|Jacob wrestling with the Angel|
When we lived in America around the turn of the century, the Prayer of Jabez was the most lucrative Christian marketing craze: a best-selling book, audio CD, mugs, magnets, t-shirts, books, even a CD of worship music composed around that two line prayer. Some of these might be spotted around my house, I must confess.
The prayer of this new-minted 21st century celebrity came from an obscure sentence in the Book of Chronicles, which contains all we know of Jabez.
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 1 Chron 4:10
Nice prayer, inn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to pray it?
And why did God answer this prayer? There is no magic to the formula. Jabez has not serendipitously got all his prayer ducks in a row. God answered because Jabez asked.
* * *
I have been re-reading the life of Jacob. The one thing Jacob wanted all his life was the blessing of God. The blessing encoded in creation, in the genetic code of corn and cows: abundance from the limited, the miraculous multiplication of one’s feeble efforts, protection.
He tries to get it by manipulating a ravenous Esau of his birthright (which, as first-born, included the blessing promised to Abraham and his seed), then by mercilessly deceiving the blind Isaac into giving him the blessing he had reserved for his own favourite son, Esau. He flees Laban at night, devises a cunning ruse to pacify Esau who comes to meet him with four hundred fighting men.
* * *
And then in the night, he encounters a opponent whose magnificent strength tells him he is more than human. He does not let go, even when the opponent, desirous of leaving before dawn (“because no one can see the face of God and live” Exodus) dislocates Jacob’s hip.
Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
And so God does.
God blesses him because of the strength of his longing for God’s blessing. He blesses Jacob because what Jacob wanted–for his entire life–even more than he wanted wealth or success, was God’s blessing.
All his life he has sought it desperately, tricked and manipulated and wrestled to get it.
And now, no scheming, no tricks, no bargaining with God as at Bethel, twenty years earlier.
He simply asks.
* * *
Though old habits die hard. Jacob still finds it hard to believe that he can have God’s blessing for the asking.
So he informs God that he is certainly not going to let go of him until he has blessed him. And this from a man limping with a dislocated hip!
God is charmed. And probably amused. And so He does what he has always intended to do, even before Jacob had been born, what he had been waiting to do if Jacob had but asked him, instead of defrauding his relations and having to flee from them for 20 years of bitter toil.
He blesses him.
And Jacob achieves what he could have had all along for the asking. If he had relied on God rather than on his own stratagems.
Open my eyes, Lord, to see the times when I worry and fret instead of praying; when I quarrel instead of praying; when I work in convoluted, tortuous ways instead of praying.
Open my eyes to the stratagems I use to avoid having to come before you with empty hands, asking for your blessing.
Anita Mathias says
What a lovely image, Louise. I have experience it once or twice myself, and must remember to turn to God rather than rely on my own strength when I feel overwhelmed!
I like the Jacob story too Anita! I love that he asked and God followed through because he asked. I have found God is my only true sourcve of strength, and stuff I cannot deal with on my own, if I turn to Him, it becomes like water of a duck's back xx