Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, "I gave birth to him in pain." 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. I Chronicles 4:9-10
1. Lessons from the Context
The two verses that describe the story of Jabez are made up of lineage, family lines, ancestors, descendants, fathers, sons, tribes and clans. This short story is found in the fourth chapter of such statistical and rather mundane records. Chapter four of Chronicles is followed by five more similar chapters. We learn about tribes, clans and families. This suggests regularity to me. These families were a part of blessed Israel to be sure, but nothing in those chapters indicates anything special or significant about the personalities included. They were there. Their names were recorded. They were present. They had children who had children.
You and I, who try to press into the blessings and knowledge of God and the things of God, may be somewhat like Jabez in that some of us too are preceded by regular people who did not have a story about what they did for God. They married and had children and eventually you were born. We do not know their stories about how close they were to God, if close at all. How well did they know God, how sincerely did they seek God, and to what degree was God able to use them are all someone else's story. But in the middle of nine chapters of chronology we have a two-verse story of a man who was different from those before and behind him. I suspect that quite possibly his contemporaries also include a number of regular people who did not distinguish themselves by seeking God more than their neighbors. "Jabez was more honorable than his brothers." The fact that Jabez is recorded with some information about how he sought the Lord and no one else in his generation receives such comments indicates to me that Jabez stood out not only in the linage of people before and after him, but also was unique in his own generation. No matter that he was preceded, followed and surrounded by folks who did not make a point to seek the Lord, Jabez did. Jabez did!
What about you? Will you follow Jabez' example? We may have the advantage of finding others in our generation who seek the Lord as we do, and I hope you have found a good supply of them for they can be a great blessing, but even if you cannot, you yourself can follow Jabez' example and seek the Lord.
The world is filled with regular, normal people. Deep in our spirits we do not want to be content to be like them. You and I want to be like Jabez. Pressing in, pursuing, seeking, praying, listening, reading, studying, searching and discovering. I want to be intentional about all of this like Jabez was and I hope and believe that you do too.
2. Lessons from Jabez' name
The footnote in First Chronicles says that Jabez sounds like the Hebrew word for pain.
Every mother gives birth to her children in pain. It is a reminder of Eve's sin. Sadly, it is a part of the God-ordained life cycle. Perhaps it helps us appreciate children more since there is a price to pay to receive them into the world. Great joy follows the pain of childbirth, but pain is still pain. I was by Char's side when each of our two sons were born. I saw her in pain. I wanted to relieve it if I could. But mothers do not usually name their child by a word that sounds like pain. What about Jabez' mother's experience caused her to give such a name to her son? We don't know; we only know that his name sounds like the Hebrew word for pain and that is the way Jabez' mother wanted it.
I would like to use this aspect of Jabez' story to observe the difference between a process, which may be difficult, and the result which may be glorious. Many parents for many generations have named their children with an eye toward the result of the pain, the new child, rather than the pain experienced in birthing the child. They all experienced pain, but they all did not focus on that aspect; they, rather, named the child something joyful, positive, filled with expectations such as Joy, Victor, Sophia (meaning wisdom) or Grace. As we live and travel in the non-western part of the world, we meet many people whose parents named them other fine names that are not traditionally used as names in the Western world. We know people whose name means Praise and Blessing. My grandmother named her second son "Welcome" because she had not had children for a number of years after my father was born. This discussion can give us an occasion to ask ourselves the question: Am I looking at the positive aspect of my experience or am I focusing too much on the pain and difficulty of the process? I don't like to fast, but I really like the results. I discipline myself to get up early in the morning, exercise, pray, read the Bible help with the chores in the house because I like the results. Delayed gratification is a mark of maturity and overlooking the difficulty with the process God is using to develop us while focusing of the good result we expect is certainly similar.
This principle is built into life processes. Embrace the process, endure the suffering, keep an eye on the anticipated joyful results. That is the power of hope. We do not know what happened to the hope that Jabez' mother failed to demonstrate, but we can learn a lesson from her failure, if it was a failure. Yes, we will experience the suffering, but joy comes in the morning. "Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." Romans 8:18 & 19. Perchance Jabez' mother had a unique or particular reason or more pain than usual, but the point still can be made. She named him Jabez because that was her focus.
3. Lessons from what Jabez did
"Jabez cried out to the God of Israel." Two things in this short sentence are worthy of note. The first one is that Jabez was intense. He "cried out." It is fair for us to distinguish between praying and crying out. The former suggests petition, request, seeking, knocking, asking and petitioning, but the second one stresses intensity, emotion, strong desire, zeal, force and putting one's heart into the matter. Volume is not the issue; intensity is. I want to resist being too casual in prayer. We know that God hears us and there is some merit to think of prayer as conversation with God, but if that is all I do when I pray, I may live beneath my privileges and experience less of God or fewer of His blessings and answers than if I increase my intensity. I don't want my intensity to indicate a lack of faith, rather I want it be be the expression of confidence as I know what God wants me to pray and praying it as though I knew that it made a difference whether I cried out when I prayed or didn't.
The second thing is this sentence that merits our attention is the One to whom Jabez cried out. It was "the God of Israel." Before Israel was named Israel, his name was Jacob. When Jacob wrestled with the angel at Peniel he wrestled, and as a result of his name change God became the God of Israel. By the time Jabez lived, the God of Israel had a reputation for being mighty, powerful and able to deliver. All the miracles throughout the lives of Moses, Joshua and Gideon had already occurred. We know that the stories of David and the years after David had not yet occurred. Jabez' name appears four chapters earlier than Saul's name and story. Yet, the God of Israel had already shown Himself strong in behalf of the descendants of Israel. Jabez called out to the God of Israel, not a weak God, not a foreign God, not a Gentile god, but to the God of Israel. You and I know even more about the God of Israel than Jabez did. We know more stories that reveal His wisdom and power. All the recorded miracles from Saul's day on followed Jabez' time. We know the God of Israel from a much broader perspective. You and I can cry out to the God of Israel whom we know through our knowledge of all Scripture before and after Jebez. Let us learn to cry out to Him. Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. It is honorable to cry out to the God of Israel.
4. Oh that you would bless me
Jabez joined a host of Bible and historical Christian persons who valued the blessings of God. Jacob comes to mind who wrestled with the angel and said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." (Genesis 32:26) When we value the kingdom of God, the blessings of God and the additions to our lives that God alone can give us, we are like the person in Jesus' parable who sold everything and bought the whole field in order to obtain the pearl he had found in the field. (Matthew 13:34) Jabez' life is characterized by his desire for God's blessings. He may have desired other things too, but they did not characterize his life. In the middle of chapters of genealogical records and one whole chapter dealing with the genealogy of the tribe of Judah, Jabez stands out as one who valued God's blessing. So he prayed for them.
5. Enlarge my territory
Jabez lived in an agrarian society. More territory in such a context meant more crops, more grazing fields, greater possessions, and if he was like Job, it meant greater opportunity to serve others and the chance to have greater influence. Would Jabez have asked God for blessings and territory if he only wanted to spend it on himself? Is it possible that the fact that Jabez sought the God of Israel for His blessings, that that request and the One to Whom the request was made, is a hint to us that Jabez would also want to do with his increased blessings and territory something that would honor the God of Israel—the God to Whom Jabez prayed? After having prayed to the God of Israel, he would have had an obligation to the One who answered his prayer.
6. Let your hand be with me
We have all heard of God's hand being on someone or His hand being against someone, but let us consider the meaning of what it would be to have God's hand with us. Is this available to believers today?
Yes. The Holy Spirit, the "Paraclet," is called along side to help us. He is called the Comforter. He is the Helper. Paraclete first appears in the gospels. Here is the context of the passage in John 14:15-17 "If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The favor for which Jabez prayed is available to every believer. The Holy Spirit is in the world and with us to help us.
7. Keep me from harm
Many of the great deliverances recorded in the Bible were rescue operations. God's people collectively, or an individual singularly got into trouble and God helped them out. We do not deny the value of being delivered from trouble. In fact it seems that most of the great acts of God for His own in the Bible are acts of deliverance. Bible characters got into trouble and needed deliverance. We get in trouble and we need help getting our feet out of the net. And God surely does deliver. When we are in trouble, that is what we need—deliverance. But Jabez was not in trouble himself.
Jabez prayed that he would be kept from harm. Just as divine health is superior to divine healing, so to avoid or escape from trouble is superior to deliverance when deliverance is needed. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. It is good to be delivered from trouble when we have trouble, but wouldn't it be, couldn't it be that to not have trouble in the first place would be even better? Jabez seems to understand this. He asks for blessing, increased territory, and the hand of the Lord to be with him. None of these requests of Jabez hint of a need for a rescue operation of deliverances in the usual sense of the word. Jabez seems to be a cut above, and able to think and pray at a higher level than the thinking of most people. If he is kept from harm he would be able to devote his attention, efforts, and creative energy to doing positive things—not just escaping from trouble. So with us. Let's join Jabez.
8. So I will be free from pain
Jesus said that the disciple is not above his master. Jesus had trouble in the world and we will too. So why would it be right to make this kind of request to God? God allows adversity in order to develop us. He knows that suffering can have a good result. I find it hard to reconcile this part of Jabez' prayer with the numerous references in the Bible to suffering. What could Jabez have meant? And perhaps even more to the point, why would God grant this request as we shall see the record states after the end of Jabez' prayer?
The Bible interpreters the Bible. What justification can we find in Scripture for Jabez to pray to be free from pain? 1. Perhaps Jabez wanted to escape the stigma of the name his mother gave him. 2. Perhaps his life, free from pain, would be a unique testimony to the power of God to protect His own when He wanted to. 3. God wanted Jabez to be free to become more productive than he would have been had he been preoccupied with problem-solving. 4. Jabez was a weak person and God, who will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can endure, simply gave Jabez an easy road because He knew that Jabez needed that. 5. Some other reason that God had. God knew the situation better than we do. If I knew what God knows I would do what God does.
At any rate and for whatever reason we are able to conclude this lesson with this glorious ending.
9. God granted his request
We can debate the correctness or inappropriate aspects of Jabez' prayer all we want, but such discussions will seem shallow, trite, and meaningless in view of this one grand final statement at the end of the brief, two-verse story of Jabez. "God granted his request." We do not know why at times God does not answer our prayers. This time, we may not fully understand why God did answer these rather idealistic prayers. Who would not want blessings, more territory, God's hand with them, to be protected from harm so that one could be free from pain? The answer to both sides of the question lies in the sovereignty, dignity, choice and wisdom of God. Why is the road some of us travel so difficult? Why is the path of others apparently so pleasant? God knows. God does not owe us an explanation in these cases.
Peter asked Jesus about what would happen to John. "Lord what about him?" (John 22:21) Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." (John 22:22) Why did God grant Jabez all these wonderful requests? That is not to be my concern. My concern is for me to follow. Let God show me how to pray here, now, in my situation, with my abilities and deficiencies. I am glad for the story of Jabez, but I must seek God to find what my story will be. Each of us are different and the way God works in and through every one of us will be different too.