The curious case of Jabez

Jabez was mentioned in the Bible in the following passage and only in the following passage:

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” 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 Chr 4.9-10)

We didn’t really know his lineage, he appeared somehow obtrusively in the midst of the genealogy of the descendants of Judah, and, to be honest with you, we can erase him from the Bible and it won’t really matter at all. In fact, it will make the narrative smoother (if a literary genre of genealogy can be smooth at all).

Nevertheless, Jabez became so populer after Bruce Wilkinson published his The Prayer of Jabez, where the prayer of Jabez was regarded as a good example of how and what Christians should pray for. We should ask God to bless us, to enlarge our “territory” (contemporarily re-defined, take it whatever you want it to mean), to keep us from harm and pain. Indeed, if you haven’t noticed, one of our church’s prayer meeting themes is Jabez.

Anyway, to put Jabez into perspective, I think the story of Jabez was included because his prayer included a petition to enlarge his territory. The Chronicles were written for the people of Judah who had just returned from exile. They didn’t really know what does it mean to own a land. They used to be a homeless people. Thus they needed to re-learn again what does it mean to become a people who has been promised an everlasting land by their God. And I think that’s why Jabez “was more honorable than his brothers”, according to the chronicler.

Thus it makes a lot of difference when you pray the prayer of Jabez, as the Israelites had been living in a very desperate condition at that time. After all, his mother had named him so because she had given birth to him in pain — literally and figuratively. So we need to be careful as the prayer of Jabez could otherwise function to serve our selfish desire. It’s not that you could not pray it, but context really matters.

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