Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prayer of Jabez

I requested a children's book of prayers to review last week.  It arrived the other day and I started listening to the cds with the book and reading through the prayers.  One of the prayers, of course, was Jabez's prayer.  It was really interesting to me to see what the book wrote, which translation it based it's lesson on, and then go to the Word myself and see the context of the verses.  Over the past year, I've thought often about translation and why it matters which one you read.  The prayer of Jabez is definitely a case in point.  There are actually only 2 verses in the whole Bible that refer to Jabez.  Here they are in several translations:

1 Chronicles 4:9-10 (New King James Version)

9 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” 10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

1 Chronicles 4:9-10 (English Standard Version)

9Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, "Because I bore him in pain." 10Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!" And God granted what he asked.

1 Chronicles 4:9-10 (New Living Translation)

 9 There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. 10 He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “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!” And God granted him his request.

1 Chronicles 4:9-10 (King James Version)

 9And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow.
 10And 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.

The Amplified and NIV said the same basic thing that the ESV said interestingly enough.  The ESV, Amplified, and NIV all translate Jabez's prayer as a request that God would keep him from harm so that he would not be harmed or hurt.

The NKJV and KJV translate Jabez's prayer as asking that he would not harm others.  The book of prayers for kids that I'm reading praises Jabez for thinking of others.

I trust the accuracy of the translation of the ESV more than the NKJV and KJV.  In the ESV, it is clear that Jabez is not thinking of others but rather of himself!  Hmmm...

I've always been skittish about the prayer of Jabez and the fad that grew out of the book 10 years ago.  It concerned me because it was used by the name it and claim it theology (aka the health and wealth gospel) as an example of how to pray.  This prayer is not how Jesus told us to pray.  In the context of Chronicles, Jabez is sited as an example of one man who sought God amidst many generations who did not.  I think his prayer is a very human prayer.  I don't think we want to go through pain.  I also don't think it is wise to infer and guess about the details of Jabez's life and how he lived his life.  We don't know.  If God had wanted us to know, I believe it would be in the Bible.  The point of the Bible is to point us to God, not to ourselves.  Theologically, I'm still not quite sure what to think about Jabez's prayer except that he came to the Lord with his requests.  God graciously granted that request out of love.  I know I do this every day when I come to the Lord with my prayers.  Sometimes the answers are what I would hope and other times not--because God knows what is best and I firmly believe that He works in all things for my good.

As a last note, it is interesting to me that this difference came up with the NKJV and not one of the modern paraphrases.  

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