Summary: 82% of Americans said they believed "God helps those who help themselves" was from Scripture, but Jabez never believed that...
OPEN: During the 1st Persian Gulf War, one of our soldiers (who was assigned to Saudi Arabia) told of how his three-year-old son, Christopher, reacted to his leaving. The boy grabbed hold of his leg and pleaded with him not to leave. "No, Daddy, please don’t go!" he kept repeating.
It was beginning to make a scene with all the other soldiers around them, when his wife, desperate to calm him, said, "Let Daddy go and I’ll take you to get a pizza."
Immediately, Christopher loosened his death grip, stepped back and in a calm voice said, "Bye, Daddy."
APPLY: Speaking as a parent of a couple of young children, I can tell you there is nothing quite like the feeling you get when your child wants to sit in your lap, have a hug, or hold your hand. It makes feels so good when they do that. I don’t know why it does, it just does.
And I believe that when Jabez cried out in prayer: "Oh that your hand would be with me," that this was the one part of his prayer that particularly touched God’s heart. And part of the reason this would have appealed to God would have been that many people wouldn’t have asked that. Many people don’t want God’s hand upon them. They don’t want God’s hand in their lives. Something else has gotten their attention, or perhaps they just want to run their lives their own way.
I. That may explain why one of the most popular "religious" phrases of our nation today is:
"God helps those who… help themselves." Did you realize that in a nationwide poll conducted by Barna Research Institute in 1996, 82% of Americans said they believed that the phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is a direct quote from the Bible. It’s not.
Actually, the saying comes from Aesop’s Fables. The story goes like this: "A Wagoner was driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. He came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper the wheels sank. So the Wagoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the strong. "O Hercules, help me in this hour of distress." But Hercules appeared to him, and said ’Man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.’"
In other words, one of the most popular religious phrases in America isn’t Biblical - it’s pagan.
Jabez wasn’t a pagan. From all we can ascertain from his prayer - this was a man who studied his Scriptures. Almost every phrase of his short petition was abase upon something he’d read out of Scripture about how God took care of His people. And, Jabez knew for a fact that God didn’t help those who helped themselves, God helped only those who were smart enough to lean on Him and obey.
From what Jabez had read, God’s people were at their strongest when they took hold of God’s hand and didn’t let go. And they were at their weakest when they tried to go it alone.
Now, what would Jabez have read from the Bible of his day that would have led him to pray "let your hand be upon me?"
II. One passage probably would have been Exodus 13:14.
(referring to the Feast of the Passover) "In days to come, when your son asks you, ’What does this mean’ say to him, ’with a MIGHTY HAND the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."
Jabez would have heard this passage of Scripture from his parents year after year, it would have been burned into his heart. It was part of his life. He didn’t even have to read it, he would have had it memorized.
And the one thing this passage would have driven home to him would have been: when you have God’s hand in your life you can be led out of despair and slavery and into places you really want to be.
His parents probably also told him the stories about how, God led His people out of Egypt with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And how, when they reached the Red Sea, God’s hand split the Red Sea so that His people could pass through on dry ground. But when the pursuing Egyptians followed, God’s hand released the waters and the military might of Egypt was destroyed in a moment’s time.
Then Jabez’ parents would probably have also told him about the time the Israelites stood at the very edge of the promised land. Moses had sent 12 spies into the land to scout it out, and when they returned Joshua and Caleb told of how beautiful the land was. BUT the other 10 spies spoke with fear about the size of the giants in the land and the strength of their cities.