1 Chronicles 4:9-10 – Jabez's Prayer
The Chronicler suggests that the name “Jabez” is derived from a Hebrew word that means “to cause pain” (‘tsb in the hiphil stem) ayin, tsadde, bet, thus (“he brings pain.”)
- One problem with this is Jabez reverses the last two letters of that unfortunate name (ya‘bets) ayin, bet, tsadde. This makes the “pun” somewhat obscure.
- On the other hand, the reversal of letters does foreshadow the reversal in Jabez’s circumstances in the next verse. His name is a curse that his prayer seeks to undo.
- Another problem is whether the initial prayer is conditional (“if you truly bless me . . . then” New Jerusalem Bible) or if it is only a wish (“Oh, that you would bless me . . . and” most versions).
- A final difficulty is whether the purpose clause should read “so that I will be free from pain” (all but New King James) which reads “so that I may not cause pain.”
The Chronicler seems to be saying that God responds to prayer and encourages us to avail ourselves of that opportunity as Jabez did (nothing wrong with that!). Recently, however, Bruce Wilkinson has, shall we say “cashed in” on this important biblical truth. The premise of his best-selling book The Prayer of Jabez, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000) is that ordinary Christians can live extraordinary lives by seeking God’s blessing through Jabez’s four stage blueprint for blessing:
1. seeking God’s blessing
2. seeking greater personal territory
3. depending upon God’s power for significant ministry
4. avoiding temptation
Wilkinson assures us that God always answers this daring prayer.
Besides the problems raised by this text, above, several others arise:
- “Health-Wealth Gospel” preachers are effective here (cf. Joel Osteen in Houston) but how does this sound to third world hearers?
- Can we really reduce God’s blessing to a formula for success? Doesn’t this make God a “cosmic slot machine in the sky?”
- The emphasis on “abundant personal blessing” sounds strange when compared with the prayer Jesus taught, in which we are to ask for “daily bread.”
- What about suffering, care for others, and faithful service in this self-centered approach?
It is difficult to ascertain what the Jabez Prayer means in its context of nine chapters of Chronistic genealogy beyond the positive notice that God answered his prayer, Jabez is otherwise unknown.