Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 7

OT: I Chron. 4:5-5:17

More genealogy today, and as usual, I am totally lost. But that's okay, b/c I am going to talk about Jabez the whole time.

First of all, how weird is it that Jabez is just thrown in the middle of this genealogy? I didn't realize that these are literally the only two verses about him in the Bible. He is not even listed in the genealogy itself! Seriously, I have no idea where this story came from. Who is Jabez? We know nothing about him. We don't even have a good idea of his righteousness. All that Scripture says is that he was more righteous than his brothers. Well, maybe that's not saying much. I don't get the impression that too many people were righteous in those days.

Of course, the main reason that Jabez stood out to me was that his prayer was used to make a man very, very wealthy through a Prayer of Jabez book series. I had serious misgivings about the concept at the time, as it sounded like just another version of the "health and wealth" gospel. And now reading through the Bible this year, all my misgivings have proven very well-founded, in my mind. Allow me to tee off on this for a moment.

First of all, the idea that you can lift an obscure prayer out of the Bible and use it as a magic charm makes it seem like the Bible is a book of incantation. Why don't I write a book called The Prayer of Hezekiah, and tell everyone with a terminal disease to boldly pray for another fifteen years? Because that was Hezekiah's prayer, not mine!

Even more than that, though, the thought that we should pray Jabez's prayer for ourselves bothers me b/c I am seeing such an evolution of awareness b/t the OT and the NT. The NT Christians' level of understanding of the kingdom of God far surpassed that of the OT Israelites. And that is not the fault of the OT'ers, necessarily; it is just that the NT'ers had received a much fuller revelation. And when the NT'ers pray, they do not pray for God to bless them and expand their territory. And they certainly don't pray to be free from harm and pain. Rather, they pray for God's Kingdom to come, His will to be done. They pray for boldness in the face of persecution. They pray for the gospel to spread throughout the world. To suggest that we post-NT Christians should revert back to the limited (and often self-serving) view of OT Israelites is ridiculous to me.

Of course, one logical objection to my rant is the psalms. Do I not believe that we should pray the psalms? I absolutely believe that we should pray the psalms...when they are in line with an NT understanding of God's kingdom and His will. I do not believe that we should pray for God to break our enemies' teeth. I am not even sure that we should grovel for our lives, though I guess that we should be honest before God. But the bottom line is, I believe our goal as Christians is to get past this ultimately selfish concern for our lives, our comfort, our safety. Our number one concern, and our number one prayer should be that God's kingdom will come on this earth, regardless of what that means for our own safety and comfort.

My thoughts are evolving and refining as I write, but I'm only going to confuse myself and any readers by going further, so I'll stop here. I'll just conclude by saying that I will not be praying the prayer of Jabez anytime soon.

Any thoughts?

NT: Acts 25: 1-27

Man, Paul's adversaries do not give up, do they? Two years later, and they are still hatching assassination plots and clamoring for his death! I must say, I very much enjoyed reading about all these machinations and especially reading about the interchanges between the Romans. I love getting outside views of Christians, and I found Festus' synopsis of the dispute around Paul to be fascinating: "When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive" (18-19). A dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive. What a summation. No wonder these men were intrigued! This whole situation had to seem incredibly bizarre to them. And I wonder if Festus' wording indicates that he thought that Jesus really was dead (after all, they probably had records of his execution), or if he was simply presenting the Sanhedrin's side of the case. Anyhow, as a result of his confusion, Festus later admitted that he had nothing to write about him to Caesar (26-27). He was apparently hoping that this discussion between Paul and Agrippa would enlighten him on a few points.

I also wonder how in the world Luke had such a detailed knowledge of the interchange between Agrippa and Festus before Paul was present. Perhaps someone had relayed it to Paul while he was in prison there?

Psalm 5:1-12

I love the idea of laying our requests before God each morning and then waiting in expectation for God to answer them (3). That is a beautiful picture of faith.

I also loved verse 4: "You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell." Sometimes, people see God's bloodshed itself as unfair or even evil. A viewpoint of faith in God, however, does not judge God by the same standards that He puts on humans. God has the right to take away life b/c He is the one who gave the life. Likewise, He sets the standards for our behavior, not His. He is the one who gave us the ideas of justice and mercy; He defines them. I remember a frustrating conversation with my brother once when he was railing against God's unfairness, and I kept trying to tell him that He would have no understanding of fair and unfair if it weren't for God. And that God doesn't have to play by our rules. When He punishes the wicked, or allows sin to exist in the world, He is not being "unfair." He is being God. This is a hard pill to swallow (as much for me as for anyone else, believe me), but I believe that it is absolutely essential to understand if you are going to maintain a faith in spite of the pain and suffering on this earth.

Proverbs 18:19

In our Sunday night small group, we are reading an ominously-titled book called The Bait of Satan, which is all about "offense." So far, the thesis of the book seems to be that satan uses "offense" as a major tool to divide God's kingdom. And the book is all about how we are not to allow ourselves to indulge the feeling of being offended, because being offended gives the devil a foothold, I guess you could say. Anyhow, the author has already used this proverb in his book: "An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel." It supports his point nicely.


  1. Dr. Camp, one of my Bible professors from Lipscomb, wrote me after reading today's blog and volunteered to send me his own critique of the "Prayer of Jabez" trend. I told him that it was most likely going to end up as a comment, and I'm assuming the fact that he sent it anyway to be tacit permission to share it on this blog:

    The book "The Prayer of Jabez" has created such a sensation, in my opinion, largely because it promises a prayer guaranteed to work. While I agree prayer "works," the way many understand this book is that God will answer the prayer in a way they would like him to. The book is by a man named Bruce Wilkinson, who claims that he "discovered" this obscure prayer from 1 Chron 4:9-10, and since he has begun praying it, God has sent blessings. He suggests praying the prayer every day is the key to receiving God's blessings. While it is right to ask God to bless us, we do so in order to share those blessings with others and so bring glory to God.

    I heard the author on television explaining how he discovered the power of this prayer. He said that he was asking God to show him how to be honorable. While I would have thought the answer would be, “Look to Jesus,” the answer was instead found in this obscure little prayer.

    To be fair to Wilkinson, he speaks of blessings mostly in terms of ministry opportunities. However, others have taken it to mean personal, material blessings. Once the book caught on, it created its own industry so that there are now Prayer of Jabez books for all ages, study guides, t-shirts, mugs, etc. This marketing aspect is itself troubling to me, since prayer for some has becomes a means to literally profit.

    Basically, what Wilkinson does is spiritualize each line of the prayer. The things he suggests praying for are largely good ideas, but they don't really come from that text. He also imaginatively recreates a life for Jabez, which has little support in the text.

    Some of my basic problems with the book are:

    1. It has a magical view of prayer. That is, say the right words (the prayer of Jabez) and get guaranteed results. This, in my opinion, attempts to manipulate God.

    2. The point of the book IS NOT praying in general, but praying this obscure prayer. Why not a more prominent one--like the Lord's model prayer?

    3. Although not Wilkinson's intent, many are looking for materialistic, selfish answers to prayers. One need only look at the testimonials on the Prayer of Jabez web site to see this.

    4. The prayer is that of a man in pain, and may be appropriate for some today who suffer. But overall we are the richest people in the world, so it seems somewhat inappropriate to pray this prayer. One could ask where does cross-bearing and persecution, which is promised for those who want to lead a godly life, fit in?

    5. I am a little suspicious that it took over 2000 years for someone to discover the power of this particular prayer. It never had a prominent place in Judaism or Christianity before Wilkerson rediscovered it for us.

    6. This book represents really bad exegesis (biblical interpretation). It does so both by its recreation of Jabez's life from only a few verses and by spiritualizing the text. Even if the intent is good and perhaps harmless, such a use of the text may encourage inappropriate use of other texts, which will be harmful.

    7. The focus to me seems very individualistic and opportunistic. The prayer, it seems to me, has very little potential to sustain the Christian life in the long run or to edify the community.

    8. I am inherently suspicious of fads.

    9. This book appeals to our culture's desire for quick fixes and immediate answers. Anyone who has struggled with a real crisis in life (or even with the discipline of prayer itself) knows that the answers are not always immediate and the solutions are not always those we would chose (see Paul on his thorn in the flesh in 2 Cor 12).

  2. Thanks, Dr. Camp!

    Thinking it over, the exegesis angle is probably my biggest complaint. The passage is simple too obscure to attempt to apply it so directly and specifically to everyone's life. We simply know nothing about the man. I'm not even entirely sure how we figured he was in pain. Yes, his mother said that, "I gave birth to him in pain," but as a mother myself, who has twice experienced natural childbirth, my only answer was, "You think?" If we all named our babies based on our feelings during the birth process, they would all be called, Jabez (or a lot worse)! And it says that Jabez cried out to God, but in my mind, you can use the phrasing of crying out simply to convey his earnestness.

    Whatever. I'm sure Bruce Wilkinson researched the nuances of the Hebrew text more thoroughly, but my point is, the more I read the text, the less I see any DEFINITE info about Jabez in there. Two verses, people!

  3. God has the right to take away life b/c He is the one who gave the life.

    I have never really been able to understand this point of view. I hardly think that giving life comes with the right to take it away.

    I am a programmer, and I have thought, from time to time, about artificial intelligence and whether or not a machine could achieve real consciousness, whatever that means. I never did come to an opinion, but I did decide that if a machine could get to the point where it could convince me that it was conscious of its own being, if it could feel and judge, then I would no longer have the right to absolute power over it.

    If a being can say "I am", if it can contemplate the idea of not being, then it has some independence from its source, whatever that source may be. That source does not have a right to destroy it.

  4. To me, the different between God creating life and us "creating" life (whether through artificial intelligence or even the old fashioned way) is that we are not God. I'm sure this line of reasoning is frustrating and perhaps circular to an atheist, but if there is a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and all together above us in every way, what makes us think that He has to play by the rules He gave US to use? Many of His rules for us (such as to not take revenge) are based on the fact that we do not know human hearts like He does. Vengeance, to continue the example, isn't our job, but His.

    Or even if He ultimately DOES play by the heart of our rules, even if His actions are ultimately loving (which I believe they are), why do we think He has to follow our rules to achieve those results?

    My point is, if there is a God who is as the Bible describes (all-powerful, all-knowing), then part of believing in Him is understanding that we will never understand everything He does, and we don't get to set His rules, based on what we think would be appropriate for humans. As God says in Isaiah 55, "My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." That's what faith is. Faith believes that God is higher than you, and all your reasoning comes from Him, and it is ultimately puny in His sight.

    Is that convenient? No, it's not. But it's what makes faith, faith.

    I have no idea if I explained my thoughts well or even adequately, but it will have to do for this morning. I do appreciate you bringing your concerns. While the purpose of this blog is certainly not apologetics (it started to help me understand Scripture more myself, definitely not to explain or defend it to the world), I appreciate that you voice your questions. When I started this blog, I was hoping to learn more about Scripture in community. I was honestly expecting more the community of my church, but I like this community, too.

  5. While I understand why your answer satisfies you, it fails to satisfy me. First because, as you point out, the reasoning is circular from a nonbeliever's point of view.

    Second because such reason could be applied to any attribute of any diety. You say it off your God's right to destroy his creation. A Muslim terrorist could say the same about what he believes to be his God's command to kill non Muslims. Reasoning that applies equally well to contradictory claims is in my mind, suspect.