Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. [2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)]
Easily missed in Chronicles’ nine chapters of genealogy is Jabez (whose name meant distress or sorrow). Described as more honorable than his brothers, Jabez prayed: “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” [4:9-10] The Chronicler tells us God granted Jabez’s request and the man whose name meant distress apparently had a trouble-free life!
Those two verses are the only mention of Jabez in the entire Bible yet his short prayer inspired a bestseller in 2000 and countless sermons since. Amazon describes the words of Jabez as “a timeless prayer that produces timely results!” and promises that readers of the book can “discover how they can release God’s miraculous power and experience the blessings God longs to give each of us.” Some people seem to think that the Chronicler tell us about Jabez because he had the right combination of words to guarantee blessings and a trouble-free life. We, however, do Jabez a disservice in assuming he was asking for material blessings like power, land, health, and wealth. He may have been asking God for spiritual blessings—that God to be with him in his words and actions. Rather than expand his land, perhaps this honorable man prayed to enlarge his area of spiritual influence. Rather than avoiding physical pain, he may have prayed to be free of the heartache of seeing others (perhaps his brothers) disobey God.
While we don’t know if Jabez’s prayer was one of self-interest or selflessness, we do wonder why the Chronicler included the words of this historically insignificant man in his genealogy. It is in remembering that Chronicles’ purpose was to remind the exiles of God’s faithfulness that we discover the reason for the prayer’s inclusion. It’s not the words Jabez prayed that were important; it’s that this honorable man actually prayed and that, hearing his prayer, God answered him!
Throughout his account of Judah, the Chronicler continually tells of prayers offered and God’s faithfulness in answering them. He reports that the warriors of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh cried out to God for help during battle. Because they trusted Him, God answered their prayer, fought for them, and gave them victory. The Chronicler recounts how God provided battle strategies and victory to David and how He responded to the prayers of other kings like Solomon, Rehoboam, Asa, and Abijah. He tells how Jehoshaphat’s prayer saved him from the Arameans. When Jehoshaphat asked God to save Judah from a trio of enemy armies, God promised they wouldn’t even have to fight because the battle was His! Indeed, as the people sang praises and thanks to God in anticipation of victory, their enemies fought among themselves and none survived. All Judah had to do was collect the plunder. The Chronicler tells us how the prayers of Hezekiah and Isaiah rescued the people of Jerusalem from Assyria. Saying that Hezekiah prospered because “he sought his God wholeheartedly,” he adds that, when the seriously ill king prayed for relief, God healed him. After humbling himself before the Lord, even the evil Manasseh is reported to have had his prayers answered!
The Chronicler told of the answered prayers of Jabez and the many others as a way of urging the post-exilic people of Judah to seek the Lord as previous generations had done. God’s answers to the prayers of their ancestors reassured this new generation that Jehovah was the covenant God of Israel who could be trusted to hear the prayers of His people!
The Chronicler didn’t include the prayer of Jabez because of a “name it and claim it” prosperity theology nor was it included because Jabez’s words released “God’s miraculous power.” The Chronicler included this prayer for the same reason he included all those others. He didn’t believe in the power of a prayer’s words but rather in the power of our God to know our needs, hear our prayers, and answer them, in His timing and way, with blessings and forgiveness!