The Context of the Covenant

What does the prayer of Jabez really mean for us today?

Chris Hutchison on January 29, 2019

This past Sunday, we talked about how important it is for us to read the Old Testament within the context of the covenants. In particular, from the book of Joshua onwards, everything we read takes place within the context of the Mosaic Covenant. Keeping this covenant in mind—especially the blessings and curses of this covenant which are spelled out in Deuteronomy 28 & 30—is absolutely crucial for making sense of the rest of the story.

We considered some examples of this on Sunday, but here’s another one: do you remember Jabez from 1 Chronicles 4? Apparently his birth wasn’t too pleasant, and so his mom essentially named him “Pain.” But then we read that Jabez “called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked” (1 Chronicles 4:9–10).

Jabez was praying that God would give him more land and keep him from suffering. In other words, he was praying for material, physical blessing. And that was okay for him to pray for, because material blessing and freedom from suffering was a part of what God had promised them in that covenant (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). Jabez was essentially asking that in spite of the “curse” of his bad name, God would still keep His covenant promises to him.

Therefore, the way that we should apply Jabez’ example to our lives is not to pray his prayer verbatim, even though a very popular book a few years ago recommended this. Instead, we should ask, “Which covenant are we a part of? What are the promised blessings of this covenant?” And then we will ask the Lord to fulfill those promises to us. This line of thought will lead us towards passages like Ephesians 1:3-23, in which the Apostle Paul lists our New Covenant blessings in Christ, and then responds in prayer.

A second example of this principle at work is found when we consider God’s words to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13–14).

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this passage applied to us today, taking it to say that if we Christians will confess our sins, then God will bring blessing and prosperity to our land, which must be Canada. But this passage was not addressed to New Covenant Canadians; it was addressed to Old Covenant Israel, and in it, God was simply repeating and reminding Solomon of His covenant promises from Deuteronomy 30:1-10.

While these specific promises of Deuteronomy 30 may not apply to us New Covenant Christians, that doesn’t mean that this passage has no meaning to us. We should apply this passage to ourselves by remembering that God Himself has not changed, and so He will be faithful to fulfill the promised blessings of the New Covenant to us.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Chris Hutchison
Chris Hutchison is the lead pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Nipawin, SK. Have any feedback or questions about what you've read here? Send him an email at chris@ebcnipawin.ca

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