Another Look at The Prayer of Jabez and Blessings

Prayer of JabezIt 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!

 

Eyes Haven’t Seen and Ears Haven’t Heard?

eyes haven seenI was on my way to church one Sunday morning when I heard a song that had such a beautiful melody! I had heard the words of the song many times before, for you see, the words of the song were part of a quote from 1 Corinthians 2:9, which says in part: “. . . Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The gist of the message of the song and the gist of what many covey when that passage is quoted is this: God has such wonderful things in store for those who love him, so much so that it is beyond anything seen, heard, or even imagined! Now, I’m sure if you’ve been around church, you have probably heard this quotation and application yourself. Maybe you have even quoted and applied that passage in that same way yourself!

Well, one of the things I’ve learned across the years of studying and interpreting scripture is the fact that the first rule of interpretation and application is context. The second rule is context! The third rule is context! Whenever you read any verse in the Bible, before you can rightfully interpret and make application, you should always look at the context! How do you do that? You can start by reading some of the verses before and after the verse in question. If we were to apply that rule to 1 Corinthians 2:9, we would immediately see that although the songs that use that quote sound good and the quotes and applications sound biblical, to just quote 1 Corinthians 2:9 by itself and make an application based on just that one verse is a gross exegetical error and a theological misstep!

We don’t have to look very far to see what I am taking about! Now, to give you some context, Paul was speaking to the Corinthian church about the mystery of the wisdom of God (verse 7) as it relates to the crucifixion of Jesus. It was a mystery that had been hidden from even before the world began! The mystery was that God was going to use the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross to redeem mankind from sin. Paul said that if the rulers of this world had known, that by killing Jesus, they were actually affecting their own undoing, they never would have crucified Jesus! (Verse 8) Then Paul makes a scriptural application by adapting Isaiah 64:4 to illustrate his point. Paul wrote: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” I said Paul adapted Isaiah 64:4 because it actually says: “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” Isaiah said “what he hath prepared for him that waiteth (waits) for (on) him.” Paul modified the passage for his purposes and said: “The things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Isaiah says, “wait” Paul says, “love.” But I didn’t really bring that up to note the differences, but merely to help us with establishing some context.

The point I really want to make comes to light when we read 1 Corinthians 2:10, which modifies verse 9. In verse 9, the verse we always quote and sing, Paul said, “Eyes haven’t seen, ears haven’t heard, nor has it even entered into the hearts of men what great things God has prepared for those that love him.” Now, you need to remember that Paul is not making a statement or an assertion; he is merely quoting and making application of Isaiah 64:4. Paul doesn’t make a statement until verse 10, when he says: “But God!” Do you see that? “But God” makes all the difference! Eyes haven’t seen, ears haven’t heard, nor has it entered into the hearts of men what great things God has prepared for them that love him. . . But God!  But God what? In verse 10, Paul is modifying the quote in verse 9! In verse 9, Paul was saying that it’s all a mystery that is beyond comprehension or imagination, but then he says in verse 10: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

WOW!!!! Paul is saying the things that eyes haven’t seen and ears haven’t heard and the things that have not even entered into the mind, God has revealed them to us by his Spirit! Now the Bible says that we are saved by his Spirit and once we are saved, his Spirit abides in us! Therefore, for any believer to sing the song and quote verse 9 as a proof-text of the unimaginable things God has in store for them that love him is a gross theological error, for it is to ignore the context of the passage and it is to deny the power and ministry of God’s indwelling Spirit! Not only that, it really is to lie on God! You’re saying that eyes haven’t seen and ears haven’t heard, but the Bible says that what you’re sayings hasn’t been seen, heard, or thought of, has been revealed by his Spirit! We can see Paul’s point even more so if we keep reading to verse 12, which says: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” What things? The same “things” from the Old Testament quote in verse 9 that eyes haven’t seen and ears haven’t heard! The same “things” in verse 10 that God has revealed to us by his Spirit!

Oh! I feel a “preach” coming on here! When you quote 1 Corinthians 2:9 as a fact, you are actually calling God a liar! What you are saying hasn’t been seen, heard, or thought of, the very next verse says: But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit and verse 12 says that we have the Spirit so that we might know the “things” that are freely given to us of God! This is a prime example of why understanding the context of a verse, a passage, or even a chapter in the Bible is so important! Doctrines have been formulated, songs have been composed, and people are “testi-lying” when they think they are testifying, all because of a passage taken out of context! In this case, the error is that of drawing a conclusion before reading the author’s actual conclusion! People make the mistake of only reading, quoting and singing verse 9, when they should keep on reading, at least to verse 12!

Now, I know this post is going to mess with some choirs and singers! But we need to make sure the songs we sing are biblically accurate and theologically correct! Many song-writers and composers today are not really biblically literate! Many don’t study the Bible to rightfully divide (interpret and apply) the word of truth!  So don’t just sing a song just because you hear it on the radio and it sounds good! Make sure that it’s biblically sound! So! You can keep on singing, quoting and applying 1 Corinthians 2:9 only and bask in spiritual ignorance if you want to! As for me! I thank God for the next verse that says: “But God!” The “But God” tells me, I once was blind; but now I see!

Why People Perish (Even) With A Vision

vison statementThe first part of the KJV’s (King James Version) rendition of Proverbs 29:18 is often cited as a proof-text for the vision statements of individuals, corporations, and even some churches and other religious organizations. In case you are not familiar with it by the passage notation, let me cite it for you: “Where there is no vision, the people perish. . . .” But experience has proven over and over again that in many cases, even where there is a “vision” present; the people still perish! Why? They perish because of an erroneous interpretation and thus wrong application to this well-known passage.

But before we even get into the Hebrew text to find out what the statement is really saying, if one would just take an even honest look at the KJV rendition of the whole verse, it is apparent that something is awry with the way this passage is usually interpreted and applied. First of all, the well-known part that most people are familiar with is only the first part of the verse. The way the verse is composed and structured, the first part was not written to be separate or thought of as being unrelated to the second part of the verse. The first part is the first half of a couplet! It’s just one side of the coin! It’s just the “in” of the “in-and-outs!” So let’s look at the verse in its entirety: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Now, although this is part of what is called “wisdom literature,” it is structured in the Hebrew poetic form called parallelism. In Hebrew parallelism, the author makes a statement on one line, and then he; restates, adds to, or makes a contrast on the next line. Usually the words in the first line have corresponding or parallel words or ideas in the second line. In the verse in question, “vision” in the first line is parallel to “law” in the second line. Remember now, we just said that the parallel words or ideas usually restates, adds to, or contrast one another. In this case, “law” is restating the idea of “vision.” So, even without looking at the Hebrew, we already know that the terms; “vision” and “law” are related to one another. They are either opposites or they are relating the same idea.

Now, as we look at the two phrases in parallel, we need to ask: How does the idea of people not having a vision fit with the idea of someone being happy or blessed by keeping the law? Well, if we accept the way the first line has been traditionally interpreted and applied, we would have to admit that one has nothing to do with the other! Because, according to the traditional interpretation and application, the first line has to do with goals and goal-setting and the second line has to do with being obedient to the law! One idea has nothing to do with the other! That is, if we accept the traditional interpretation and application! So, we have to decide if the writer had a brain-lapse or just maybe our traditional interpretation and application is wrong. I think the latter is the case.

So let’s go to the Hebrew text for the answer! Now, before we start, I am in no way professing to be a Hebrew scholar! I received a decent grade in Hebrew when I studied it in seminary, but for the most part “He-brewed” me: I barely got out alive! At any rate, let’s take a look! The Hebrew word that is translated as “vision” by the KJV is a word that more properly refers to prophetic vision, prophecy, or divine guidance. Therefore, it is not a reference to goals or plans, but rather to divine communication from the Lord. So, the problem in the text is not a lack of plans or goals, but rather the lack of a word from the Lord! So, if that is the correct idea, then it parallels perfectly with the second part of the verse! The idea of “divine guidance” is a parallel to the concept of “law.” When we look up the word for “law” in the Hebrew, we discover that the word in Hebrew is actually “torah” and it means; law, direction, or instruction! Therefore, the first part of the couplet should be rendered similar to this; “Where there is no prophetic word, or prophecy, or divine instruction, the people. . .”

Now, I didn’t complete the first couplet because we still have to deal with the idea of “perish.” So, when we look up the Hebrew word behind the English word “perish,” we discover the word means, to let loose, or to be let loose, or to be let loose of restraint.” So the idea is not that of perishing as in being destroyed or ruined, but rather is that of being unrestrained or wild! So let’s see what the verse says in light of our discoveries: “Where or when there is no prophetic word, or divine instruction (from the Lord), the people are unrestrained or the people run wild!” Wow! That’s a far cry from a “vision” statement!  The whole verse can thus be rendered: “Where or when there is no prophetic word or divine instruction (from the Lord), the people run wild! But blessed is he (or) the one that keeps or obeys the law (more specifically the written law) or the (written) word of the Lord!”

So, we can conclude that people perish, even with a vision, because a vision (in the sense that we use the word today) cannot save, nor is it really designed to save people from destruction! People, corporations, and even some churches and religious organizations have great visions and great visionaries, but yet they are still perishing! Only obedience to the word of God can save people from destruction! And all one has to do is but look at the news and take a look around to see people running wild! People are running wild, not because of a lack of vision, but rather because of a rejection of the authority of the word of God (in and over their lives) as it is revealed in the written Scriptures!

 

Jesus is Knocking on the Door

Jesus at the doorHow many times have you heard an altar call or an invitation extended and the preacher or speaker quoted Revelation 3:20 and said or implied that it was God or Jesus knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart and all they had to do to be saved was to open the door and let the Lord in? If you were brought up in church like me, you probably cannot count how many times you have heard that appeal!

But did you know that the picture usually presented in connection with Revelation 3:20 is not the picture the verse is depicting at all? When Jesus was knocking on the door in Revelation 3:20, he was not knocking on the door of a sinner’s heart! There are three basic rules one must follow first in order to rightfully interpret Scripture. The first rule is context! The second rule is context! And the third rule is context! The Bible can be made to say and mean anything when verses or passages are taken out of their context. Such has been the case with Revelation 3:20!

A good rule of thumb in establishing the context is to make sure you read what comes before and what comes after the particular verse or passage. Find out how the passage fits in the narrative or discourse in reference to the surrounding verses or passages. Then read the whole chapter and find out how it fits in reference to the whole chapter. Then read the whole book, then look at the section of the Bible it is contained within (Old or New Testament), then find out how it fits in the Bible as a whole! Now, usually you will not have to read the whole Bible just to find the correct context for one verse or passage; you can usually find that out by reading the surrounding verses and maybe the chapter. The point I am trying to make is that no verse or passage really stands all by itself! In order to properly find the intended and true meaning, you need to find the context!

With that in mind, Revelation 3:20 is part of a letter that was written to the angel (pastor perhaps?) of the church at Laodicea. The message is not just to the “angel,” the message was to the church. This particular church was mediocre in their devotion and service. They were lukewarm; in betwixt and in between. They were not hot and they were not cold! By the way, I’ve heard that particular part of the passage preached to imply that the Lord wanted them hot as opposed to cold, but that is not what the passage is saying. The city of Laodicea had no natural water source. Water had to be piped in either from the hot springs of Heirapolis, six miles to the north or from the cold streams of Colosse, ten miles to the east. By the time the hot piped water would arrive from Heirapolis, it was not warm enough to bathe in. By the time the cold refreshing water would arrive from Colosse, it too was too warm to drink! Thus the people knew exactly what was meant by the wish that they were hot or cold, because they knew first-hand how useless and nauseating luke-warmness was!

Now, I am not going to deal with the whole passage because that is not the purpose of this post. But notice in the verse just before our passage, the Lord said: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Rev. 3:19 ESV)  In the two verses immediately following, the Lord said: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'” (Rev 3:21-22 ESV) So, we can gather from the context, because the Lord loves them, the Lord is speaking to church people, encouraging them to be zealous and repent of their lukewarmness. Therefore in this context, there is no doubt that the door the Lord is knocking on in verse 20 is not the door of an unsaved sinner’s heart, but rather the Lord is knocking on the door of the church of Laodicea, seeking to gain entrance and fellowship! Because of their perceived self-sufficiency, they felt no real need for the Lord and what he had to offer!

Oh! What a revelation? In the correct context, this passage should be used to encourage not sinners, but the church (particularly the Western church) to repent of her self-sufficiency, lack of whole-hearted devotion, and exclusion of the Lord from his rightful place as the Head of the church!

“You Shall Recover It All?”

prophecy hype

Not long ago I ran across this Facebook post: “I heard the Lord say. . .“YOU SHALL RECOVER IT ALL!’ No matter what it looks like you are VICTORIOUS and nothing can stop the blessings of God on your life! In Jesus name! If you receive that TYPE AMEN!” And of course, after such a “prophetic” post there were countless comments of “Amen!” It seems that everyone is giving and receiving a positive prophetic word from the Lord these days! But what bothers me about all of this is that most of the prophetic utterances being given are taken completely out of context and are applied to people and situations with no regard for their specific context or situation! For instance; the idea of recovering it all comes from 1 Samuel 30:8. While David and his men were away from home, their enemy came, attacked and ransacked the city and carried off their treasures, old men, wives and children into captivity. In the particular verse in question, David inquired of the Lord whether or not they should go and pursue the captors and the Lord said: “Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and shalt without fail recover all.” (ESV)
Now for our discussion, I want to raise some points from this particular context that are usually conveniently left out of many of the modern “prophetic utterances.” First of all, David and his men suffered this tragedy because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time! The only reason their stuff, wives, women, and children were taken was because they were away from home and had left their homes defenseless! Before a blanket prophetic utterance of “recovering it all” is received, perhaps it would be wise to analyze how and why all was lost! People are so quick to blame the devil for stealing their stuff, but the truth of the matter is that more often than not, the lost can more rightfully be attributed to negligence, lack of wisdom, and in-aptitude! Before focusing on recovering it all, it would be wise to understand why and how all was lost! Sometimes, all was lost because of bad decisions. Sometimes all was lost because of a sinful lifestyle! Before there can be any recovery, these issues must be addressed! God is not wasteful! God will not put water back into a bucket that still has a hole in it!
Secondly, David didn’t just take off in pursuit of the enemy, he inquired of the Lord as to what he should do! In the original context, this was not a blanket prophetic utterance; it was a specific answer to a specific question! David realized he had messed up and he wanted to know from the Lord what course of action, if any, he should take! One thing many people, even some preachers, seem to forget or ignore is the fact that whenever we read the Bible, we are reading someone else’s mail! The text was not addressed to us; it was addressed to the original recipients! Therefore, before we can apply it to us, we must know what it meant to them! Some texts were written to a specific person or people in a specific place for a specific time for a specific situation. Some texts were written to a specific person or people in a specific place at a specific time, but have universal application for all people in all places for all times! For instance, the concept of women covering their heads and veiling their faces in the bible is more of a specific cultural concept than a universal spiritual concept. It was specific for Paul’s time, situation and location!
The third point I want to raise from David’s context is that David understood that he wouldn’t be able to recover it all without a fight! People often talk about having victory, but you can’t be victorious without a fight! It’s not just going to be handed over; there must be struggle and hardship! Note that even before the fight, David had to pursue! If there is to be any recovery, don’t expect it to come back like a lost puppy finding its way back home! No, if there is to be any recovery, there must be some pursuit! And at the end of the pursuit there will be a fight! People, by nature are lazy, but if there is to be a recovery, there must be some effort and sacrifice! David understood that if he was to get his stuff back, it wasn’t going to come back to him; he had to go get it! He also understood that the enemy wasn’t going to just give it back to him without a fight! If he was going to get it back, he had to take it back!
I brought all of this out because most people fail to understand that in prophetic utterance, there’s always more to it than what it seems! Therefore, before any prophetic utterance is received, these points must be considered: (1) What is the original context and does that original context allow for universal application? (2) Does it neglect or ignore the necessity of repentance from sin? (3) Does it neglect or ignore the necessity of a right-relationship with God? (4) Does it neglect or ignore personal responsibility? Weigh carefully the answers because what is being offered as a prophetic utterance might not be a prophetic utterance at all, it might just be someone trying to “sound prophetic!”