What is the meaning of this famous prayer?
1842: “It is probable that Jabez lived soon after the conquest of Canaan, when Israel was straitened by the remainder of the Canaanites, dwelling in the land: and that hence the prayer in the text was offered.His name was given him in consequence of some particular circumstance attending his birth, as is the case with many others mentioned in the Scriptures; yet if his mother feared God, and lived to see the excellent character of her son, her sorrow would be turned into joy. Parents are often mistaken in the ideas they form of their children, especially in judging from some circumstances attending their earliest days. Thus Eve rejoiced in the birth of Cain, and said, “I have gotten me a man, the Lord;” but took much less notice of the birth of Abel. Jabez is said to have been “more honourable than his brethren,” and he might be so on account of his achievements, for he seems to have been of the same spirit as Caleb and Joshua. But it is probable that his chief eminence consisted in his being a man of prayer, a man of God. True religion is true honour: his brethren might be good men, but he excelled them all.
Notice the import of Jabez’s prayer;
1. The character under which he called upon God: “the God of Israel.” This is praying to Him in a covenant relation, as the God of his fathers; and this would encourage him in each of his requests he had to offer. This also may serve as a pattern and a rule for us. There is no other ground for faith but the promises, and to them we must have respect, that He may bless us according to His own Word. He prayed in the language of that covenant under which he lived: and so must we.It is as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that He now blesses us with all spiritual blessings; and it is under this character that all our petitions are to be presented at the throne of grace. Jabez might have a special reference to this great progenitor Jacob, when he wrestled with the angel, and obtained the name of Israel: this also would inspire him with faith and hope, and excite a spirit of emulation. Let us also remember the prevailing importunity of primitive believers, and those of later times, and be encouraged to follow their example.
2. The petitions which he presented: “that he might be blessed indeed, that his coast might be enlarged, that God might be with him, and that he might be kept from evil”—”That thou wouldest bless me indeed.” This singular expression evidently alludes to the covenant made with Abraham, when the Lord said to him, “ In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thee;” that is, he would do it “indeed,” and do it abundantly. The covenant of Abraham abounded with blessings, not only with those which are temporal, but with such as are spiritual, even with all those which come upon his spiritual seed. These are the blessings which Esau despised, when he sold his birthright, but which Jabez so ardently desired.“And enlarge my coast.” This might have the appearance of selfishness or worldly-mindedness, as if he wanted a large estate or more land to dwell in: but considering the end of God’s giving him the land, and that he fully entered into that design, the desire of Jabez would be like that of Caleb; it would be taking the land as God’s inheritance, in which he would afterwards place his name. This therefore is no example of covetousness, but rather of an honourable and disinterested concern for the divine glory, and the public interests of religion.
“And that thine hand might be with me;” that is, His power, His favour and support. This refers to his driving out the idolatrous Canaanites, knowing that he should not otherwise prevail against them. This it was that inspired the minds of Caleb and Joshua with so much courage: the Lord was with them. “If the Lord delight in us, said they, he will give us the land, and we will go up and possess it.”“And that thou wouldest keep me from evil.” He would need the Lord to be with him to shield him from danger, and succour him in the hour of distress. He would meet with much of this sort to grieve him, especially when the enemies prevailed against Israel: this would give to them a triumph, but it would fill him with grief, to see the name of the Lord reproached and blasphemed.
3. The next particular to be noticed is the earnestness of his prayer: “Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed—” This is an expletive which is often used in vain, and when but little is intended by it: but in the language of Scripture it is very expressive, and full of meaning. The language of Jacob was,” I will not let thee go except thou bless me:” that of David, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after:” that of Jabez is very similar, “Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed.” All expressive of earnest and intense desire.
4. The success with which his prayer was attended: “And God granted him that which he requested.” The prayer of faith is never offered in vain; and the answer which he obtained is a proof that his heart was right with God, and that he was not influenced by selfish motives. His prayer had for its object the glory of God, and the good of His cause in the world.
Observe how the subject is applicable to ourselves
It may direct and afford us encouragement in prayer in two respects—
1. In our concern for the spread of the gospel in the world.
No prayer is more fitted to the lips of a faithful minister, in the outset of his course, and all the way through it; and not for themselves only, but also for the salvation of others. Psal. xx. 1-4.
2. It is a prayer that will apply to the promotion of true religion in our own souls. Let us not be content unless we are blessed “indeed,” and let us be concerned to enter into the gospel rest by enlargedness of heart, that the hand of the Lord may also be with us in all we do, that we may be kept from evil, and from that grief and sorrow of heart which arises out of it”.—The Preacher; Vol. 2; 1842.