Jabez and Interpretation

Should we pray the prayer of Jabez? We should probably not. Here is why…

In 1 Chronicles 4 , two short verses tell the story about Jabez, and this gives us a test case for how we interpret the Bible.

Two things we need to understand about interpreting the Bible.

  1. First, there are rules, or governing principles, that all of us live by when we interpret the Bible. Those rules are sometimes very self-conscience and sometimes they are not. These rules govern the way we read the Bible, the meaning we give to the passage, and the methods we use to seek that meaning. It is important to learn what your rules are, and it is important to make sure that your rules and principles are good ones. (because yes some rules that people use are just plain wrong)
  2. Secondly there are tools that we use to extract the data from the text of the Bible. These tools are the kind of tools you would expect to use when reading almost any other writing in your life.

(For example, you wouldn’t read the warnings about poisoning on a chemical bottle and interpret it to mean that drinking the chemical will turn you into a unicorn. Words have meanings, and we easily apply good tools to most everything else we read.)

These tools can be used by people with different rules.You catch that right? The Rules and Tools. The rules rule the tools. Using tools without rules will be a disaster. So you have to use both.

This is how we get different interpretations of the Bible. Either the rules are different, the tools are being misapplied, or someone is lacking in either or both. So it is very important to be conscience of the rules and the tools you are using.

In The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson, his rules for interpreting are quiet simple. The passage means whatever the bald-faced words mean. That is why he wrote the book, and that is why there was so much criticism about the book. My goal today is not to critic his book, but to answer this question:

So what would be a better approach?

Let me suggest a line of thinking, without being specific. In other words, I want to suggest to you a few rules, use a few tools to extract data, and then draw a conclusion about a possible meaning of these two verses.(now I am doing this in about 10 minutes, and reserve the right to be wrong in my conclusion. My goal is to show how using both rules and tools are important)

Some Rules

Now these want be all of them, I just want to illustrate the importance of them. So here are 6 rules.

  • First Rule. All Scripture is about Christ.That is Jesus Christ is the center of revelation. The whole of the Bible is about Who Christ is, what Christ has done(will do), For Whom Christ does, on and on we could go. It is about Christ.
  • Second Rule. All Scripture is about Christ.I repeat this rule because it is so important.
  • Third Rule. The Old Testament is the promise, the New Testament is the fulfillment.
  • Fourth Rule. The Old Testament is properly interpreted by the New Testament.
  • Fifth Rule. The New Testament Writers often interpret passages using typology. (I say often, because I can’t say that I personally have an exhaustive knowledge of this)
  • Sixth Rule. There is a progressive nature to revelation, and being mindful of where you are in that revelation is important.

The Tools

What tools would I use? Very simply I want to see what I see.

  1. Jabez is listed in the Tribe of Judah.
  2. Jabez is not connected to any of the other families near by. In other words, we don’t know who his father is, his brothers, or the like. We only know he had brothers and he had a mother, and we assume by logic, he had a father.
  3. Jabez’s mother called him pain, because she birthed him in pain.
  4. Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.
  5. Jabez prayed for God to bless him.
  6. God answered his prayer.


Here is a man from the tribe of Judah

  • whose mother and brothers are mentioned, but not revealed
  • whose birth is mentioned, but with pain
  • whose connection with God seems to be well established
  • whose life is recounted in relation to the kings of Judah.
  • whose prayer is expanded territory, almost kingdom like
  • whose prayer is covenantal as he asks for God’s hand to be with him
  • whose prayer is so that the harm that might come to him, might not cause him pain.

I would say that it is possible that the writers are setting up a view to what the messiah might be like. He is from the tribe of Judah and everyone would have already know that. He would be the offspring of the woman, and they would all know that. But from here, I think they would learn: that the Messiah has his Father’s ear.

It is not that Jabez is Christ, but that a man from Judah, whose birth is important, also has the ear of the Father in his prayers for the covenantal blessings and success.

Now maybe I am off a little. And that is fine. My goal is to show the usage of these rules and tools. Please next time you read from the Old Testament, take your time and think through what rules you are using.