things: the context, the content and the constraint of Jabez’s petition before God.
First, we will look at the context of Jabez’s Prayer
The Books of Chronicles are not simply a retelling of the history of Israel and Judah. They are a recasting of that history from a very clearly defined perspective. That perspective is the perspective of the covenant. I would even venture to say that without Chronicles, we would not have a proper view of Old Testament history.
What is told us in 37 books in the rest of the Old Testament is summarised in two books here. We have the whole story – from Adam to the return from captivity. And it is cast in terms of the faithfulness of the God of the promise. He has secured his church, and kept it safe.
That is why it is with the books of Chronicles that the Hebrew Bible closes. It is the summary of the whole; the revision of God’s work from the beginning of the world to the eve of Christ’s coming.
Indeed, that may well be the reason, or at least one of the reasons, why Jabez is singled out here. The Chronicles story was written to encourage the people of God who had returned from exile. They were in pain.
And Jabez was so called because for some reason he symbolised pain. Perhaps he is highlighted because the covenant people could so readily identify with him.
The one detail, however, which stands out about Jabez is this: ‘he was more honourable than the rest of his brothers’. In a list of family names and genealogical lists, that must be significant. These chapters are all about family. They are all about kinship, and belonging. They detail for us the way in which God’s purposes of grace ran, discriminately, through the line of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Judah, of David. They show us God’s sovereignty in the affairs of men, and his faithfulness to his covenant promise. And Jabez, the man who prayed this prayer, is most honourable of all his peers.
The prayer itself is the only clue we have as to what made him honourable. The important thing is this: his honour was from God, not from men. He stands out among people simply because he wants to be honoured by God.
So, in this dry, barren context of lists of names and family trees, one man stands out for special mention. Does God look at us in this world of modern society and living and say, ‘There are special people there’?
Secondly, we will look at the content of Jabez’s Prayer.
There are four distinct petitions here.
First, there is the Prayer For God’s Blessing.
Jabez says, ‘O that you would bless me indeed’. The single most important thing in his life was that he would know the blessing of God. Nothing mattered but this. He could do without many things, but he did not wish to be without God’s blessing.
It is important for us to recognise that the word ‘bless’ is primarily a covenant word – it forms part of the vocabulary of covenant. In a covenant, God holds out promises to those who obey and honour him, and threats to those who disobey and dishonour him. The experience of these promises is the covenant blessing; the experience of the threats is the covenant curse.
Curse and Bless are opposites of one another; and they reflect the fact that God is faithful to the covenant word which he has spoken. So implicit in this prayer for blessing is a willingness to do all that God would have him do. You see, it is not just the prayer that is the secret of Jabez’s happiness and contentment.
For the prayer to be genuine there has to be a heart commitment to the God of the covenant, to the stipulations of the king. You cannot pray ‘God, bless me indeed!’ and be genuine and sincere if you have no interest in obeying God and doing what he demands.
Perhaps, indeed, that is what singled Jabez out. Perhaps he was more honourable simply because of his willingness to respond to God’s covenant revelation in obedience and faith. Perhaps more than all his contemporaries and peers, he had an ear attuned to God’s word and an eye on the rewards God promises to those who honour him.
Blessing is all about covenant commitment. It is about recognising God’s absolute commitment to what he has promised and what he has said. Is our interest in the word of God and in the God of the word? Are we living in such a way that the only thing we are afraid of is offending God? Do we want our lives to be so empty of ourselves that only God’s blessing matters to us?
C.S. Lewis, I think, says in one place that the first thing you must do when you admire a work of art is to forget yourself. You must get yourself, as it were, out of the picture, if you are to appreciate what is actually in the picture.
Do you see, that is what Jabez is about? He wants to get himself out of view, in order that God will be his all in all. What matters is to him though he loses home, family, property, friends – as long as he retains his friendship with God, and his interest in God’s covenant.
‘Bless me indeed!’
Second, there is the Prayer For God’s Favour.
‘Enlarge my coasts’. It is important that we catch the allusion here. When the tribes of Israel were settled in the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, that land was divided by the tribes and allotted to each one.
Land was an integral part of God’s covenant promise and commitment. He promised to take Abraham to a land which would belong to him and to his descendants forever. He took Israel out of Egypt, with the ultimate guarantee of a land of their own. As the redemptive plan of God unfolds in the Old Testament, it becomes increasingly clear that the land is a major component of that purpose.
Elmer Martens, an Old Testament professor, suggests that Exodus 5:22-6:8 forms a kind of grid in which we can discern the major, pivotal themes of Old Testament theology. That passage culminates in these words: “And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.”
This, suggests Martens, is one of the main components of covenantal redemption and in these words: “And I will bring you into the land which symbolises what Jesus has secured for us now.
So Jabez prays for an enlargement of his territory, for territorial expansion. And in essence, he is praying for a richer share in the inheritance of the people of God. Is that not the desire we all should have as we are sojourning in our Christian life? That we might come to appreciate, and experience, in ever-increasing measure, all that Christ has secured for us and given us by way of inheritance and allotment.
Can we not sing with God’s people that our lines have fallen in pleasant places, and that we have a good inheritance (Psalm 16:5)? And can we not pray with Jabez, in the light of that, that God would enlarge our territory, and give us to know more of the wealth of resources which are ours through the finished work of Christ?
The language of inheritance is the language of the New Testament: we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8); to us belong an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and which will not fade away (1 Peter 1). So – more of Jesus!
Third, there is the Prayer For God’s Presence.
‘That your hand will be with me’. Jabez does not pray to a remote God, to a God far away. His prayer is directed to a God who is near, to one who is profoundly interested in all that Jabez is about.
The reference to the hand of God is interesting, and occurs frequently in Scripture. It is one of these ‘anthropomorphisms’ – ascribing human characteristics to God. In the Bible, it is one of the ways in which God accommodates his revelation of himself to us and to our interests and needs.
His is a hand of power (Psalm 118:15). His is a hand that provides (Psalm 145). His is a hand that holds and guides (Psalm 73:23). His is a hand that keeps secure (John 10). His is a hand that heals (Ex 15 ). What a difference the touch of Jesus’ hand made in the lives of many people.
And the God in whom Jabez trusts is a God so personally interested in his affairs, that he will be all and in all for him. May we pray that God’s hand will be with us at the start of this new year!
Fourth, there is the Prayer For God’s Protection.
‘Keep me from harm’. Ah, here is the thing! Who knows what difficulties there may be in our path as we strive to live effective Christian lives? Who knows what dangers may lurk in the road ahead? Who knows what difficulties we may have to face, and what trials we may have to go through?
Yet there is one place where there is safety in danger, help in trial, and grace for every time of need. It is to be found only in the covenant faithfulness of the God who protects those who are in danger. That is faith’s ultimate resting place: in the protection and safe-keeping of the Almighty. His feathers shall hide us. His faithfulness shall be our shield and buckler (Psalm 91).
Jabez knows that the road of blessing is hedged around with many difficulties. It is through many trials and tribulations that we shall come at length to the kingdom. But God’s people are afforded God’s protection. None shall perish who trust in him. What a privilege to know that blessing to be ours as this year progresses.
Finally, we will look at the Constraint of Jabez’s Prayer.
What I mean by that is this. There is a detail added here, which ought to provoke in us a desire to do business with God at his throne of grace. It is simply this: ‘God gave him what he asked’.
Now, we cannot make this a blanket guarantee. Sometimes God does not give us what we ask – and what a blessing that is. He did not take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh. He did not take away Elijah’s life. No; He knows what is best, and He knows that sometimes we ask amiss. He overrules our prayers and teaches us the things that we need.
But at the same time, we are rebuked time and again in God’s word for not having asked aright; for missing out on God’s blessing for lack of asking! Let us not be blind to the warnings of Scripture in this connection. Ask of God! That is the rule. Make your requests known to God! That is the precept.
Jabez’s prayer constrains us to do business with God, because the Word of God reminds us that our God is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God. Let us follow the example of the Prodigal, who said, “I will arise, and go to my Father…”. May these thoughts help us that we will not hesitate to do business with the King of Heaven, because he hears the groaning of the prisoner, and bends his ear from Heaven to the petitions of earth.
TK Shadakshari is Lead Chaplain & Strategic Diversity Lead, NHS Western Isles
Photo by ABEL MARQUEZ on Unsplash