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God’s Word for You

1 Chronicles 4:9-10 The Prayer of Jabez

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, October 13, 2023

9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother called him Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” 10 Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would surely bless me and enlarge my border! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from evil, that it will not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.

This little story is perhaps the most famous part of the genealogies of Chronicles. (In 2000, Bruce Wilkinson wrote a devotional book called “The Prayer of Jabez” as the first volume of the “Break Through” series. The book was lauded by a few and criticized by many, and ended up on the bestseller list, with related merchandise from candles to jewelry.)

There was a village called Jabez in Judah where three families of scribes lived (1 Chronicles 2:55). But Jabez got his name because his mother suffered terribly while giving birth to him. Jabez sounds like the Hebrew word jozeb, “pain.”

Names in ancient times meant a great deal to people. Professor Wendland explains in the People’s Bible: “In the culture of the Old Testament, names were far more than sound used to identify a particular person. They summed up a person’s character and pointed to his destiny” (p. 53). Jabez may well have been terrified of his own name, treating it like a curse. Instead of wilting under the pressure of tradition and the meaning of his name, “Mr. Pain” (and perhaps a little superstition), he turned to God instead. His mother “called him” (vs. 9) Jabez, but he “called on the God of Israel” for help. His faith showed why he was more honorable than his brothers. He stood out the way Noah stood out, the way Abraham stood out; the way David stood out. He trusted in God for help in all his needs.

The prayer has five parts or petitions. In the first petition, he asks, “Oh that you would surely bless me!” “Surely” is in the translation because the word “bless” is doubled in Hebrew, the infinitive followed by the regular verb (piel imperfect). In this construction, when the same verb is doubled and the infinitive comes immediately before the main verb, it expresses emphasis (surely, indeed; carefully, as in Exodus 15:26). If the infinitive were to follow the main verb, it would express duration (“continually,” which should be the translation in Job 13:17, as it is in Isaiah 6:9). Jabez is praying, “Bless me for certain! For sure!”

In the second petition, he adds, “Enlarge my border.” While this can be the territory of a nation or the whole earth (Psalm 74:17), here it must mean his own lands; his farm and fields. He prays for a little more because it would be useful to him, the way Caleb’s daughter asked her father for a spring as well as land (Judges 1:15).

In the third petition, Jabaz asks once again for the Lord’s blessing by saying, “Let your hand be with me.” To be “with” someone is to be with them in fellowship and companionship. The hand of the Lord is also a way of describing his power. “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it” (Exodus 7:5).  The hand of the Lord also preserves and guides: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1). The hand of the Lord also describes God’s special and powerful blessing: “On that very day the hand of the Lord was upon me” (Ezekiel 40:1).

In the fourth petition he prays, “Keep me from evil.” This is echoed by our familiar morning and evening prayers by Martin Luther: “Keep me this day from sin and every evil… Let your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me.”  Evil has existed since Satan and the evil angels fell from God’s grace and into sin sometime after the final day of creation, while Adam and Eve were still sinless. “There was war in heaven” (Revelation 12:7) and they were thrown out. They brought temptation and death to man. God permits them to roam the earth until Judgment Day (Job 1:7; 1 Peter 5:8; Matthew 8:29,31). They are bent on destroying the works of God, perverting his will, thwarting his good plans, and they seek to murder (this is no exaggeration) his people. “The devil was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him” (John 8:44). The devil and his demons are the driving force of wickedness in the world (Ephesians 6:12), and they plot to destroy the church (Matthew 16:18). They scatter heresies and false teachings (1 Timothy 4:1), they get in the way of the work of good pastors and ministers (2 Thessalonians 2:18), and they turn away the minds of good Christians from prayer and meditation (Luke 8:12). They tempt people to sin (John 13:2) and keep people in ignorance of God’s word and in unbelief (2 Corinthians 4:4). They even attack people physically (2 Corinthians 12:7; Luke 13:16) and try to murder us (Mark 9:22). Jesus taught us to pray every day, “Deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13), and that is just what Jabez was doing.

The final request is for all of this to undo the curse of his name: “that it will not bring me pain!” His mother’s choice was to give him this name, but he turns it into a prayer for deliverance.

The result of his prayer? God gave him what he asked for. This will not always happen. We might ask God for outrageous things if we believed he were a mere pagan deity to be flattered and manipulated into giving us whatever we want. But he is the LORD, not an idol. “God does well,” Luther says, “that he doesn’t give us everything as we wish, for otherwise we’d want to have everything on our own terms” (Table Talk, LW 54:52-53). James coaches us: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). The Patriarchs prayed for their barren wives to have children (Genesis 25:21) and Moses’ last forty years of life were practically a continuous prayer, often in the very presence of God: “Moses said to the Lord… and the Lord said to Moses” (Exodus 19:9-10). We pray because God invites us to pray, and we have the advantage over all unbelievers that God promises to hear our prayers and to bless us. The very best use of the name of God on our lips is to pray, praise, and give thanks.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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