It seems as if the church-world today is obsessed with the idea of being blessed by God, so much so that many are praying to God for God to bless them! To legitimize their prayer to be blessed, they often cite the prayer of Jabaz. So, I thought it would be a good idea to take a fresh look at the prayer of Jabaz in its biblical context. The prayer is found in 2 Chronicles 4:10, where we find Jabaz praying to the God of Israel. The King James Versions reads: “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.” (1 Chronicles 4:10 KJV)
Now at first glance, this seems to be a simple prayer request for God to bless Jabaz, to enlarge his territory, to be with him, and to keep him from evil so that it (evil?) would not grieve him. But let’s take a closer look and see if it’s really just that simple. First of all, in order to get the proper context, we need to back up to verse 9, which reads: “And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow.” (1 Chronicles 4:9 KJV) Since verse 10 is joined to verse 9 by the conjunction; “and” we know that these two verses are conjoined in thought. So together they read: “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.”
A key to our understanding of the text is an understanding of the meaning of Jabez’s name. The name; “Jabez” meant; “sorrow, to grieve.” According to the text, his mother gave him that name because she bore him in sorrow. Apparently, Jabaz’s birth came after a hard and grievous labor or birthing process! Hence, his name was indicative of the hard labor his mother went through when he was born. But look at the text again! Right before we read about how his mother bore him in sorrow, we read: “And Jabez was more honorable than his brethren.” Now what in the world does the fact that Jabez was more honorable than his brethren have to do with his birth being hard and grievous labor? There seems to be no correlation! Taken side by side, the two statements seem to have nothing to do with one another! What does the fact that Jabez was more honorable than his brethren have to do with his mother having pain at his birth? At first glance; nothing! Unless. . . . we’ve missed something in how we have traditionally translated the text! Let me show you what I’m talking about! In verse 9, the English word “honourable” in the Hebrew text is the word; “kabod.” It has a variety of literal meanings, such as; “to be heavy, be weighty, be grievous, be hard, be rich, be honourable, be glorious, be burdensome, be honoured.” Now, we have traditionally translated the term in the text to denote “honor.” But what if the author really meant to denote weight or heaviness? What if the meaning the author really wanted to convey was the idea that Jabaz weighted more and was therefore “more heavier” than his brothers, thereby causing his mother more pain and grief in his birth than his brothers had caused her in their births? And as a consequence, she gave him the name; “Jabez (Sorrowful)” to signify the distress, pain, and grief she had in birthing him? If we accept that translation, the two verses together make perfect sense!
But, wait a minute! If we do accept that translation, then that throws a “monkey-wrench” into the theological implications many have taken from the prayer of Jabez! If we accept that translation, then we must conclude that the prayer Jabaz prayed was really a simple request that God would not allow him to live up to (or down to) his name! Maybe, instead of asking God for the abundance that most modern-day readers think he was asking for, maybe Jabez was just simply asking God to bless him to the point that he would not fulfill the destiny that his name implied!
I raise this point because I think it is dangerous to try to set or establish a theological principle on just one or a few verses in the Bible! Aside from this text and the occurrence of Jacob holding on to a wrestler in Genesis 32:26, the Bible gives no other indication that we should be praying for a blessing or blessings from God! In fact, the Bible is filled with the idea that God blesses us, not because we ask God to bless us, but rather because it’s just God’s nature to bless. In the creation account in Genesis 1, there is a constant refrain: “And God blessed them.” They did not pray for God to bless them, God blessed them because it was and is just God’s nature to bless God’s creation!
Not only is it just God’s nature to bless, the Bible also indicates that God blesses or makes people blessed not as an answer to prayer, but rather in response to obedience! In Genesis 12:1-3, we read: “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3 KJV) God promised Abram that he would be blessed as a result of his obedience to the commands of God! We might also note that God didn’t bless Abram just to bless Abram! God blessed Abram so that Abram would also be a blessing! The same principle is found in Deuteronomy 28:1-2: “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.” (KJV) Note in this text, Moses told the Children of Israel that if they would just be careful to be completely obedient to the word of the Lord, the blessings of the Lord would “come upon them and overtake them!” We’ve got it twisted! It is not God’s will for us to be seeking blessings; it is God’s will for blessings to be seeking us! David said in Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Ps. 23:6 KJV) What most English readers don’t realize is that the Hebrew word in that verse that is translated as “follow” is actually a Hebrew word that means; “to pursue, or to run after.” So the picture David was portraying was not that of goodness and mercy (blessings) passively following David like a little puppy-dog following his master, but rather it was that of goodness and mercy (blessings) actively and aggressively pursuing after or hunting David like a wild animal hunting its prey! The same idea is expressed by Jesus in Matthew 6:31-33 where Jesus said: “Therefore take no thought, saying, ‘What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (KJV) In the KJV translation, to “take thought” is to be anxious or overly concerned about. Jesus said that if we would just make the Kingdom of God the top priority in our lives, the blessings we need in life would come as a matter of course!
There is a pre-occupation today by many Christians with what the Bible says shouldn’t be a concern at all! We’re stressing for blessings when the Bible says we shouldn’t be stressed at all! If we would really seek God with the same intensity that many are seeking to be blessed by God, then we would indeed be blessed! Perhaps we would do well to remember that nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to “seek His hand” but we are instructed to “seek His face!” Yes! If we would honestly seek Him, then we would automatically receive all the blessings He has for us!