Tucked away in a neglected book of the Bible are three references to a man named Jabez — who lived some time before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Just two verses, in a chapter full of names, record all that is known about Jabez, but what we are told is both interesting and instructive. The verses, in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, were probably written by Ezra the scribe.
The circumstances of Jabez’s birth explain his name: ‘His mother had named him Jabez, saying “I gave birth to him in pain”’ (v.9). Scholars say that ‘Jabez’ sounds like the Hebrew word for pain. Jabez may sound a depressing name for a newborn son but it expressed his mother’s gratitude to God for a safe delivery.
His birth, though painful, was successful because of God’s goodness to mother and child. She had proved that God hears and comforts those who cry to him for help in time of trouble. We also have free access to ‘the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort’ (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Perhaps his name reminded Jabez to love and respect his mother who brought him into the world in pain — pain that turned to praise as she saw her son’s love for God and longing to serve him.
One word sums up Jabez — honourable. We read that ‘Jabez was more honourable than his brothers’. What does ‘honourable’ mean? It means that Jabez was highly respected for his moral conduct. His faith in God was more than talk; it was expressed by godly living.
Apparently Jabez was like Job — ‘blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil’ (Job 1:1). The apostle Paul calls Christians to ‘become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation’ (Philippians 1:15).
The words ‘blameless and pure’ do not indicate sinlessness, for such a condition is unachievable on earth. Rather, they imply sincerity in our profession of Christ as Saviour and Lord.
Jabez was also a man of prayer. ‘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’’.’
Note the intensity of his prayer: ‘Jabez cried out’ and exclaimed, ‘Oh’. Observe also the direction of his prayer — he prayed to ‘the God of Israel’, identifying himself with the holy God of his forefathers, in an age of depravity and idolatry.
When he prayed, ‘bless me’, was Jabez thinking of Jacob wrestling with God? Jacob had cried, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’ (Genesis 32:22-32).
But perhaps Jabez’s request for blessing looks back even further to God’s promise to Abraham: ‘I will make your name great, and will make you a blessing … I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies’ (Genesis 12:2; 22:17).
As a godly Jew, Jabez yearned for the fulfilment of these ancient promises and therefore prayed, ‘Enlarge my territory!’ Is this a selfish prayer for a larger plot of land? Not at all, though some take it that way.
It is rather a petition that God’s people would possess all the land he had given them — and that once in possession of that land they would know the presence and power of God. To pray, ‘Enlarge my territory’, implied a willingness to obey God’s command to drive out the Canaanites. Prayer without obedience is pretence.
We too should cite God’s promises when we pray for God to enlarge the territory of the church through the conversion of sinners. We recall promises such as Psalm 126:5-6 and Galatians 6:9-10. However, we must remember that these promises demand evangelistic activity.
Facing duty makes the believer conscience of weakness and aware of danger. Hence Jabez prays, ‘Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain’.
‘Keep me from harm’ is echoed in Matthew 6:13 — ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one’. To pray for freedom from pain means that Jabez did not want to hurt others as he had caused pain to his mother at his birth. Do we desire the physical and spiritual well-being of others?
God hears prayer
Jabez’s cameo ends with God hearing his heart-felt prayer: ‘And God granted his request’. God delights to hear prayer, and Jabez illustrates James 5:16, ‘The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective’.
Andrew Stewart, in his Welwyn commentary on 1 Chronicles, A family tree, suggests that Jabez may have suffered some physical deformity because of his painful birth, hence his prayer, ‘that I will be free from pain’. Whatever his physical appearance, he displayed the beauty of God’s grace in his life — do we?