Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
1 Chronicles 4:10 | NIV (1984) | Other Versions | Context
The prayer of Jabez is relatively well-known today as one of the notable prayers in the Bible – yet it is interesting to note that this prayer took only the space of one single verse in the Bible, and Jabez the biblical character was only mentioned twice in the Bible – in two verses: this verse, which recorded his prayer, and the verse before it, which explained the sad meaning behind his name. Yet in the briefest of biographies we see one of the most inspiring prayers ever, which ever since Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez, has leapt from obscurity to prominence. When I was a child, my mother made me go to a course on the Prayer of Jabez for kids in a neighboring church, and honestly, I don’t remember much from it. Yet I memorised his prayer then, and even till today it’s a verse that I would sometimes mix in my prayers even without intending to. The Prayer of Jabez is not without controversy, unfortunately. But we’re not talking about Wilkinson’s book or the style of praying that he taught – we’re going to examine this verse and look at Jabez’s heart for prayer.
Who was Jabez? The manner in which he was introduced is rather abrupt. 1 Chronicles 4 is a genealogy of Judah, and in the middle of talking about the sons of Helah, in which Jabez was not named, the author actually felt it right to include a snippet of praise for Jabez’s character. This is the only exception to the entire account on the genealogy of Judah in 1 Chronicles 4. All other verses are related to genealogy – who is whose son, who had how many wives who gave birth to who – etc. It is strange that in a list of genealogy, we are not told who Jabez is – who is his father? Who is his son? It’s almost as if Jabez is so well-known to the people for whom 1 Chronicles was written for, that he didn’t even need an introduction. After all, in verse 9, it was stated that Jabez was more honorable than his brothers – and if we assume that he is a descendent of Judah (which he ought to since he was mentioned in Judah’s genealogy) – then the phrase more honorable than his brothers could mean very honorable indeed. Judah was afterall, the largest tribe. Several older sources state that Jabez is another name for Othniel – mentioned in verse 13 as a son of Kenaz. Well, even if he is, it probably doesn’t mean anything more to us than him being a descendent of Judah, for Othniel and Kenaz are two extremely obscure names in the Bible as well.
I am often interested in the women of the Bible, and in this instance I am extremely intrigued to what Jabez’s mother did – naming her child ‘sorrow’. I’m not a mother, and I don’t know about the pain of childbearing, or the actual circumstances surrounding Jabez’s mother that would lead her to be filled with such sorrow. I grew up in a culture with a very strong superstition to the importance of names, and I would assume that the ancient Jews would be even more cautious with their naming. Even the Bible places great values on names. While I certainly don’t think that a person named Clever would definitely be clever, I do believe that my name is a reflection of my parent’s hopes and blessings for me. Why name a child sorrow? Did she wish her child to lead a sorrowful and pain-filled life?
Maybe it is reverse psychology. Maybe if you bore the name ‘sorrow’, you would desire happiness twice as much as the average person. I don’t know. But we’ll look into the case of Jabez’s mother in greater detail when we study 1 Chronicles 4:9. No matter what, Jabez became outstanding despite of his name.
Let your hand be with me – I personally think this is the most important part of Jabez’s prayer. If God’s hand is with us, really, what else is there to ask for? If God’s hand is with us, he guides us, he protects us, he lifts us, he comforts us, he delivers us. God’s hand is a hand that holds power.
And God granted his request – Such a curious case, really. Jabez was introduced to us via his inauspicious name, and we were told his prayer – and after that, simply this line – And God granted his request. God granted a lot of requests – and in most cases we see how God blessed the one who asked, often with more than what had been requested. Not so with Jabez. We weren’t told how God granted his request. It is easy to understand that God has granted his request when he asked God to keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain – it is a prayer that many of us pray daily though in different words. It is a prayer of protection. It is not hard to imagine how God had granted this request; but I am more curious how God enlarged Jabez’s territory. Did he mean physical territory? More likely than not, since in those days territory was probably a very important thing to show a people’s might and status. Or did he mean spiritual territory, that it would be broadened and he could know more about God and be more intimate with him? Whatever he did mean, God granted it, and I’m sure God had been generous in granting it. Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you [Matthew 7:7].
Prayers of petition for ourselves can at times be challenging. It’s not as difficult at times to pray for others as it is to pray for yourself. In praying for ourselves, it requires a certain degree of self-awareness and intimacy with God. It is easy to pray for someone else because we are detached – it is somebody else, even if he or she is very involved in our lives. Even if we are very affected, we still don’t have the load of the emotions that weigh down on our hearts as we pray. It is so easy to pray for yourself as a routine rather than in a genuine petition to God. Yet praying for ourselves is so important. Let us learn from Jabez’s example – praying for ourselves can be very simple. Let us seek God’s hand in our lives, and let us never forget to pray for ourselves, whether in good times or bad.