by Skip Moen
“Jabez called upon the God of Israel saying, “Oh that you would bless me . . .” 1 Chronicles 4:10 (ESV)
Bless – This word is barak. Examining it as a noun, we find that receiving a blessing in the Old Testament means getting something favorable from someone greater. The paradigm case is the transmission of a blessing from God to Man. Throughout the Old Testament, the central idea of God’s blessing is that bountiful life depends solely upon the goodness and faithfulness of God.
This verse is the basis of the popular book, The Prayer of Jabez. The secret behind the prayer of Jabez is really nothing hidden at all. From Genesis to Revelation, God makes it clear that He is the only real source of prosperity in all of its forms. Jabez speaks a simple prayer – “God, bless me” – but within that prayer is the acknowledgement and admission that God is the only one who can bless and that God blesses for his purposes, not ours. That’s why the prayer uses the verb barak, not the verb ashar. Barak is a God-only word. It is also a word that applies only to those who manifest hesed and ‘emet (faithfulness). In the Tanakh, God does not bless those who do not demonstrate worthiness. Ashar is a verb that expresses something we can do that brings about a state of bliss (cf. Psalm 1:1). Ashar is the verb of conditional blessing. You and I do something and a state of bliss follows. Not so with barak. There is nothing you and I can do that will compel God to bless me. He blesses because hen and hesed are who He is.
When I lived in Los Angeles, I saw a billboard on the side of a bus. It was an advertisement for a particular church. It said, “God wants to bless you. He wants to make you rich. You can have what you really want. Come and join us.” I always thought that this sort of blessing was ignorant and crass. God doesn’t run an investment firm. But later in life I realized that God does what He wants to do. If His purpose for you is that you become rich for Him, then I say, “Hooray!” There are very few people who can become rich and still bend the knee to God (by the way, that is the other meaning of the word barak). Who am I to say what God desires to do in your life? I know that I didn’t do a very good job of being His servant when my bank account was full, but maybe you’ll do better.
I understand the prayer of Jabez because I believe that God really does want to bless us. The matter to be settled is not on God’s side. It is on ours. The word “bless” also means “humility, service and bowing down.” The two go together. God may bless when you are completely ready to bow. But I don’t believe that The Prayer of Jabez offers any kind of success formula for life. After all, it is barak, not ashar. It’s not about what I do, not even about how I pray or the words I use. It’s about God’s sovereign purposes. Perhaps we need to add something to Jabez’s prayer. “God, bless me – in the way that You wish to – and I will be content.”
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