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The prayer of Jabez and matters arising (1)

by Church Times

By Olatokunbo Odunuga

1 Chronicles 4: 9-10,“Jabez was more respected than his brother. His mother had named him Jabez, for she said, “I experienced pain when I gave birth to him. Jabez called out to God of Israel, “if only you would greatly bless me and expand my territory!  May your hand be with me! Keep me from harm so I might not endure in pain! God answered his prayer?”

The above is a pattern of prayer that the average believer often prays. Here was a man whose mother gave birth to him apparently through excessive labour pain, which many mothers experience at the point of delivery even in this scientifically advanced age.

Jabez’s mother must have intimated the boy as he was growing up of the severity of the labour pain she went through while giving birth to him. So he had developed a phobia for pain. There is actually nothing unusual about Jabez’s petition.

About 35 years ago, a fish bone got stuck in my throat one painful night. For about 3 hours, I was in an agonizing pain, resulting in my visiting a private hospital and later a general hospital that same night.

One of my children who witnessed the tortuous pain I went through was so distressed and from that day, he developed a dread for fish bones that he ceased from eating fish from then till now.

A simple prayer

Jabez offered a simple direct prayer to God: bless me, enlarge my territory (coast); protect me from harm (evil), so I would not experience pain (such as mummy went through). Nothing extra-ordinary about the prayer “exegetically”. Permit me please to use a couple of technical terms that are inevitable but quite easy to understand as I would be careful to simplify them through explanations.

Exegetically is an adverb from the word exegesis. Exegesis means to draw out from the scripture what it intends to convey. But many indiscreetly practice “eisegesis”, which means to ‘read into the scriptures what it does not intend’. And of course, many often read into the bible what the bible does not intend to convey.

A typical example of eisegesis is when we appropriate or is it mis-appropriate (or claim) to ourselves Jeremiah 29: 11, which has become like a mantra, “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you ……to give you an expected end”; which was actually part of “the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1). So how does a letter written in 700 B.C. and sent to certain people become personalized by us about 2,720 years after!

A scripture mismatch

I recall an episode over two decades ago in a church where I was serving as the shepherd. This scripture, Jeremiah 29:11 was under consideration, I think during our Sunday School Session.

I announced that the scriptures were not addressed to us sitting in that auditorium. Come and see raised eyebrows. Because of the silent but tangible majority antagonism against my pronouncement, the Church Administrator, who was reporting to me was emboldened to stand up and contest the interpretation of this scripture with me, albeit in a subtle diplomatic manner.

We often forget that no part of the scriptures is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). Otherwise, one might read Matthew 27: 5, then Luke 10:37, put both scriptures together indiscretely and go hang himself to appropriate “Go and do likewise” in Luke 10:37b

Book on prayers

Books that have sold in millions had been written on Prayer of Jabez. By writing “eisegetically” on a man who featured only in 2 verses in the entire bible, at least one author became a millionaire, whereas Paul who wrote 13 (or 14) books of divinely inspired Truth in 100 chapters and Moses who wrote 5 books of 187 Chapters and Psalm 90 did not become wealthy as a result.

I have been struggling to see what is special or extra-ordinary about Jabez’s prayer, even though about 20 years I had sat in a large conference organized on the Prayer of Jabez. It does not even get any near to the fringe of the shadow of Paul’s prayers. Yet I have not come across any best seller book on the prayers of Paul, the foremost apostle.

However, the commendation I give to the prayer of Jabez is that at least it sounds more spiritual than Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 28 :20-21, ”if God will be with me and protect me on this journey I am taking and gives me food and clothing to wear and I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will become my God…”.

The two main requests today

What a prayer! I recall the statement of Pastor C.N.N. years back that “in the institutional Church today, there are only two agenda: meet all my needs and protect me from all my enemies.” Jacob’s prayer request was for protection, food, clothing, journey mercy. And probably by implication if God does not meet the demands, He would not be his God (v.21)

A typical African Give me, Give me, anxious prayer that contradicts christian disposition and our Lord’s instruction in Matthew 6 :31-33.

That was Jacob for you, one whom God had earlier promised these things in Genesis 22:15. Even then, Jacob was still a shade ahead of many of us. He was later aware that real blessings from God are not the tangible things he asked for.

It was after acquiring the food, the clothing, the female goats, the ewes, the rams, the servants, four wives, eleven children (Genesis 32:14-16) that he asked for real blessing In Genesis 32 :26. Ignoring the trailers of goods he had acquired, he told the angel at Peniel that he would not let him go unless the angel blessed him.

It had dawned on him that whatever a man can acquire through sweat, struggles and gubernatorial or presidential connection is not actually the real blesssing.

God and the mundane

So we may not necessarily need God for what an influential or rich man can do without sweat. Even, as if to show us that the real blessing is not the mundane acquisitions and privileges, God granted the prayer of Cain for protection (Genesis 4: 14-15).

Cain even married a wife who gave birth and he went ahead to build a city (not just a house but a city of houses) – Genesis 4: the real blessing.

To an extent, I still doff my hat for the wisdom of Jabez. At least he put his request for God’s blessing before the breakthrough and protection. He seem to draw a line between God’s blessing and the other mundane things

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