Posted by: Helen Gobble | April 6, 2011

Study of the prayer of Jabez

As I was preparing my notes for inclusion in Bits and Pieces and More, I found this rather long study from 1958 of the prayer prayed by a man called Jabez, recorded in the 4th chapter of Chronicles. Here it is, from Bits and Pieces and More:

Another Look at Jabez: About “that’s” and “me’s.”

My interest here is to write a short biography of a man named Jabez, and you are invited to join me in my pursuit.

First, an explanation for my quest:

When I first discovered this portion of scripture, the one thing that impressed me most was the recurrence of “that” and “me.” As I began to study it more closely, the spiritual significance surfaced, and I began to dissect it. I found it curious that if you eliminate the “that’s” and the personal pronouns, of thirty-three words you have eighteen left — almost half!

The more I studied it, the more, and the more vivid, images filed through my mind. I am not surprised at the personal pronoun “me.” We are prone to use “I,” “me,” and “mine” in more than sufficient instances universally. On the other hand, “that,” a helpless word if only used by itself, occurring five times in two short verses of scripture?

My conclusion: It called for an in-depth search — so …

Jabez is introduced in scripture in First Chronicles chapter 4, verse 9, and it reads:

9 And Jabez was more honorable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying: Because I bare him with sorrow.

In the King James Version, Verse 10 continues:

10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying…

Here ends the background study of this honorable man Jabez.

Too bad we are not given more? Perhaps, but we have enough in his brief prayer (to follow) which will compensate for any amount of personal life history, genealogy, goals, pursuits, successes, or failures.

Now to consider what we do have:

Turning back just one page, I would think, in your Bible, to First Chronicles chapter 2, verse 55, you will find “And the families of the scribes which dwelt at Jabez.” This evidently is a place. It may be connected with the man Jabez, or it may not. Scholars disagree, as they do on many texts in scripture. Some assume that this Jabez was a city, perhaps named for Jabez the man, thus according him the “more honorable” mention; but most agree there is insufficient evidence for certainty. This Jabez of 2:5 could have been a city, or a village, or a building — like a college. Whatever it was, associated with the man Jabez or not, it adds no further information concerning him.

Since the text has provided no real substance in connection with our purpose, we shall consider it irrelevant and proceed with questions.

There are more questions than answers — supportable answers, that is. Why was the little account written? And why included in scripture? By God’s direct design, of course, like all the other small, large, and larger accounts. Why here? Admittedly, these are not the most inspirational portions of sacred writ, so — why not here? God, by His direct design has, in this totally remote and illogical location in the text, placed this little story, isolated, a real oasis, hidden over in the literary wilderness of genealogy. It is no mirage, it is hidden treasure — and so refreshing! I have answered these questions to my own satisfaction for now. I have learned not to conclude “this is it, this is all, this is correct, positive,” because the Bible is unlike any book in that it is a living book, and next week, next year, I may see something I failed to see in my effort here. Also, your answers may vary as you look over my shoulder at this writing.

I raise one more question before we leave this subject: How is this story relevant? Since relevance depends on something to relate to, and I find no additional reference to index except the aforementioned prayer, you might wish to postpone consideration until we have ended the study.

We do know Jabez was an honorable man, more honorable than his brothers. He had at least two brothers because the text reads “brethren, unidentified by names, and these brethren are not presented as dishonorable. The text merely states that Jabez was more honorable. There is no indication given as to what might have constituted this honor.

His mother named him Jabez because, she said that she carried him with sorrow. I wonder how long, a month, two, or nine months. The reason for this sorrow is not revealed, so here is some meat without having to pick Pilgrim’s bone. [John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, in the Author’s Apology] The word “because” would seem to indicate that the name “Jabez” suggested the presence of sorrow, indeed, according to some authorities, the word itself means sorrow, pain, or grief. From Webster’s New World Dictionary, I have selected definitions applicable to our study:

  • Sorrow: mental suffering, loss, disappointment, pain, grief, regret, trouble, affliction — to be mournful, depressed, or unhappy.
  • Grief: intense emotional suffering caused by the actions of, the plight of, or perhaps the loss of a loved one by way of death, tragedy, disaster, or misfortune; acute sorrow, deep sadness, and, in our culture, we might add the drug scene, crime and violence.
  • Pain: an original definition being penalty or punishment — (the fear of).

Remember the old expression, “Upon pain of death,” an oath. Consider the “waiting time” when one realizes he must be punished. In the old traditional “trip to the barn,” that fearful “looking forward to” was probably as much or more painful than the physical pain inflicted.

All this considered, Jabez truly had a right to be sorrowful. He was living up to (or down to) his name. Names were important in Bible times, like the changing of “Jacob” to “Israel” in Genesis 32:28 and in the New Testament the changing of “Simon” to “Peter” in Matthew 17:17-18.

I wonder if perhaps Jabez, even from early childhood, winced as he heard someone call his name? Was he mocked with “Hail, oh sorrowful one”? Or perhaps just ignored. Did he know of his mother’s sorrow, its cause? Had he despised his name from the moment he first understood its connotation? Had he possibly reached a point in time when he could no longer bear the taunts and ridicule, and that is what prompted his prayer? I realize these are all useless, pointless questions, and any answers would be conjecture. So let’s move on.

Picking up in verse 10 of our text, “And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying …” Before we attempt to decipher what he is saying, let’s consider Who he is talking to — the God of Israel! Note the fact that this was an era in which God dealt with nations, national leaders, kings, and prophets primarily. It does not say that Jabez called on his God, but on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and perhaps reasoned “Why not Jabez?” Whatever the inspiration that prompted his boldness, he called.

At this point I shall attempt a word-by-word study of his prayer, and the complete text reads:

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!

As our title indicates, the words “that” and “me” are our primary subjects of study. Our purpose is to enhance and embellish them with the body of the text. This prayer of Jabez uses a total of thirty-three words, and to simplify our study we will divide them into four segments, each containing the words “that” and “me.”
“That” and “me” #1. The first segment consists of eleven words. The first: “Oh”

This simple little word can become powerful, depending on how it is used; in fact, you might communicate with this single two-letter word a broad variety of meanings, such as: Oh as in ouch, you are injured — it hurts. Oh, as in astonishment, a decidedly different tone. Oh — as in meaning “go on,” oh, a question, Oh, as in a cry for help, or oh as a child might plead, “oh I want that, I do. Oh I do!” or oh as in awe, seeing beauty. Now why did Jabez preface his prayer with “Oh”? Probably as did the child, Oh was a vehicle to get the attention of the God of Israel — Oh God, hear me.

“Oh” suggests the presence of pain, frustration, desire, need, release — “oh” is crying out, spoken or unspoken, joy and desperation, and all in between. One or more of the mentioned conditions could have contributed to the urgency of his call. The wording of the beginning phrase portrays a direct cry from his very heart: “Oh that” a primary word “that.” Look it up in a dictionary, and see the large space it covers — but the word has little meaning without a helper-word, words, or gestures. For instance, in any big department store you may overhear dialogue somewhat similar to the following:

  • “I want that sweater.”
  • “Which one?”
  • “That blue sweater.”
  • “Which one?”
  • “That blue sweater with the short sleeves.”
  • “Which one?”
  • “That blue sweater with the short sleeves, embroidered on the front.”
  • “Which one?”

And I’m sure you got it. This could go on — and on… The blue sweater with the short sleeves, embroidered on the front might also be available with or without a collar, the collar with or without embroidery, pullover or button-up. If you want “that” sweater, and can point to it, you could save a lot of talk, time, and trouble.

Still concentrating on “that,” let’s consider a portion of scripture in the New Testament in I Corinthians 15:3-7 which contains an above-average number of “thats,” and can be paraphrased to subtract them, seven in all, without significant change to the meaning:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once;…. After that he was seen of James…

Now to paraphrase:

For I delivered unto you first of all the message which I also received, how Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and He was buried, and rose again, the third day according to the scriptures; and He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve. Afterward He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once…and then He was seen of James…

Note that the paraphrase is an exercise. This exercise is used merely to show how “that” can be deleted in many instances and do no disservice to the context. Note also that I did say “exercise.” In no way nor under any circumstance would I consider removing even one “that” or any other word — or letter. Granted, “that” needs a helper; however, it is a much-used word to identify persons, places, things, ideas — as in that chair, that flower, book, house — anything from acorn to zebra and all in between. It specifies, like a child wants that toy, a customer wants that item, stacked fifteen high and she wants the thirteenth one — DOWN. “That” is so versatile it could take scores of pages to exhaust its possibilities; so let’s rest “That.”

“Thou.” Our sentence is forming. “Oh, that thou…” “Thou” means “you,” but “Thou” is a more reverent-sounding word as applied to Deity, so it’s Thou. Curious he did not go to the priest, bring his sacrifice — a lamb, pigeon, or whatever, and have the priest pray for him. We could speculate as to his reason, or reasons for not doing so, but be no better informed. It is possible the priest was some considerable distance away and he was unable or unwilling to wait. His “Oh” seemingly infers immediate need or desire.

“Thou” requires no study as it is clearly identified in the first line of the same verse as “the God of Israel” — “Thou.” You Lord, not an angel, not a prophet nor a priest. I’m asking You — that You would (wouldest). Jabez is saying: I know You can, but would You? Now, “would” is a brother to “wish” and a cousin to “will.” For example: Would that I were there with you — I wish I was there with you, I will be there with you. Jabez is asking the God of Israel that He will. Will what? Bless me. “Oh that thou wouldest bless me…”

“Without all contradiction, the less is blessed of the better.” [Hebrews 7:7] Jabez is saying that God is in a position to bless — You God are greater, better, higher, You can bless me. Now I thought, possibly you would have thought — “bless” is easy. I know what “bless” means. Well, I was surprised; definition number one, “to make or declare holy, hallow, consecrate. Number two, “to ask divine favor for — as to bless a congregation. Number 3, “to favor or endow .” (You might want to check “endow.”) Number four, “to make happy or prosperous” — and there were more. Was Jabez asking a lot? He surely was, and that’s not all — but first, a brief look at “me.”

“Me” is one word we can all relate to; the “me syndrome” begins as we lisp “me want — me have — me cry.” Jabez, just as the toddler, was seeking something for himself, a blessing.

What does it mean when we look at a little child and say “Bless its heart”? We see beauty, take in facial expressions, hear cute baby words, feel hurts and identify with the image we see. Jabez is saying “Bless me — even me Lord, the son of sorrow.”

God would one day look down upon another “Son of Sorrow.” Perhaps He looked down the long corridor of time and felt great sympathy for this honorable but troubled man Jabez who cried “Bless me.”

Jabez, however, was not content with a blessing as such, he adds, “indeed.” Interesting word — indeed; used primarily for emphasis, as good indeed — better; bad indeed — despicable, (among others) rich indeed — affluent, and so forth. It appeared Jabez was seeking a bigger, better, richer blessing. Could be he wished to experience the exhilaration of the Psalmist when he said, “My cup runneth over.”

Four more words will complete the first segment of this prayer, and the first of these is “and,” a conjunction, used to link two words together, like apples and oranges, black and white, good and bad. “And” is also used to connect phrases; and in conversation and public speaking is often over-used, especially when a word or idea becomes elusive — like “and…and…and…”

And our next word is “enlarge.” “Enlarge” is a self-explanatory word: to make something larger, not as you make things appear larger — as with a magnifying glass, telescope, or microscope, but make it larger: like adding rooms to a house, doubling a recipe, or making a postage-stamp size photo into an 8×10. That’s enlarging. “Enlarge my…” The “my” is understood, just as the “me” in “Bless me.” Jabez is asking for himself an enlarged “coast,” and because of the close association of these three words (“enlarge my coast”) they may intertwine as we look at “coast.”

I find two applicable definitions: Number 1: “land alongside the sea — seashore” and Number 2: “frontier– borderland.” Now we cannot say factually what Jabez was referring to, but it seems plausible it was land. By the use of “my,” we know that if it was land, it was his land, his own personal possession. Land, seashore, whatever it consisted of, he wanted it enlarged. He could have had a fishing industry, and more seashore would be profitable to is business. On the other hand, he could have owned half a mountain — and he wanted the whole thing, or again, perhaps it was not property at all — as such, but one thing we can identify with is the unmistakable spiritual application: a magnificent sermon structure takes form. Lord, enlarge my coast; stretch out my borders, let me have a wider, longer, larger field of ministry. Fence in more territory for me so I can have more influence for You, so I can reach out beyond this presently accessible area. Enlarge my tent and extend the stakes. I want more. As a Christian, I feel it is quite proper for us to pray these words.

The next portion of this prayer, also a petition, begins with “and” — the connecting word: “and that thine hand might be with me…”

“That” and “me” number two, beginning with “thine” and Webster defines it, number one, “that or those belonging to thee;” number two, “absolute form of thy — a friend of thine — this is thine;” and number three, possessive pronominal adjective. Now, “thine hand….” We can all define “hand,” but Jabez is looking to Another hand. Scanning the dictionary on “hand” is astounding! I did not read it all, nor will ascribe any, because we know that Jabez is referring to God’s hand. By the same token that he has already said “…that thou wouldest bless me” he is now saying: “and that thine hand…” not an angel’s hand, but God’s hand. I can almost hear Jabez thinking “Thy right hand,” the hand typical of power.

Now the hand is the part of the body most used to help others. A good thought here, our hands, as Christians, should be extensions of His hands. How much good would you be to someone in need of help with your hands tied behind you? I suppose this could have, and possibly has — literally happened: hence the old saying: “my hands are tied,” meaning: “I am unable to help you.” However, God’s hands cannot be tied, so, as Jabez, let us insist on being in God’s hands.

Our next word is “might.” Let’s check Webster: number one, “may;” number two, “an auxiliary, a choice expressing a shade of doubt, or a smaller degree of possibility: it might rain, you might try.” Interestingly, there is a second general definition for this word. It is listed twice in my dictionary, and, although the spelling and pronunciation are identical, it is an entirely different word meaning: “great or superior strength, power, force, vigor.” This information has no connection to our study, but I found it a bit ironic that the adjective form of this “might” is mighty, and since it is the Mighty God (God Almighty) [Genesis 17:1 and II Corinthians 6:18] to whom Jabez is directing his petition — just a thought in passing.

Now we return to the proper, relevant “might.” Jabez is asking God Himself to extend His hand and that it “might” (not like might or might not) but that He would allow His hand to “be.” A dictionary definition again, for “be”? Well, let’s take a look. I lean hard on Webster. Number one, “exist; number two, “happen;” number three, “remain;” number four, “to come to — to belong, have a place or position.” Interesting truth surfaces here: a well-known but often ignored fact: when God is allowed to take His rightful position in our lives, everything else falls into place. Jabez is asking big again, and why not? We have a big God who can do big things. Jabez is saying, “Come, find Your place, take Your position, and stay here with me — “with” is not a difficult word. Take: a burger with fries — that’s close. But take coffee with cream and sugar, that’s really close. From the dictionary I gleaned two more: number one, “to be of the same opinion (I’m with you);” and number two, “to mix blue with yellow.” Incidentally, this will give you a shade of green, but I had to grin when I saw this one — I like my coffee with cream better.

I can also identify with Jabez as he calls out for the God of Israel to be with him — when you consider the awesome, mighty things He did for the Israelites! How fortunate the people who have such a God as their champion!

Is this not the heart cry: “be with me” of the weary, burdened, tempted, bruised, and hurting child of God?

And “me.” Only one meaning. When we say “me,” we mean “me,” not someone else. Another approach to this might be: “That Thine hand might be — with me in it. That You would hold me in Your hand, that I may be in Your hand.” Is there any safer shelter?

And another “and” (the connecting word) so there’s more: “and that thou wouldest keep me from evil.” This is “that” and “me” number three.

Of eight words, three require attention. “That thou wouldest…” has already been considered; so our word at this point is “keep.” We keep things we treasure. They are called keepsakes. A son keeps his father’s watch just because it was his father’s watch; it is of great sentimental value. “Keep” — defined: number 1, “pay regard to;” number two, “take care of, maintain;” number three, “prevent from escaping;” and number four, “to avoid swerving from.” Now Jabez is not saying: “Lord, come and get me, and take me to heaven, and keep me with You there” Rather, he is saying: “You come down here and be with me and keep me, take care of me, regard me as worth keeping and nurturing, don’t let me turn aside, or escape.”

“Keep me from” — is defined: number 1, “out of;” number two, “in a place not near;” and number three, “out of the possession or control of [evil].” From is an opposite, of sorts, of “with” — considered earlier. Rather than being “with” someone, you are separated “from” someone. Not being at home, you are away “from” home. You start to do or say something and Something keeps you “from” it. This describes the request of Jabez: “keep me from evil” or, to paraphrase, “keep evil away from me.” With “evil” we can use the opposite approach again. Evil is the opposite of good, and the dictionary held no surprises. Anyone, well educated or illiterate, can define evil. Follow the reasoning of this honorable, sorrowful man. If he is kept from evil, he should be inclined to do good.

Now Jabez had no access to our “Lord’s Prayer,” yet he prayed a portion of it, “deliver us from evil,” most eloquently. This line informs us that evil is our enemy. Praise the Lord, in His hand we are safely kept from evil.

And now the last phrase, or segment, of our short prayer: “that “ and “me” number four, “That it may not grieve me.” (“That” appears once more in the text but is not a part of the prayer.) “That” defined: “it,” evidently referring specifically to “evil.” Next we look at “may not.” Now if these two words were not used together, we might need some enlightenment, but since they are — “may” seeks or allows permission, it is affirmative, a “yes.” But together, the “not,” a negative, negates the permission and says “no.” Consequently, Jabez is asking that “it,” the “evil,” “may not” be allowed to touch him, so that it could not “grieve” him. “Grieve” is a word that for most of us needs no defining. We have seen it, heard it, and experienced it in more or less measure. However, let’s look at one or two definitions: number one, “to burden;” number two, “to afflict with deep, acute sorrow [note sorrow] or distress, to mourn — lament.” And the last word: “Thee”…? No, wait, he said “me.”

Not to say that the loving heart of God is not grieved when we blunder or choose to sin, but who is the most grieved? Without doubt, the greater grief is ours. God knows our frailty, takes it into account, is cognizant that we have feet of clay, and is never surprised when our imperfections surface. But for me, nothing can be more miserable than realizing I have failed, I have sinned, I have hurt others, I have wounded the heart of a loving, caring Father. “Woe is me!” [Isaiah 6:5] Oh how we need to be kept from evil — and thus from much grief, pain, and remorse. It is not difficult to introduce a meaningful observation here: our punishment for errors is often our remorse for letting someone down, especially when that Someone is our Heavenly Father. Perhaps part of the grief which Jabez dealt with was due to his ever-present sorrow — his name a constant reminder of that sorrow, or a personal failure, we are not told. But we are given this prayer, and note now the phrase which completes our text: “And God granted him that which he requested.”

Phenomenal!

This sentence requires no definition. Contrariwise, it is quite clear — there’s only one word that can describe it, and I just did.

Conclusion: God hears us when we pray, and this prayer that Jabez prayed is a good prayer for us to pray. Do it for us Lord. Now, how is this story relevant to you?

Exercise: Now that we have finished our study, let’s do a little exercise: get your Bible (King James Version to be accurate) and turn to the text, 1 Chronicles 4:10, and notice a few generally accepted components of prayer which are conspicuous by their absence.

1. There is no formal opening to address or recognize the Entity being petitioned — such as Most Holy God, God Most High, God of Abraham, or even Dear God.

2. There is no mention of worship, praise, thanksgiving, or even a particular expression of love on the part of Jabez to this God he is beseeching so fervently.

3. There is no warming-up time to petition-time, but a bold leaping into his requests — and an abrupt end. No thank you for hearing me, no if it be thy will, no formal ending — just the bare body of his prayer — his needs, wants, and wishes.

But notice, as you re-read the prayer: There seems to be a recognition that this God is able, and a faith that permeates the entirety of these thirty-three succinct words silently affirms “I believe You will.”

So our conclusion stands — God hears our prayers because He hears our hearts, and the unsaid words are all known to Him if there are any. It’s still a good prayer for us to pray. And I might add, I would think from the effect of his prayer, Jabez walked in the admonition of Paul: “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” [1 Corinthians 6:10] as a result of this experience.

In Reflection: In my mind I can almost picture the Heavenly Father turning to the Son and saying: “Son, let’s bless that man down there,” and the Son asking: “Which one, Father?” and He answers: “That one.”
~~.~~

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Responses

  1. These are the words of a woman who understands the purpose and power of prayer! I am so glad she is praying for me.


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