A Prayer for the New Year!
In the Holy Scriptures, which are given for our learning, the Spirit of God has been pleased in some cases to inspire for us extended histories of His people. Of Abraham, of Jacob, of Joseph, much is recorded to instruct us as to the dealings and discipline of God.
But of some we know little indeed, important though that little is. They come into view when we are not looking for them. In one case it may be as a type of our Lord Jesus—like Melchizedek in Genesis 14. In another case to carry some valued lesson for our pathway as believers, as in that of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:9–10. Let us engage our thoughts for a while with this latter instance.
It is in the midst of the names of the posterity of Judah that he is introduced unexpectedly. Was he connected with the tribe of Judah? It is probable but we cannot say. We are not informed as to his parents. We know not if he had a wife or a family. In his case, as it is so often, much that we might wish to know is withheld. It was not necessary that mere curiosity should be gratified. But what is briefly narrated of his biography is full of blessing and teaching for us all: “And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez [i.e., sorrowful] saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.”
Jabez is “the sorrowful one.” He may bring to our thoughts this present world of men, for, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.” In pain and sorrow he is brought into the world and in pain and sorrow he pursues his way through it. “Every man at his best state is altogether vanity,” said the Palmist. “For all his days are sorrows and his travail grief, yea his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.” So cried Solomon in Ecclesiastes, the book which has been described as: “The funeral dirge of a dead world with its greatest prince as chiefest mourner.” The wisest of men had tested—had weighed in the balances—everything under the sun and had written “WANTING” on all.
He had proved what had been stated in Eden of old to our first mother, Eve, and to our first father, Adam. Sorrow was to be the portion of each and all outside of Paradise. There is the first mention of sorrow. The last mention is found in Revelation 21:4, where of the eternal state of happiness in which the redeemed are found it is said, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Tears, death, sorrow, crying, pain—what an epitome of the conditions which prevail, though men seek to hide the truth and ignore the facts and endeavour to be happy apart from God.
Blessed indeed are those who have seen a light above the brightness of the sun and who know also that all under the sun is made to work together for their good.
It is to God—the God of Israel—that the sorrowful Jabez turns. “The God of Israel” is the One known in relationship and blessing. Crippled Jacob had clung in faith to the One who had wrestled with and crippled him. Crippled Jacob became clinging Jacob, and clinging Jacob became conquering Jacob. And there at Peniel he “had power…and prevailed, he wept, and made supplication” and so he obtained the name Israel, which means “A prince with God,” and was blessed. To Him who had cared for and blessed Jacob thus, Jabez made his supplication. Out of affliction we may raise the cry of earnest need to Him who hears prayer, and who delights to be put in remembrance. The Scripture says “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.” For us in these glad Christian days the fullest revelation has been given. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit are made known. We “call on the Father.” Through Christ “we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” And asking according to His Will, we know that He hears us.
We may examine the details of the prayer of this sorrowful one, and we shall find applications which suit ourselves.
- “Oh! that Thou wouldest bless me indeed.” He felt his dependence upon the God of Israel and his need of His intervention in blessing. Jehovah, the God of Israel had promised to bless His people and Jabez comes with his claim for a fulfilment of it in his own particular case. We Christians have been fully endowed. We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ. But while all is ours we need the eyes of our hearts opened to know the breadth, and length, and depth and height of it all. Shall we ask ourselves whether we make the prayers of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1 and 3 our prayers? We should do so.
- “And enlarge my coast.” He wished for a greater extent of territory—for more of the land on which God’s eyes rested from one year’s end to the other. It may be that there was much yet to be possessed—that he had not put his foot upon the portion assigned to him and that he was setting out to enter upon what was his in title and to do battle in order that he might “possess his possessions.” This should be our attitude and action. We are in danger ever of being content with that to which we have attained instead of energetically pressing forward to appropriate all that is ours.
- “And that Thine hand might be with me.” He longed for the guidance and support of Him who had made Himself known to him. He had learned his need of divine succour and therefore petitions for the aid of the God of Israel, in that to which he was putting his hand. And happy are we in knowing that the Hand outstretched for our blessing is Almighty, that there is always succour for us from on high and grace for seasonable help. So Paul could say when all human aid failed, “Nevertheless the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.” Has not our Lord said, “power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth . . . and lo, I am with you alway.” So we may draw again and again upon His inexhaustible resources.
- “And that Thou wouldest keep me from evil that it may not grieve me.” He longs that deliverance might be wrought for him or a shelter put about him, so that he, the sorrowful one—might be without sorrow on account of evil. What grace is with our God and Father, grace that can clear us as to our sins, blotting them out for ever, and can so command and control our circumstances that they shall become a source of good, and that the valley of tears may become a wellspring of richest profit; the sorrow being turned to singing as we journey through it. How simple the added words! “And God granted him that which he requested.” Or as another translation has it, “And God brought about that which he had requested.” Everything was so ordered that the end desired was accomplished.
One is reminded of Psalm 37:5: “Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” He will act in the way which is best for our well-being. He will put into action that which will effect His own thoughts of good on our behalf.
What encouragement to prayer and confidence we have in these two verses, written that we “through comfort and encouragement of the Scriptures” may repose our trust in our God, who is the Father of mercies and the God of all encouragement.