IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 3, Number 28, July 9 to July 15, 2001

Part 2 of 2:
Chronicler, Context, and Final Comments

by Dr. Ron Gleason

Now that we've looked at the book, let's go back and look at the text. Wilkinson has mentioned it to us from time to time, but it will be most helpful if we gain an understanding of it, and then move on to see how it fits into the fabric of the book of 1 Chronicles and into the theology of the Chronicler.

The Hebrew and Greek Texts

The only reason I'm even taking the time to discuss the text itself is that Wilkinson takes very little time to do it. He is building his case on an admittedly somewhat obscure text in the Old Testament, which is fine. It would have enhanced the book immensely, however, if he had taken some time to tell us a little bit about the text without all the technical jargon. For example, he could have pointed out that there are some translation difficulties with some of the Hebrew words due to their relative obscurity.

In the next section we'll take the opportunity to examine the book of Chronicles1 itself, how it got its name, when it was written, and some of the key theological concepts of the Chronicler, just to mention a few. For the present, we want to take a really quick look at some of the peculiarities of the text, and then we'll move on to talk about the context of Chronicles in the Old Testament canon. This section is going to be fairly technical, and I'll understand if you want to skip on to the next section. Believe me, I won't be offended in the least if you're not interested in this part.

The Name "Jabez"

The name "Jabez" itself is located in only two places in the Bible. In 1 Chronicles 2:55 it is the name of a place; in the prayer of Jabez it is found three times. This name is somewhat obscure. Keil and Delitzsch comment in this fashion: "The word [Jabez] denotes 2:55 a town or village which is quite unknown to us; but whether our Jabez were father (lord) or this town cannot be determined."2 In point of fact, there are many things unclear to us. A. Noortzij is not atypical when he writes, "Behind the name, over which no one has been able to bring any light to bear, is the possibility of a Kenite tribe, which was eventually — in the course of the centuries — taken up into Judah."

Even the connection with the preceding verses is not clear to Old Testament scholars and commentators. As was mentioned above, it is even up for grabs whether or not Jabez was originally an Israelite. The so-called "older commentators" have drawn the conclusion that Jabez was a son or brother of Coz. The "newer commentators" apparently have little or no light to shed on the matter. So, I'll just give you the newer first and then the older, and let you decide.

Roddy Braun writes concerning the verses, "The emphasis here is ... upon Jabez' prayer to God, and the fact that God heard that prayer and ‘brought about that which he asked.' This emphasis upon prayer is a marked feature of Chronicles, and its inclusion here ... reflects an appreciation of that same interest. God's grace is always available to those who turn to him in prayer."

The older commentators Keil and Delitzsch have this to say about the text. "If there be any genealogical connection between the man Jabez and the locality of this name or its inhabitants (2:55), then the persons named in v. 8 would belong to the descendants of Shobal. For although the connection of Jabez with Coz and his sons is not clearly set forth, yet it may be conjectured from the statements as to Jabez being connected with the preceding by the words, ‘Jabez was more honoured than his brethren.'"3

There are some interesting parallels with other Old Testament texts and Jabez' prayer even though the latter is shrouded in relative obscurity. For example, there are parallels between Jabez' mother giving him such an odd name (meaning "pain") and other Old Testament accounts. On the other hand, there is a rather curious omission in Jabez' prayer, and that is the absence of an accompanying vow on his part. A rather classic example of what I'm talking about is found in Genesis 28:20-22. Unfortunately, Wilkinson makes no mention of this oddity in Jabez' prayer. Keil and Delitzsch offer this possible reason for the omission of the vow: "The reason of this is probably that the vow had acquired importance sufficient to make it worthy of being handed down only from God's having so fulfilled his wish, that his life became a contradiction of his name; the son of sorrow having been free from pain in life, and having attained to greater happiness and reputation than his brothers."4 Really, though, who knows? Keil and Delitzsch previously used the word "conjecture." That's an apt word for the verses included in Jabez' prayer.

One other word needs to be said before we move on. I'm not at all convinced that a vow must be attached to a prayer before it's "valid." There are many prayers in Scripture where the ones praying do not attach a vow to do this or that. I've certainly prayed many a prayer where I merely asked the Lord to bless me without stating that I'd do anything. It's always been a foregone conclusion on my part that what God wants from me, however, is joyful and willing obedience to him. That's enough of this sort of thing. Let's move on to other matters.

The Chronicler and Jabez

One of the most important tools of valid biblical interpretation is called the "grammatico-historical" method. That's kind of technical talk for understanding the author's intent in a given book, along with an understanding of the book's basic message. This is one area where I believe Wilkinson really misses the boat. Throughout his book he makes appeals to the "Jabez text" without really telling us anything about the book of Chronicles itself. He also doesn't have much to say about the context of the Jabez prayer, primarily because there just isn't much to say about it.

So, what I want to do in this section is lay out what the Chronicler is "about" in his two books. I believe this will help us get a handle on things when we continue our investigation of how this prayer ought to be or can be used in the church of Jesus Christ and in our individual lives. Bear with me for a few moments while we get some "nuts and bolts" things out of the way.

The Title of the Books

Before I begin with the "yawn" stuff, I want to thank our Lord for making me a pastor. If I weren't a pastor of such a lively church, I might not have taken the time to do this type of investigation right now. But when you've got an enthusiastic congregation to work with, things change. The questions that have arisen about this book under review have taken me on yet another fascinating study of God's Word and its application in our lives.

The English title of the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles has an unusual history. The titles originate neither from the original Hebrew nor from the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (sometimes abbreviated as "LXX"). The church father Jerome first applied this name in the fourth century A.D. Martin Luther's German translation called the books Die Chronika, and this set the stage for the current name of the books.

This is not to say that Jerome, or Luther, or other English Bible translators just made up the name out of thin air. "Chronicle" is a fairly decent translation for the Hebrew idiom dibere hayyamim, which is the accepted Hebrew title of the book. The phrase literally means "the events of the days," which allows a smooth transition to thoughts such as "chronicle."

The Greek translators of the Old Testament produced quite a different title to the books. They called them Paraleipomena, which means "the things omitted." What were they talking about? Apparently, they saw Chronicles as containing things omitted from the books of Samuel and Kings.

The division of Chronicles into two parts goes back to the Septuagint. The division is probably made for practical reasons and for no other reasons. Once we take the time to read these two books — and unfortunately far too few do — it becomes evident that they are really a single unit.

What Kind of Book is Chronicles?

What should we expect to find when we read 1 and 2 Chronicles? That's a fair question, and it deserves a good answer. Its subject matter covers the whole of Israelite history from creation (see 1 Chr. 1:1) to near the author's own time (1 Chr. 9:2-34). In terms of the number of chapters, Chronicles is the third largest compilation in the Old Testament (after Psalms and Isaiah). But what kind of book is Chronicles? There are a few apt descriptions of it.

In the first place, it can be treated as a history book. Although in more recent investigation of the book the Chronicler's contribution as a historian has sometimes been understood more in terms of the provision of an overall framework of interpretation rather than in compiling an objective record of events, categorizing Chronicles as a work of history is still a frequent approach.

The long, long lists and genealogies (especially in 1 Chronicles) mark out Chronicles as distinct from Samuel-Kings, and are inappropriate in a primarily historical work. More detailed comparison with what is called the "Deuteronomic History" (a common scholarly name for Deuteronomy through 2 Kings) confirms this view, for it is clear that the Chronicler's concerns are more narrowly focused. "In place of a history of Israel's monarchies, the Chronicler concentrates on the southern kingdom and on individual kings such as David, Solomon, or Hezekiah, though he also appears to adopt a more favourable attitude towards the north than the author of Kings. His preoccupation with specialist matters such as the temple, prayer, worship, and the Levites also indicates that his real interest lies outside the purely historical sphere."

I give you all this "stuff" to make a point. If the Chronicler's historical features are secondary rather than primary, greater attention ought to be paid to his theological emphases. This was overlooked in Wilkinson's book, but it is essential for understanding the overall message of Chronicles. The late professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, summed up the work as "through and through a theological essay." Others have described the Chronicler as the first Old Testament theologian. Still others have deduced that the person and dynasty of David are the "heartbeat" of all the Chronicler's theology. Since one of our topics is prayer, I'd like to talk for a few moments about the place of prayer in Chronicles without specifically concentrating on Jabez' prayer, which we'll come to in due time. It's not too strongly put to say that the prayers in Chronicles have an equal place with the prophecies in the structure of the work. The accounts of David and Solomon, for example, often include important and lengthy prayers. The various speeches, prophecies, and prayers, therefore, summarize and explain essential elements of Chronicles' main themes. These "structural elements" concentrate on God's covenant with David and the temple as a central motif. These serve to underline their priority in God's purposes and in Israel's national life.

One final point has to be made, and I halfway apologize for making it. It's a kind of technical thing that doesn't interest common folk like you and me, but it's important so I beg your indulgence. The Chronicler is fond of using a Hebrew literary device known as the chiasmus or chiastic pattern. Now don't you feel enlightened? I'll just bet you're ready to rush out and buttonhole the first poor unsuspecting lost sinner, and whip out your knowledge about the Chronicler and his use of the chiasmus. Anyway, Chiasmus is a literary structure commonly found in the Hebrew language where form and meaning are repeated with variation.

We conclude then that the Chronicler is much more than a scribe or popular re-writer of ancient texts. He spends a lot of time in "theological exegesis," undertaken according to the principle of allowing Scripture itself to interpret Scripture. "At the heart of this enterprise is a conviction that ‘the word of our God stands forever' (Is. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:25). The Word of God is both the subject which the author addresses and the method by which he addresses it." With all this as background, let's now proceed and look at some of the main elements of the Chronicler's message.

The Chronicler's Message — Covenant

Wilkinson does not mention the covenant relationship between God and his people in his book. That's really unfortunate because he fails to connect the dots of God's covenant of grace and the life of God's people. "According to Chronicles, the Davidic covenant is that element which most clearly expresses the meaning of Israel's continuing life as the people of God." This is a grave omission on Wilkinson's part. He eliminates the covenant character of the prayers given to us in Scripture, and therefore must end on the plane of the individual — which is precisely what he does. One of the glaring omissions in this little book by Wilkinson is the omission of covenant prayer or the covenant.

If Wilkinson had been more attuned to this key biblical concept he would have pointed out how frequently the covenant is associated with God's promises to David. "The primary feature of Chronicles' presentation of the Davidic covenant is that its very existence depends on God's promise. Everything hangs on what God purposes, says and does." A disclaimer is needed here. When we talk about "God's promise" or "God's promises" we're not talking about him giving us expanded territories or divine appointments. The emphasis in Scripture is on God's faithfulness and trustworthiness to bring about the promised salvation through Christ.

The Chronicler's Message -- Covenant Community

If our theology is off or skewed at one point, it will be off or skewed at other points as well. Since Wilkinson does not paint a picture of God's covenant relationship with his people, we should expect that he'd have little or nothing to say about what it means to live in a covenant community. Wilkinson does not disappoint us; he mentions nothing about it. I'm not surprised because Wilkinson's particular brand of theology does not spend much time on God's covenant with his people or on his people's lifestyle within the covenant.

As a consequence, we're left on the level of the individual. What were the practical implications of being bound to God in a covenant relationship? For the Chronicler it was a kind of theological optimism that brought fresh hope to God's people who were alive after the Exile. It was the reminder of the truth that God is always faithful and trustworthy regarding his word. It was the truth that God's covenant community has its values and morals shaped and molded by the community, and not that they embrace individualism. Truly, the covenant community was comprised of individuals, but their morals were "community based." This is pretty much the complete opposite of modern Christianity.

Interestingly, when you do take the time to read through the various genealogies — and that's no mean feat — you discover some very fascinating insights from the Chronicler. For example, if you read 1 Chronicles 2:1-9:1, you'll find out that the author was not only concerned with the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The Chronicler "goes out of his way to stress that the old divisions of north and south were really a consequence of a temporary judgment on Solomon's excesses, but that every opportunity should be taken to rebuild the whole community."

Of equal importance is the notion taught in Chronicles that the Israelites should seek God. This is one of the most crucial aspects of their covenant relationship with the Lord. Let me just give you a handful of illustrations of what I mean. There are a couple of occasions prior to David's death that come to mind. The first is found in 1 Chronicles 22:19. He says, "Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the Lord God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the Lord" (NIV). Even though this is not a prayer, it is certainly sound biblical advice that we ought to heed.

Another example is located in 1 Chronicles 28:8-9. Again David says, "So now I charge you in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever. And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever" (NIV). The last sentence in particular is powerful covenant language. God's covenant with man contains both blessings and curses. There are promises, and there are also obligations.

The theme of seeking God is found in the contrasting accounts of kings such as Rehoboam and Asa (2 Chr. 11:16; 12:14; 14:4,7; 20:4; 34:3). To fail to seek God was to become liable to his wrath (1 Chr. 10:13-14; 15:13; 2 Chr. 12:14; 25:15,20). On the other hand, however, seeking God's face was part of the process of restoration (2 Chr. 7:14.) This last text seems to point more in the direction of the primary emphases of the Chronicler than does the prayer of Jabez.

One of the reasons I say that is because it is clear from Chronicles that those who made it their custom to seek God as a way of life could expect God's blessing in various ways — even in unfavorable circumstances.

Martin Selman offers this explanation in his commentary: The benefits might include God being "with" his people (1 Chr. 22:11,16; 2 Chr. 15:2, 9; 17:3-4; 20:17); God's "help" or support (1 Chr. 15:26; 2 Chr. 14:11; 26:7,15); prosperity (1 Chr. 22:13; 2 Chr. 26:5); "healing," that is, spiritual and physical wholeness (2 Chr. 7:14; 30:20; cf. 2 Chr. 36:16); a large family (1 Chr. 26:5; 2 Chr. 13:21; 24:1-3); peace and rest (2 Chr. 14:7; 20:29-30; 23:21); and a recognition by foreigners of the reality of God's power (1 Chr. 17:17; 2 Chr. 20:29-30; 32:23). On the other hand, the fact that godly kings suffered serious trouble on several occasions (2 Chr. 14:9-11; 20-13; 32:1) indicates that faithfulness to God was no automatic assurance of success.

I'd like to make a couple of points here. In the first place, nowhere in the above list does the prayer of Jabez occur. Apparently, Selman did not find it appropriate to list it among the various blessings that accrue to believers for seeking God. Moreover, an important truth is conveyed to us that is missing from Wilkinson's book: In our modern striving to avoid pain and suffering at all costs, the Chronicler imparts an essential message to us — we may seek God and ask for his blessing, and yet suffer serious trouble on several occasions. God's blessing might include the exact opposite of what we expect, especially in our stock portfolio!

Two particular covenant blessings stand out in the book of Chronicles. The first is Israel's presence in the Promised Land. I don't have the time to go into a detailed explanation of the concept of the Land in Old Testament theology, but suffice it to say that: 1) it pointed to the heavenly realities; and 2) possession of the Land had to be obtained through God's help. This second point is aptly shown in Jabez' prayer. The second covenant blessing is God's presence with his people. All the blessings in the world are to no avail if God is not with his people. Moses' account of the glory of the Lord in Exodus 33:12-16 is instructive:

"Moses said to the Lord, ‘You have been telling me, "Lead these people," but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, "I know you by name and you have found favor with me." If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.' The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.' Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?'"

This is the essence of the matter and one of the prominent features of the Christian life. There is substantially more to be said for seeking God's presence and his spiritual blessings than there is in the mere recitation of a prayer or the expanding of a business.

The Chronicler's Message — The Covenant as Basis for Restoration

For those like Wilkinson who have little or no eye for the truth of the covenant of grace as God reveals it in Scripture, this notion of restoration based on the covenant makes little sense. Yet, it is important for us to note that Israel's unfaithfulness to God is one of the most repetitive themes of Chronicles and one of the main reasons for highlighting God's covenant with David. Wilkinson would have done us a great service by pointing this out in his book.

"Israel's failure is particularly expressed through two related Hebrew words ma‘al and ma‘aL, meaning ‘to act unfaithfully' and ‘unfaithfulness' respectively" (these words look the same transliterated, but the vowels are a little different in Hebrew). What we should not deduce here is that the Exile occurred because of the unfaithfulness of one or two individuals. Remember, the covenant community is a community. Martin Selman makes an interesting point regarding Israel's unfaithfulness in the following quotation. It is somewhat lengthy, but certainly worthy of our consideration.

"Unfaithfulness is clearly a key term in Chronicles. An attempt has been made to deduce its precise meaning from the Pentateuchal law concerning the guilt or reparation offering (Lv. 5:14-6:7) where it has the sense of depriving God of that which is his due. Its use in Chronicles, however, seems to correspond more closely with Leviticus 26:40 and to a lesser extent the book of Ezekiel, where the guilt is that of a whole community rather than that of an individual. The passage in Leviticus 26:40-45 is particularly significant in view of its influence in key passages in Chronicles such as 2 Chronicles 7:14 and 36:21. Ma‘al is also not restricted in Leviticus 26 to specific forms of sin, but refers more generally to acting sinfully against God. This is consistent with the Chronicler's use of it as a virtual synonym for the frequent expression "to forsake (God)" (Heb. ‘azab). Personal rejection of God is more important in Chronicles than simply failing to meet his requirements, and this emphasis is confirmed by the use of ma‘al in the context of marital infidelity (Nu. 5:12, 27)."

The Chronicler has a kind of unique approach to Israel's life. When you take the time carefully to read and study his books, you find that a strong link exists between obedience and blessing, and between disobedience and judgment in the lifetime of individuals. I mention this because it is so crucial for modern Christianity. Christians today long for God's blessings, but are often not willing to follow the path of obedience that leads to those blessings.

Some neglect the worship services for a wide variety of reasons and excuses, but the bottom line is that to neglect them is against the Word of God (cf. Heb. 10:25). Christians somehow seem to think that they can engage in extra-marital (cyber) sex and that God will continue to bless them. Young people (and older ones as well) apparently believe that living together (shacking up) will not be an impediment to God's blessings in their lives. Christian businessmen sometimes operate their businesses according to the ethics of raw pagans but expect God's blessings simply because they are Christians. Unfortunately, this is often what the phrase "Christian businessman" means.

There is a great deal of talk in Wilkinson's book about God's blessing, and that's a good thing. There are sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that explain how we can come to expect God's blessings when we pray this prayer of Jabez. What's missing is the correlation between obedience and blessing that is such a strong theme with the Chronicler. Does God bless his children? Absolutely. Does he bless his children richly and often? Yes, he does. Does he also expect obedience to him and his Word? You bet he does! It's a simple spiritual lesson. Obedience is part of Christian character that is not attended by fireworks and "the spectacular" according to the thought processes of man. It is that part of the Christian life that is often attended by struggle and failure. Obedience does not attract crowds or motivate many.

Nevertheless, the combination of obedience and blessing runs like a golden thread through the fabric of the Chronicler's books. When Wilkinson suggests that Christian businessmen can and should pray for the Lord to expand their stock portfolios and their businesses, he would have done better to have added the concomitant aspect of obedience to the Word of God while you're praying and waiting for God to bless you.

The Chronicler's Message — David and Solomon

The Chronicler has been described "as a person interacting with texts, or in other words he has produced a work of interpretation or exegesis." Though it's true that the books of Samuel and Kings provide the "framework" for the main historical section of the Chronicler's books (1 Chr. 10-2; Chr. 36), the author ranges much more widely over what we now call the Old Testament. The beginning and end of the work provide a good example of this. Chronicles starts with Adam, mentioned in the first book of the Old Testament (1 Chr. 1:1; cf. Gen. 2:20; 5:1) and ends with the edict of Cyrus in Ezra-Nehemiah, a book dating approximately to the Chronicler's own time (2 Chr. 36:22-23; cf. Ezr. 1:1-3).

This being the case, we should pay particular attention to those texts or people that occupy prominent positions in the Chronicler's books. When we do this, two figures loom large in the Chronicler's mind: David and Solomon. Recent Old Testament studies have concluded that David and Solomon are presented to us as a single unit. Selman is not overstating the case when he says, "Indeed, it is precisely in the combined account of David and Solomon that the main thrust of the entire work is to be found."

Central to the Chronicler's purposes is God's covenant with David (see 1 Chr. 7:3-14). This is a key concept for it is an essential factor in God's covenant of grace and is bound to the Abrahamic and Mosaic administrations of the covenant. In the Davidic administration God promised that he would build an eternal house or dynasty for David and that one of David's offspring would build a house or temple for God.

This leads us to understand why Solomon and David are to be taken together in the Chronicler's mind. We are reminded of God's word to Solomon in response to his prayer at the dedication of the temple (see 2 Chr. 7:11-22). What are we to take from this "single unit" approach? In terms of the remnant of Jews returning from exile, these two figures point to the nature of God's faithful and trustworthy promise, namely that he is always ready to forgive and to restore his people.

What is more, the centrality of God's covenant with David finds its finest expression in our Lord Jesus Christ who descended from David. The Prayer of Jabez is totally void of these crucial and necessary concepts for the Christian life. Like obedience, the centrality of the covenant administration to the returning exiles is omitted from Wilkinson's book. That's a serious omission! In fact, it's not going too far to say that omitting this in lieu of the rote repetition of Jabez' obscure prayer undermines the Chronicler's intentions. Admittedly, it's very difficult to give a precise context to Jabez' prayer because of its obscurity, but to have omitted the notion of the covenant from the book greatly takes away from its impact.

Surprisingly, however, Wilkinson's book has had an enormous impact. There are various reasons for that, and we'll look at a few in the last section. Without being overly pessimistic I'm going to suggest that the very reason for its success is that it omits so many key biblical doctrines. Ours is a time when the word "doctrine" is anathema. Christians today don't want to hear about "doctrine" or "sound teaching," even though the Bible refers to their importance regularly. Ours is an age of "easy believism" and cheap grace. Ours is a Christian society that prides itself on knowing little or nothing other than John 3:16.

I'm reminded of the words of the Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship. Apart from being an interesting Christian, Bonhoeffer has some provocative things in this book. This is going to be a fairly lengthy quote, but it's worth your time and attention:

"Let the Christian rest content with his worldliness and with this renunciation of any higher standard than the world. He is doing it for the sake of the world rather than for the sake of grace. Let him be comforted and rest assured in his possession of this grace — for grace alone does everything. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sins departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

"Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

"Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must the asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

"Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."5

Our modern day Christianity has come to expect popular books to be "pabulum." Popular is synonymous with easy, requiring nothing (especially, God forbid, thinking!), anti-intellectual, consummately entertaining, and avoiding all types of controversial concepts. My mentor, R.C. Sproul, writes popular books all the time. And yet when I read one of Sproul's books, I come away with a greater understanding of and appreciation for God. Sproul's books will stretch you, but you'll be better for it. His is the kind of popular book I never hesitate to recommend. I know that what Sproul wants for all Christians is not expanded portfolios, but a deeper knowledge of our sovereign God and his Word of truth.

Comments and Criticisms

I think the best way to handle this part is by means of a series of questions and answers. I'll base what I say on interaction I've had with various Christians who have both benefited from the book and who have raised questions about it. The early church community used questions and answers as a good form of instruction, so I'll take a page out of history and try their method.

May I pray this prayer? Well, of course you may. It's a prayer found in Scripture, and it's valid for Christians to pray it. We may pray the prayers that are recorded in Scripture.

But I'm not commanded to pray this prayer? This is true. We are commanded to prayer the Lord's Prayer, but not this one. But that shouldn't be a hindrance. There are many prayers in the Bible that we are not commanded to pray that we pray frequently. We're not commanded to pray the Psalms, but Christians throughout the centuries have found great comfort in reading and praying them. We're not commanded to pray the prayer of Daniel in Daniel 9, but it's a most beautiful prayer and worthy of our reading and praying. In short, whatever is biblical we may pray.

Do you think this book is a "name it and claim it" piece? Even though the author reminds us that that is not his intention, the idea does seem to come across fairly frequently. I certainly found myself asking that question over and over again. From time to time I also felt that Wilkinson was leaning in the direction of the "gospel of health and wealth."

When he encouraged businessmen to pray that their stock portfolio might be enlarged, I got more than a little antsy. Maybe that's just my problem, but in my experience many "high-rolling" businessmen are not as ethical as they should be — and I'm talking now about Christian businessmen. All too often they cross the line and engage in business transactions and "deals" that are at best shady and at worst felonies. What keeps them out of jail is that they don't get caught. As a pastor I firmly believe that the book would have been on more solid footing if the author had suggested that those businessmen spend more time reading and applying God's Word in their lives and in those of their families. There's just something about sinful-though-redeemed human nature that does not lend itself to asking for "more." There's this sin called greed that's always crouching at the door.

What about the suggestion to repeat this prayer every day? I take great exception to that suggestion. What I found is that the prayer becomes some kind of magical mantra or incantation. It smacks of forcing God's hand through the mere recitation of this prayer. I cannot think of any prayer that God tells us to recite every day. Obviously, it is to our spiritual benefit to pray and to pray often and to pray with fervency. But when someone attempts to impose an extra-biblical requirement on us, that's cause for concern. I've already voiced my displeasure with Wilkinson's point that we re-read his book weekly for a month. I believe that it's audacious to suggest that and — in my opinion — the book is not worthy of one re-read.

You see, one of the problems is the very fact that we like praying for blessing and success. And there's nothing inherently wrong with asking God to bless us spiritually. In fact, we should probably do that a lot more. We need to be very careful, however, that we rightly understand when it is that God's truly blessing us. For example, what if we pray for God's blessing and he sends some hardship our way? Should we see that as his blessing? I would argue that a very good spiritual case can be made for viewing trying times as great spiritual blessings from God. That idea is not presented in the book, however.

In addition, times of great "success" and wealth can be times when we're in Pilgrim's Regress. When you stop and think about the so-called "Golden Age" of Israel, that was the time prior to the Exile. It was a time when Israel was rife with idolatry and when the Israelites chased after foreign gods. They went through the "externals" of Judaism, but forgot that true worship of the Lord was from the heart. They had lots of money in the bank, they were having lots of fun, and life was good — at least they thought it was. They were God's chosen people! What could happen to them? They didn't reckon on living biblically holy lives, and as a consequence eventually both the northern and southern kingdoms were carried away into exile in Assyria and Babylonia respectively.

We must be very careful when we ask God to bless us. Certainly he can bless us without adding to our stock portfolio or giving us a better job. He can bless us by not giving us more business or allowing us to engage in all types of expansion deals that will substantially increase our revenues. He can bless us by taking all that "stuff" away from us. This is an essential spiritual insight that is not explained in the book. The Lord can give us "divine appointments" without allowing us to see anyone come to faith. We can hold Vacation Bible Schools and have less than 100, 50, 25, or 10 pupils and still be "successful." God does not measure success by numbers, but by obedience and faithfulness to him and his way.

Would you recommend this book to others? Definitely not. It's not because there are no truths in the book. There are, but you have to search for them. There are many other books I would recommend for Christians before I would even think of considering this book. I find the book poorly researched, as I have already said. I'm certain that Christians have read this book and have received a lot of help from it, and I'm glad for that. I'm always pleased when God's people receive spiritual help and insight from a servant of the Lord, and I truly believe Bruce Wilkinson is such a person.

In terms of the standard rules of interpretation, however, I believe Wilkinson has made some "quantum leaps" and, at times, has somewhat forced the text to say and mean what he wants it to say and mean. To have taken such an obscure prayer and developed a whole theology around it would have, I think, required a lot more explanation regarding the "grammatico-historical" context of the prayer itself. Since this is totally lacking, it appears that Wilkinson — like so many other scholars — doesn't know why this pray was inserted where it was, or simply doesn't think it's important to know. There is too much in the book that is just "slipshod work."

Isn't the fact that the book is so popular a sign that it's good? Well, that might be the case for others, but it certainly is not the case for me. The popularity of any given book, movie, television program, or music group is not necessarily a sign of its goodness. Moreover, Christians and Christianity are so lacking in biblical discernment that it doesn't surprise me that modern Christians think the book is great. We're living in a day and age of almost unprecedented ignorance of the Word of God. Christians no longer know the basics about the Bible and biblical interpretation. Our age is one where Christians look at each other and say, "Well, that's your interpretation." What they mean by that, as often as not, is, "You have your interpretation and I have mine, and we can both be right." This is insinuated even when the two interpretations are blatantly contradictory.

One of the reasons this happens is that Christians are ignorant of the Word of God. Another reason is that Christians are ignorant of solid principles of interpretation. When you combine those two, you have a recipe for the Dark Ages. Think about this for a moment. If God's people have only a casual or cursory acquaintance with God's Word, then you can tell them practically anything you want. That's precisely what happened during the Middle Ages and precipitated the Reformation. Consider that Hal Lindsey wrote several popular books about the end times. The books contain almost as many errors as words, but they have sold millions of copies and Christians "swear" by them still today. This is a sign of our times.

Would you say that Bruce Wilkinson is a heretic? Absolutely not! I've already stated that I believe Bruce Wilkinson is a brother in the Lord. I make distinctions among people with doubts, people who are in error, and people who are heretics. A heretic teaches doctrines condemned by the Bible and by the Church of Jesus Christ. There's nothing in Wilkinson's book that's heretical at all. I merely believe that he did injustice to the text, and then elevated this relatively obscure text to a place of prominence it should not have. I also believe he made egregious errors in suggesting his 6-step program to reciting this prayer.

In short, Wilkinson grossly overdid it and "underdid" it.

1 Originally Chronicles was one book, but its length required two scrolls to record it. Our modern books 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles correspond to these two scrolls.

2 Keil, C.F., and F. Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 3: 1 and 2 Kings; 1 and 2 Chronicles. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996, p. 427.

3 Ibid.

4 Op cit., p. 428.

5 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1963, pp. 48-49.