THE PRAYER OF JABEZ
by Joseph Philpot, 1841
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that
you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that your hand might be
with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!
And God granted him that which he requested." 1 Chron. 4:10
Here, in the prayer of Jabez, should the Lord the Spirit
lead us into the sweet and rich experience of the passage, we may find in it
some green pastures to feed in, and some still waters to lay down by. All
the family of God may, more or less distinctly, read their experience in the
prayer of Jabez, and see clearly portrayed in it the desires and breathings
of their own souls.
But who was Jabez? We read nothing of him beyond these
two features, which the Holy Spirit has stamped his name with: first, that
he was "more honorable than his brethren;" secondly, that "his mother called
his name Jabez which means "sorrowful", because "she bore him with sorrow."
As names were generally prophetical in those times, it would seem to imply
that he was the sorrowful child of a sorrowful mother. He was certainly
cradled in affliction, and as an eminent follower of him who was a Man of
sorrows, he doubtless was chosen in the furnace of affliction, and through
much tribulation entered the kingdom of heaven. His very petition, "Keep me
from evil that it may not grieve me," shows that he knew what grief and
trouble of soul were.
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel." From this we
gather that he had a spiritual, experimental knowledge of the God of Israel.
He did not worship "an unknown God," like the Athenians; nor the God of
creation, like the Deist; nor the God of his own fancy, like the Pharisee;
nor the God of universal love and mercy, like the Arminian; but "the God of
Israel," that is, God in covenant with a peculiar people--Israel being "his
inheritance," Isa 19:25; the object of his eternal love, Mal 1:2; and "his
peculiar treasure," Ps 135:4. This was the God before whom he bowed down to
worship in spirit and in truth, and at whose mercy-seat he poured forth the
desire of his soul in the prayer left here upon record.
But how came he to call upon the God of Israel? Before he
could call upon him he must know him, and this could only be by some
personal manifestation of him. To read of him in the Scriptures--to hear of
him from the mouth of others--to have received a traditionary knowledge of
him from parents or instructors--to have the natural conscience impressed
with a sense of his being and universal presence, all fall very short of a
personal, spiritual, supernatural manifestation of him to the soul. When a
ray of divine light shines into the heart out of the fullness of the
Godhead, then and then only do we know him aright, then and then only can we
be said to know him at all. To know him thus, so as to see him in the light
of his own countenance, to feel his gracious presence shed abroad, and to be
drawn up into some secret and close communion with him, is a part of that
eternal life, of which the Lord has said, "This is life eternal, that they
might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent,"
Jabez, then, being brought into this spiritual knowledge
of the God of Israel, comes into his gracious presence under the special
anointings and teachings of the Holy Spirit, and bowing down with solemn
prostration of spirit before the throne of majesty and mercy, pours forth
the desires and breathings of his soul in such words as the blessed Spirit
indited. Were it not so, this prayer would not have been left recorded in
the pages of inspired truth. But if this be the case, then, if we live under
the same heavenly teaching, if the same blessed inward Intercessor pray in
us, the desire and breathings of our soul will correspond to the desires and
breathings of the soul of Jabez. And this prayer seems to have been left
upon record as a model, a pattern of spiritual breathings, a cast as it were
from the inward mold, a putting into a tangible visible shape that which
transpires in the secret chambers of the heart.
We will, then, without any formal divisions, simply
endeavor to travel through the petitions offered up in this prayer of Jabez;
and may the Lord enable us to see our faces reflected therein, for if our
hearts are filled with the same desires, and we pray under the same heavenly
operations, the same blessed answer is annexed to our petitions which was
annexed to his.
I. What was his first request?
"Oh, that you would bless me indeed!" There are many apparent
blessings which are real curses; many apparent curses which are real
blessings; and many blessings which are both apparent and real.
1. Thus HEALTH is apparently one of the greatest
natural blessings, but it often proves a real curse. Its strong tendency is
to remove far away all thoughts of death and eternity; to make a man more or
less satisfied with the things of time and sense; to encourage building up
earthly paradises and castles in the air; and to draw comfort and happiness
from the creature instead of the Creator. He who lives in the enjoyment of
uninterrupted health, through whose arteries the vigorous blood freely
courses, has all his passions strong, all his animal spirits high, and this
full tide of life brings with it a cheerfulness and happiness, which, unless
he be well ballasted and weighted in other ways, makes him satisfied with
life from the very hue that it wears. Strong health brings with it strong
lusts, and feeds the old nature, which is to be mortified and crucified.
Thus this great apparent blessing may prove a real curse.
2. So MONEY. How often is the poor distressed
child of God longing for a large slice of this great apparent blessing, and
perhaps envying this or that rich professor! But this is often a real curse.
How continually do we see it shut up the heart, stiffen the pride, become a
temptation and a snare, and draw aside even God's children into many foolish
and hurtful lusts, feeding the love of the world and the desires of the
flesh and of the mind. He felt this who asked for neither poverty nor
riches, "lest he should become full and deny God."
3. So the good opinion and PRAISE OF MEN. This is
eagerly sought for as a blessing, but often proves a real curse. Even God's
children are often much tempted to seek the applause of the creature, and
derive comfort and support from the good opinion of others, instead of
seeking that testimony, which the Spirit bears in the conscience. But what
is that religion worth which is built upon the good opinion of a man that
shall die? One puff of the fiery furnace will burn all such props up. And
yet we are often galled, fretted, and mortified by the harsh opinions and
unkind speeches which are passed upon us and uttered against us.
4. But there are apparent curses which often are real
blessings. A languishing, AFFLICTED STATE OF HEALTH, so trying
and so painful to the flesh, often proves in God's hands a real blessing. It
tends to make the world bitter, pulls down airy visions of happiness sought
outside of God, brings solemn thoughts into the soul, and weans the heart
from idols. Not that it can do any one of these things, but the Lord uses it
as his instrument.
5. So POVERTY is often made a real blessing to a
child of God, by being a means of keeping him dependent upon the God of
providence as well as the God of grace, and thus leading him into that close
waiting upon the Lord, and crying and sighing to him for deliverance, which
none but the poor can know. And when the answer comes, he blesses and
praises him with joyful lips, and feels a gratitude and love which is in
proportion to his former trials.
6. So the scourge of the tongue shall drive a man nearer
the Lord; the doubt cast upon his religion shall make him more earnest to
make his calling and election sure; and the arrows of slander and calumny
shall make him cautious and circumspect. Having all his family against him,
perhaps opposing his religion as the source of all their troubles, and he
having to stand a poor isolated being in the midst of children and
relations--this apparent curse upon his family shall prove a real blessing
to a child of God, and lead him from the creature to the Creator, from
broken cisterns to the fountain of living waters, and from idols to the God
and Father of the Lord Jesus.
But there are blessings which are both apparent and real.
When I say apparent, I mean so only to those who have eyes to see them and
hearts to desire them. These blessings Jabez desired, "blessings indeed:"
not apparent blessings and real curses, not apparent curses and real
blessings, but blessings stamped as such, and coming down into his soul as
manifested blessings from the Lord of life and glory. No other could satisfy
his soul. All but blessings indeed left him barren, naked, and empty. Let us
look at some of these blessings indeed.
7. The fear of the Lord in the soul is a blessing indeed,
as being the beginning of wisdom, and therefore the beginning of all other
manifested blessings. But why should Jabez be panting after this blessing?
Because he knew and felt that if he were wrong here, he was wrong
everywhere. He had, doubtless, felt too that from lack of the exercise of
this godly fear he had often gone astray. We live in a world where snares of
every kind are spread for our feet, and into which we must fall, if left to
ourselves. Feeling, then, his own helplessness and headlong proneness to all
evil, Jabez was crying out for this as a real manifested blessing.
Some intimation of God's favor, some soft and gentle
whisper of love, some token for good, some living sense of his blessed
presence, some solemn dropping down of the dew of mercy, some witness of the
Spirit to our spirit that we are born of God, is a blessing indeed. To have
peace with God, and feel an inward sense of reconciliation, whereby we are
spiritually assured that "fury is not in him," but that he is our Father and
our friend, is a blessing indeed. To have our evidences brightened, doubts
and fears removed, our hopes strengthened, and our longing expectation of
future bliss encouraged and shone upon, is a blessing indeed.
And yet these seem, sweet though they be, all to fall
short of that greatest and best of all blessings--a sweet manifestation and
revelation of Christ to the soul. Those who are brought into bondage and
guilt through the application of the law to their consciences, as the Holy
Spirit leads them out in earnest desires and breathings, feel that the
greatest blessing which God can bestow upon them would be to "reveal his Son
in them," Ga 1:16, and form "Christ in their heart, as the hope of glory,"
Col 1:27. They at times are earnestly longing to feel his blood sprinkled on
their conscience, and to have such a manifestation of his glorious and
lovely person to their soul, that they may embrace him with every affection
of their renewed spirit, cleave to him with purpose of heart, and enjoy him
as eternally theirs.
It is by these holy and fervent longings of the renewed
spirit after Christ, that the living convictions wrought in the souls of the
elect by the Holy Spirit, are distinguished from the slavish fears and
remorseful convictions that are in the reprobate. This blessed Teacher has
in some measure held up Christ before the eyes of their mind, and kindled
some degree of affection towards him; and thus they cannot be satisfied with
Christ in the Bible, Christ in doctrine and speculation, Christ at a
distance, unfelt, unseen, unenjoyed; but are, each according to their
measure, at times earnestly suing and begging for him to come into their
heart, and take full possession of their soul.
Now, in answer to these fervent cries, the Holy Spirit
will sometimes bring the blessing just as it were within sight. Like a
gallant ship, the soul seems sometimes just about to shoot into harbor, when
just as she nears the pier-head, a gust off shore beats her back, and she
must again struggle with the winds and waves. But all these disappointments
serve only to quicken the desires of the longing spirit, and under these
feelings by night and by day, at home and abroad, in the daily business and
the solitary walk, there will be the earnest cry of the soul to have this
best and greatest of manifested blessings.
But again, where this blessing is delayed, or seemingly
denied, there will be such a sinking down of soul into doubt and fear that
it will be crying after lower evidences of interest in Christ. Great poverty
makes a small coin acceptable where a larger is denied. Thus in deep
soul-poverty one word from God, one look, one smile would seem ample. The
scales seem at times so evenly poised between life and death that a grain
would decide the matter. When all is crooked one word would set matters
straight. But, that such a wretch and filthy monster of iniquity should have
a smile from the great and holy Jehovah seems a blessing too great, but
would be "a blessing indeed."
Again to rest with confidence upon the Lord, and to
believe that however dark matters are, he will appear; to trust when we
cannot perceive him, to hope against hope and believe against unbelief, and
thus through faith and patience become followers of those who inherit the
promises, this is a blessing indeed. So to be weaned from idols, delivered
from broken cisterns, separated in spirit and affection from the world, and
have our heart fixed on things above, is a blessing indeed.
To feel an appetite after God's word, to receive the
truth in the love of it, to have sweet and holy communion with the three-one
Jehovah, and to live under the solemn anointings of the blessed Spirit is a
blessing indeed. In a word every spiritual blessing that God has blessed his
church with in Christ, is such a blessing as Jabez panted after--every
blessing that God can give or the soul receive--everything that comes down
from heaven and leads to heaven--everything that fits the soul for trials
here and bliss hereafter--everything upon which God has put his own stamp
and set his own seal, is "a blessing indeed."
II. But we must proceed to the second petition of Jabez:
"And enlarge my coast." What coast was
this? I believe it was the limit of his experience, the line of life
drawn out by the Holy Spirit on his heart and conscience. A coast means a
boundary line, such as divides one territory from another, or terminates a
country, as the sea coast is the boundary of our island. Every quickened
soul, then, has a coast; that is a territory of inward experience, which is
limited and bounded by the line that the Holy Spirit has drawn in his
Some, for instance, have a narrow experience--a slip, as
it were, of spiritual territory. They cannot get much beyond doubts and
fears, and guilt and convictions, with, at times, earnest desires for mercy
and pardon. Others have their coast a little more extended. The blessed
Spirit has moved the line a little farther, and taken in a somewhat larger
territory. These are enabled to hope in God's mercy, and anchor in his
promises. Others can through faith rest in Christ's blood and righteousness,
having received some intimation of favor, but not brought out into the
liberty of the gospel. In these the coast has been carried out farther
still, and the line embraces a larger space. Others are brought into the
light, life, liberty, joy, and peace of the glorious gospel of the Son of
God. In these the coast of spiritual experience is still more widely
allotted, and they can say, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant
places; yes, I have a goodly heritage," Ps 16:6.
As the Lord divided the tribes, to cast their inheritance
by line, Ps 78:55, so has he cast the lot for every vessel of mercy, and his
hand has divided it unto them by line. Isa 34:17. This is as it were the
tether which fastens down every quickened soul to his own appointed portion
of inward experience. Within this tether he may walk, feed, and lie down. It
is "the food convenient for him," the strip of pasture allotted him. He
cannot, he dare not break this tether, which is fastened round a tender
conscience, and every stretching forth beyond his measure to boast in
another man's line of things, cuts into and galls this tender conscience. He
may indeed, and often will, wear this pasture bare by treading so much and
so long within the narrow circle, and may reach forth his neck sometimes to
nibble a few blades of grass a little beyond his strip, yet will he not
break his tether to rush uninvited into the green pastures.
A child of God is not like the wild donkey, of which we
read that "the range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searches after
every green thing," Job 39:8. A living soul cannot thus "snuff up the
wilderness at his pleasure," Jer 2:24, "regarding not the crying of the
driver;" nor run loose into the field of doctrine, rolling himself amid the
thick grass and flowers of promises and gospel truths, and "feeding himself
without fear." No; he must have the stake pulled up, and the tether
lengthened, and be led by his master into just such a portion as he sees
good to give him.
Nor, again, will a living soul be satisfied with a
narrow, circumscribed experience. Some seem well contented to be as they
are, and have no wish to have a better or more enlarged experience than they
think they possess. The old strip round which they have walked twenty years
until it is threadbare, amply suffices them. But it is a different thing to
break through the tether from presumption, and lie still on the bare ground
through sloth. The living soul cannot but earnestly desire to have his coast
enlarged. More light, more life, more feeling, more liberty, more knowledge
of God in Christ, more faith, hope, and love. To have his narrow,
contracted, shut up heart, enlarged in prayer, in meditation, in communion,
in affection to the people of God. He is not satisfied with the scanty
pasture allotted him, but desires a larger measure of heavenly teaching, to
be indulged with more filial confidence in, and access unto God, and to be
more delivered from that fear which has torment. "God shall enlarge Japheth,
and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem," Ge 9:27.
"I will run the way of your commandments, when you shall
enlarge my heart," Ps 119:32. This enlargement of their border the Lord had
sworn to Israel, and to give them all the land which he had promised unto
their fathers, De 19:8; and therefore when he had said, "Sing, O barren, you
that did not bear," he adds, "enlarge the place of your tent, and let them
stretch forth the curtains of your habitation; spare not, lengthen your
cords, and strengthen your stakes," Isa 54:1,2.
Have you any of these fervent desires after light, love,
and liberty, that the world, pride, lust, unbelief, covetousness, and
carnality may not shut up your heart, but that you may know the love of
Christ that passes knowledge, so as to be filled with all the fullness of
God? These are good desires, and very different from rushing presumptuously
forward, and chattering about liberty, while you are slaves of corruption.
It is one thing to look through the fence, and another to enjoy the estate;
but it is far better to look through the fences with wishful desires, than
to break down the fence as a trespasser. To look upon the coffer is not to
be put into possession of the writings, but it is better to wait and cry for
the key of David, than break it open, and steal the deeds. And he that is
kept in that narrow, narrow path between sloth and presumption will be at
solemn seasons crying out with Jabez: "Oh, that you would enlarge my coast!"
III. "And that your hand might
be with me." This is the third petition of this heard and
answered prayer. Jabez was not for rushing presumptuously on in his temporal
concerns more than in his spiritual. Without some divine leading or
intimation of God's will he was afraid to step forward. But why this holy
caution and anxious desire for the hand of God to go out before him, and be
with him? Because he had proved by painful experience, that where the
beginning of a thing is not from God, he could not expect the middle to be
from God, nor the end. What, indeed, we undertake from carnal motives and
selfish ends, God may, and doubtless will, overrule to his own glory and our
good, but we shall have small comfort from it by the way. Having smarted,
then, from his carnality and self-seeking for by painful experience is this
lesson learned, Jabez now wanted to see the Lord's hand stretched out to
show him the way, and keep him in it.
The burnt child dreads the fire; and thus feeling all to
be wrong, and to go wrong where the Lord's hand is not, the living soul
fears to be left to itself. It is not the bare, dry, letter-truth of God's
special providence that will satisfy one jealous over himself with godly
jealousy. This will do for a professor; but a living child desires to see
and feel a fatherly hand with him and over him, going before him temporally,
holding him up spiritually, clearing his path, removing all difficulties,
and giving him testimonies that what is done in his fear shall terminate in
his approbation. If this hand be with us, all is well; if not with us, or
against us, all is ill.
Our enemies cannot hurt us if the Lord be on our side;
our difficulties, however great, shall not ruin us if his hand be with us;
our lusts and temptations shall not prevail, if he stretch forth his hand;
and our base and filthy hearts shall not sink us into eternal dismay, if the
everlasting arms are underneath. He, then, that can wait and watch the
Lord's hand, and only moves when that hand leads forward, will not go
astray. But it is the self-loathing and condemnation, the smart and wound of
having so rashly and obstinately followed our own ways, that will make us
cry feelingly and frequently, "that your hand may be with me."
IV. The last petition of Jabez is,
"And that you would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me."
It is indeed a base misrepresentation of the doctrines of grace to say that
they lead to licentiousness. However ungodly men abuse and pervert them,
such is not their effect or tendency in a living soul. I believe that every
child of God will be more or less frequently offering up this prayer of
Jabez, "That you would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me." He is
not one of those who say, "never mind; sin cannot damn me, nor cut me out of
the covenant;" but having his heart tender before God and his conscience
alive in his fear, knowing something of the terrors of the Lord, and
something too of his goodness, he desires to be kept from evil as being
hateful to God, and grievous to his own soul. Sin indulged had brought pain
and grief into his heart, had cut deep wounds in his conscience, and
burdened him sorely; and remembering the wormwood and the gall, he cried to
be kept from it for the future.
Shun as you would a pestilence any one who makes light of
sin. Be assured such have never seen or known God, nor Jesus Christ whom he
has sent. Had they seen light in God's light, had their secret sins been set
in the light of his countenance, or had they ever seen by faith a crucified
Lord, they would not, they dare not, speak lightly of that which has been so
signally stamped with the wrath of the Father, and suffering of the Son. He
who has not been brought to abhor himself in dust and ashes has never seen
God, and has only heard of him by the hearing of the ear, Job 42:5,6. Sin is
a grief, a burden to every living soul, and when fallen into, cuts his
tender conscience, and wounds his mind.
But the expression, "And that you would keep me from
evil," implies that Jabez was a poor burdened sinner who could not keep
himself. If he could keep himself, this petition would be an idle mockery.
He need not to have fallen outwardly to teach him this. There are inward
falls, slips of the tongue, glances of the eye, filthy desires, roving
imaginations, covetous projects, proud desires, idolatrous lustings, secret
backslidings into carnality and worldliness. Jabez does not pray, keep me
from evil that it may not disgrace me or expose me, lest it wound my fair
fame or gratify my enemies, but that it may not grieve me--that it may not
prove an inward source of trouble, may not intercept communion, bar access,
bring a cloud before the mercy-seat, rankle in me so as to produce guilt and
terror, may not bring down heavy chastisements, and make me a limping
cripple all my days. He was not one of those who can be very pious openly,
and very impious secretly, a whited sepulcher fair without, and within full
of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.
"And God granted him that which he requested."
That was the best of all. It is not prayer, but the answer to prayer that
brings the blessing. "A man has joy by the answer of his mouth," Pr 15:23.
And it was Jabez's mercy not merely to pray for spiritual blessings, but to
have them richly bestowed. The Lord did bless him indeed, did enlarge his
coast, guided him with his hand, and kept him from evil.
In drawing this feeble portrait of Jabez, I have also
described, however faintly and imperfectly, the desires and breathings of
the people of God. But remember that I have not said that they are always in
this state. Had I said so, if I know any of these things by experience, I
should have told a lie, and the very worst of all lies a pulpit lie.
It is only at certain seasons, rare and solemn moments, under the special
visitations and overshadowings of the blessed Spirit, that the people of God
thus pour out their hearts before him.
There are many times when it seems as if this present
world could satisfy us, when we build up our earthly paradises, and seek as
it were ease and rest here below. But the voice soon comes, "Arise and
depart, for this is not your rest." As the Holy Spirit brooded over the dark
waters of chaos, so will he sometimes brood over the soul, infusing life and
feeling, and drawing forth earnest desires such as passed through the soul
of Jabez; and then it seems as if nothing would or could satisfy us but a
Let me, then, ask you a few questions. Do you know the
God of Israel by his own manifestations? Do you call upon him in solemn
moments of secret supplication, when every thought lies open to his eye, and
your whole soul seems prostrate before him, as if he and you were alone on
the earth? Are you seeking real blessings at his hand, blessings indeed! Are
you crying to him to enlarge your coast? Or are you well satisfied with your
present attainments, looking down upon others as babes, while you know all
that is to be known. If you are sitting in the easy chair of the sluggard,
or roaming over the 'mountains of presumption', you desire no spiritual
enlargement of heart.
But if you are a poor burdened cripple, that would gladly
enjoy light, love, and liberty, I well know you are sometimes pouring out
your soul, if not in the words in the meaning of them, "Oh, that you would
enlarge my coast!" Can you rush headlong into every scheme without seeking
the Lord's sanction and guiding hand? Then you have not the heart nor cry of
Jabez. And can you go to the very borders of evil, or even dally with sin,
sheltering yourself under the falls of saints, without any groans for the
past or cries for the future? Can you without piercing pangs of conscience
indulge bosom sins, and go recklessly on in base lusts? Then you give little
evidence that you are under such teachings as Jabez was favored with.
I know by painful experience what man's base heart is,
but I believe I know also something of the desires and breathings of Jabez,
to be delivered from the dominion of evil, and if I did not, I should
conclude that I was dead in sin. One word more and I have done. If the Lord
the Spirit has breathed into our souls the same hungerings and thirstings,
longings and desires that he communicated to the soul of Jabez, a similar
answer is annexed in the secret counsels of God to them, and when that
answer comes with power, it will make us willing to crown Jesus Lord of all.