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'THE PRAYER OF JABRZ.
REV. T. RINNEY,
SONG'S WEIGH HOUSE CHAPEL, LONDON BRIDGE, JUNE 12, 1838
* And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name
Sabez, 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 thino hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not griere me! And God granted him that which he requested.”—1 CHRON. iv. 9, 10.
Many comparisons have at times been instituted, and I think not altogether without reason, between this book as the work of God, the production of God, and the world as the production of God; such, for instance, as that what is necessary and essential lies amply upon the surface of both; that what is necessary for the life that now is is given upon the surface of our earth; and also that what is necessary for the spiritual life of the man within him, a!! essential, necessary truth, is plain enough upon the surface of Scripture. While it may be interesting to dive into the philosophy and rationale of either; while it may be interesting to one man to investigate the philosophy of vegetation, though he must just eat and live like the rest of men; so while it may be interesting for another to go into the rationale of the philosophy of the facts and the system of revelation, yet he must eat and live spiritually with the simplicity of faith, like the simplest and the most ignorant of men.
Analogies have sometimes been gathered from the mixture that there is in Scripture in the developments of the character of God; sometimes all that is awful, and sometimes all that is bland and benignant. So in the material world there is the same mixture in the development and display of the divine character and perfections. Sometimes again an analogy, not I think altogether fanciful, has been supposed to exist between this Book and the world, in that there are some parts of it that seem luxuriant and beautiful-some parts of the book in which every verse and every word is like a flower springing up under your feet, or like the shade of beautiful vegetation around you, or like an exhibition of the magnificence and loveliness of vegetable nature ; while other parts appear sterile and barren, with rocks on every side, with nothing but rudeness, nothing to delight the eye or the taste, nothing to interest; just as there is the same diversity in the scenery of nature.
Now these analogies were strongly impressed on my mind when I looked on these two pages, a part of one of which is to supply us with a passage for our meditation this morning. When we look at this barren catalogue of names, when we look at what is here presented, we seem to have got into one of those parts of Scripture, in which there is very little to delight the eye or to refresh the heart, just as sometimes we may be passing through some sterile part in the scenery of this world.
But, my brethren, you may carry the analogy further. What are these exhibitions ; what is suggested in our mind by what we see in some of these rude and barren spots of nature ?' Why, just thisthat we there get a view of the rocks, of the bands and the pillars of our earth, that bind it and keep it together, and make it what it is, and which are essential and necessary for the support of all the earth, and the soil by which is supported and displayed in other parts the beauty and sublimity of vegetation. So it is here; these parts of the Bible are just representations to us of some of those barren rocks, you may say, but still those rocks which run throughout Scripture, those genealogies which are connected with all that is important in the history of the Messiah and the fulfilment of prophecy; which are like those seams and bands upon our earth, the rocks which bind the whole fabric together, and which support those parts which form the beauty and the magnificence of the whole.
And just as when passing through some bare, and barren, and rocky valley upon the world, you may meet with some beautiful little spot of green and gushing vegetation, which is all the more beautiful for the circumstances in which it is found, beautiful in itself and beautiful in the comparison with the surrounding sterility; just so it is here with these two verses, embedded amidst this dry catalogue of genealogies. “ And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, 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.”
Now upon this passage let me just suggest here a very few observations, first explanatory and illustrative of the passage, and then some of the general lessons that may be suggested by it.,
In looking at the passage and in suggesting two or three explanatory or illustrative remarks, we observe that with respect to this Jabez we really know nothing but what is combined in these two verses; there is no reference to him in any other part of Scripture. He just comes upon us here, and appears detained as it were by the hand of the Spirit of inspiration for a moment, that we may glance at him and pass away. Almost like Melchizedec as he comes bef:p 15 in sacred history, without father and without mother, and without beginning of days and end of life, he is passing before us. He was unquestionably, I suppose, from the position in which he stands, of the tribe of Judah ; as this is the genealogy of Judah. We know not precisely from the passage who were his parents; what particular line in Judah he belonged to: nor can we exactly make out the precise time in which he lived; though it appears to me the passage gives us a little light on that subject. It is said generally of him, that he “ was more honourable than his brethren." That may or may not imply censure against his brethren. He might be honourable among the honourable ; he might be distinguished amongst the distinguished; he might be great among the great. The probability is, however, that it does rather convey the idea of imperfection and defect in the character of surrounding
society, and of those with whom he was immediately connected: and hence it does mark more prominently the influence of principle and of piety in him.
But man may be honourable on various accounts: generally at the time to which the Scripture refers, and now, men are estimated honourable for valour, iòr wisdom, and for piety. I think it is very probable that all these met in Jabez. There are traditions among the Jews respecting him; and they make him to have been a man distinguished for wisdom as a teacher; distinguished as the founder of a school, and having around him a multitude of disciples. This opinion has upon it, perhaps, some air of probability from the last verse of the second chapter in this book, in which it is said, “ And the families of the scribes which dwelt at Jabez,” or “ with Jabez;" “ the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and Suchathites. These are the Kenites that came of Hemath, the father of the house of Rechab.” Now,“ the families of the scribes which dwelt at Jabez,“ supposing it to be the name of a place, refers to men who are devoted to study: if it be the name of the persons that dwelt with him, still the same idea seems suggested. So that I think it very probable that the idea of the Jews is right. They themselves take these words which are here used, and in which these different divisions of scribes are distinguished, as being significant, expressing certain qualities of these disciples with respect to the manner in which they receive the instruction of the master, and the manner in which they were devoted to God. It is very probable, therefore, that he was distinguished and honourable for his mental acquisitions and his wisdom.
It seems to me that he was honourable also for his enterprise and activity, and perhaps also for his valour, because he prays for the enlargement his coast. Now it strikes me that this particular prayer of Jabez about the enlargement of his coast, and God being with him, and so on—that God's hand, the emblem of power, might be with him in his enlargement seems to cast a little light on the time in which he lived. It strikes me that he lived soon after the settlement of the people in Canaan, and before they had taken complete and full possession of the different lots. And there was among many of the people a sort of reluctance to do this, a want of vigour and enterprise of mind and character, so that when they sat down in a place there they rested satisfied, and did not go up into the land to possess it; or when they took possession of their particular lots they were not enough anxious to extend themselves, to take possession fully of the coast which God had given them : so that Joshua really had to reprove them for sitting down contented too soon, and saying, “Why a few of you have got possession ; yet there remains a number of places that are not yet divided: why sit you here? Arise, take possession.” And so with respect not only to the whole people, but with respect to particular parts of the people, there was a want of valour and enterprise in entering on the possession of the inheritance. It strikes me, therefore, this prayer has relation to that, and that he was more honourable than his brethren, because he entered into the mind of God. He desired the strength and power of God to assist him, to enable him to go and root out the inhabitants, and take possession of the enlarged coast, in which he might have ample room for the enjoyment and the development of the blessings of Providence.
Whatever may be thought of that, that he was honourable for his piety is, I think, manifest." He was more honourable than his brethren;" and the sacred writer, after having stated that generally, in the next verse develops the principle of this honourable cbaracter: “ 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.”
Now in looking at this, as an intimation of the honourable character of the man on account of his piety, whatever may be thought of the other principles we have referred to, you may dwell upon such suggestions as the following.
On looking at this prayer you observe the propriety of the feeling with which it is addressed to God. “ Jabez called upon the God of Israel," marking his intelligent appreciation of the covenant relation whicb Gordsustained tú his people : that he was neither lost in the vagueness of mere theism, uor led astray by the grossness of idolatry: that he did not merely present his supplications to the being denominated God with a vagueness and ignorance of the way by which he was to be approached, and of the precise character by which he was to be addressed, and that he did not depart from those ideas of the supreme God, and bow himself down to idols, as the generality of the people with whom he was connected were in the habit of doing ; but that he understood and felt the principle of the economy under which he lived; that he rejoiced in the privileges and advantages which God in covenant bad conferred on the people, and that he rejoiced to look at God in that aspect, and presented his prayer to him in that covenant relation.
It is thus that you and I must come to God; it is thus that we must be prepared not to lose ourselves in the vagueness of sentimentalism and the generalities of religion ; but to feel that there is a way by which we are to come, a specifie view we are to have of God, a particular and appointed medium through which we must approach, and that the God of the Bible has revealed, in the person of Jesus Christ, his glory set forth in the work of the great high priest; that he is the only God, and that to him we must come in the way pointed out in the Scriptures of truth.
Then let us look at the comprehensiveness of the prayer; how much it includes with respect to the life that now is, and the life that is to come with respect to temporal and spiritual things (for it includes both): “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." He was asking with respect to temporal matters that he might be blessed in them, bringing his peculiar circumstances and condition, and presenting them to God. He was asking, he felt, what was agreeable to the mind and will of God in this matter. But he did not stop there; he would not have been satisfied to have had all this enlargement of coast, this communication of secular and temporal blessing; and therefore it is beautifuiy added, " and that thou wouldest keep me from evil," from sin, from idolatry ; from sin in all its forms; that he might neither grieve God nor offend his Spirit, and bring evil and grief on himseil.
Then I think you may observe the humility that marks the prayer; how completely he is emptiea or seit, now he goes out of self, feeling that all his resources must be in God: “ That Thou wouldest bless me, that Thou wouldest enlarge my coast, and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil.” There is a feeling pervading every petition and every expression, marking the consciousness that he had of his own weakness and his own danger: that he needed to be held and sustained by God; that with respect to temporal matters, it was God that must “teach his hands to war and his fingers to fight;" that it was God that must give him strength to advance on his adversary, and it was he that must give him power and strength to get wealth, and that every blessing was from him; that with respect to spiritual matters he must be kept preserved, shielded, and defended, by the protection and power of God around him, that he might not fall into evil nor depart from God.
Then you may observe the intenseness, the fervour, and the earnestness, which seem to mark this supplication. “ Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed !" There is something expressive in that of intense feeling, of piety of mind, resting on God. It indicates how deeply he felt his need of the divine mercy. that every other thing might be possessed without this. Therefore he desired this with earnestness, he desired God to “ bless him indeed"-emphatically, continually, daily, and for ever.
Then observe the fulfilment of the prayer : “ And God granted him that which he requested.” How beautifully and simply it is thus put before us! That he thus became, so to speak, honourable in fact. He had given to him that which he requested: and therefore his coast was enlarged; he was distinguished; he was conspicuous; he was kept from evil, and had the honour and glory therefore put upon him which God had promised to put on his saints. He was honourable in fact, and it was thus proved and indicated, that there was a principle lying at the base of his character, of true honour in the sight of God; that what he sought was agreeable to the divine will; that he sought it in the way of the divine appointment; and that there was the principle of piety and faith pervading his feelings, and forming the basis of the attributes of his character.
Such is a brief illustration of what is here stated with respect to this distinguished man, and the prayer that is here recorded of him.
Before I pass on to the more general lessons to be drawn from this prayer, I cannot help just observing how short this prayer is—how comprehensive. And this is a characteristic of the prayers of Scripture: the prayers of Scripture are almost all brief ; many of them are very brief. I suppose the longest Solomon's, or Daniel's, or Nehemiah's—may be read over deliberately and slowly in ten or fifteen minutes, probably in much less. The most of them that are scattered throughout the Scriptures are very brief; but they are comprehensive : they involve much ; there is an intenseness of feeling and a com prehensiveness of expression. And it would become us, both in public and in private, thus to gather up our hearts to have our feelings united, and with brevity, but with comprehensive earnestness, to present our petitions to God; so that we might attain to the Scriptural rule of our Master, not so to speak as tbough we supposed we should be heard for our much speaking.
But I pass on to make one or two general observations arising from the subject.
I should think it very likely that Jabez owed a good deal of his religion to his mother, though it is not indicated here whether she lived; or, whether, like Rachael, she died, calling her son as she departed, Ben-oni, “ the son of mv sorrow :" though it is not indicated whether this was the case with the mother of Jabez or not, (it might not be we surpose it was not ;) that she