Let’s turn to perhaps the least read section of the Bible, the first third of the book of I Chronicles. I Chronicles begins with 9 chapters that are pretty much lists of names, hundreds of names, most of which you don’t even know how to pronounce. They make up the official Old Testament family tree. It traces the lineages of the Israelite tribes from Adam in the beginning to about the end of OT history, to the time when the people of Judah returned from Babylonian captivity.
We’re not going to see how long we can stay awake while reading these genealogies. Rather I’d like us to look at just 2 verses that really intrigued me as I was reading through this section last week, because it was on the daily Bible reading schedule. Well, okay, I was skimming somewhat. I confess. But embedded in the midst of the lists of names are these couple of verses that tell us a little story about a certain man that we don’t read of anywhere else in Scripture. It’s like the author of Chronicles in listing the names in the genealogies got to this guy and thought, “I bet you don’t know what I know about this guy. And it’s something really remarkable that would be really helpful for you to know. So let me pause here for a sec in the genealogy and tell you something about this fella.” Let’s read it. It’s I Chronicles 4:9-10. After saying “The sons of so-and-so were so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so. And the sons of so-and-so were so-and-so and so-and-so…,” all of the sudden he says this. “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, “Because I bore him with pain.” Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm [or it could be “keep me from evil”] that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested.” The author just all the sudden digresses to comment on the character of this man Jabez and the name his mother gave him, tells of a prayer he prayed and reports that God granted his prayer. And then he picks right back up with the genealogies. “So-and-so became the father of so-and-so who became the father of so-and-so…” Why the digression? What did he want his readers to see here from Jabez? What can we learn from this little nugget of holy writ?
Let’s take it bit by bit. It says…
“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers…”
You know, it’s not the prayers of just anybody that will move the God of heaven and earth to action, but the prayers of the honorable often do, the prayers of those with godly character.
There’s a portion of Psalm 34 that is quoted in I Peter 3 that says, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” In other words God will be attentive and responsive to your prayers if you are attentive and responsive to His word. If you’re listening to Him in your life, then He’ll be listening to you.
But Proverbs 28:9 says, “He who turns away his ear from listening to the Law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Proverbs 15:29, “The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous.”
So know first of all that this man was honorable, he was a man who walked in the ways of the Lord. Then we’re told…
“His mother named him Jabez saying, ‘Because I bore him with pain.'”
The name Jabez in the Hebrew means something like pain or sorrow or grief. That’d be a tough thing to be labeled with all your life, wouldn’t it? Can you imagine the first day of school, the teacher asks, “What’s your name, son?” “Pain.” Immediately she’d think, “O great you’re going to be the thorn in my side this year.” His own mother named him “Pain”!
It was because of the pain that accompanied his birth. Maybe she had an extremely difficult pregnancy or delivery, or perhaps while she was bearing him her husband died or some other tragedy occurred in her life. We’re not told the cause of her grief around his birth.
But not a very promising start to a life. And maybe because of how he came into this world and the name he was given some thought he was probably cursed. Maybe they expected him to end up being just a pain to others or experiencing a lot of pain himself. But this man Jabez did something that resulted in his life actually turning out to be a contradiction to his name. He did something that resulted in him actually being a blessing to others and blessed himself, rather than a pain and pained.
Maybe you’ve had a rough start to life. Maybe you were brought up in a lot of pain or you were a major pain. Maybe you feel like the deck is stacked against you. Maybe you feel like your name is another word for pain or trouble. But God can turn that around. Decide first of all that you’re going to be honorable. Decide to be on God’s honor roll. That is within reach of every single person in this room, regardless of your IQ or the environment your grew up in your or the rough start you had in life. Not one of us has to be dishonorable or even ordinary. Every one of us can be honorable in character. Do you remember from Deuteronomy when Moses got through recounting to the Israelites the Law that God had given them and trying to impress in their hearts how absolutely crucial it is that they obeying God in their lives, then he said, Deuteronomy 30:11, “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach.” We can keep our tongues from evil and our lips from speaking deceit. We can turn away from evil and do good. We can seek peace and pursue. We can control our tempers and passions. We can let go of the grudges and bitterness. We can forgive and be gentle and patient. We can walk in the ways of the Lord. He’s willing to help us and He can “do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20).
But besides just choosing to live honorably, what else did Jabez do? Well, it says…
“Jabez called on the God of Israel”
He’d heard of the God that brought Israel out of Egypt with the mighty plagues and the parting of the sea and sustained them in the dry wilderness and then drove out before them the inhabitants of Canaan and gave them that land. He believed that God is God in heaven above and the earth below. And he believed that God is alive and powerful as He’s ever been and that He watches and listens and cares about even “pains” like him. And so he prayed to the God of Israel. And it made a huge difference in his life.
James 4:2 says “You do not have because you do not ask.” Apparently, sometimes having something depends on us asking. We may be forfeiting blessings that could be ours by not asking. James 5:16 says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” If you’re a righteous person, an honorable person, trying to do the will of God in your life, it matters big time if you pray or not. It can accomplish much.
What did he pray for? First of all…
“Oh that You would bless me indeed“
I think that’s the summary request. The others are sub points under that one.
Some people are very critical of Jabez’s prayer here. They say it’s a selfish prayer. “Oh that You would bless me indeed…” And they say we shouldn’t pray selfish prayers like that. They might point to James 4:3 which right after the statement, “You do not have because you do not ask,” says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
Well, I mulled on that this week. Should we be critical of Jabez’s prayer? The Scripture here is not. Rather it seems to commend his prayer saying that “God granted him what he requested.”
Is it wrong to want blessings and to be blessed? Is it wrong to want joy and peace and glory and eternal life and happiness? How could you not want that? I can’t think of anybody, even in the Bible, that did not want to be blessed. Even Jesus wanted to be blessed. Hebrews 12:2 says that “for the joy set before Him He endured the cross.” Jesus looked forward to and desired the glory and joy that would be His after He endured the cross. He wanted that blessedness. It’s not wrong. In fact it’s God intended, I think, that we want to be blessed.
Well, is it right to ask God to bless us, to do things that benefit us? Well, Jesus taught us to pray, didn’t He, “Give us [not just them, us, including me] this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Those are requests that benefit self, aren’t they? Romans 15:30 Paul wrote, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.” Paul said, “Pray for me, for my rescue from those persecuting me and for my protection and safety and success in my endeavors.” Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” We are to ask God to take care of whatever matters we may be anxious about. So apparently it is not necessarily wrong to ask things for yourself. It seems that God even welcomes requests from His children for blessings and to be blessed.
So what is James 4:3 speaking against? Let’s listen to it again carefully. James 4:3, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it [or consume it] on your pleasures.” James 4:3 is not saying you shouldn’t ask anything for yourself. Rather it is saying you should not be so self-centered that you will spend whatever it is you’re asking for just on your own personal pleasure, rather than use it for the glory of God and the benefit of souls. When Paul asked for rescue from his persecutors and safety and protection and success in his endeavors, was his motive that he might just sit back on a beach with a glass of lemonade and just be as comfortable as possible? You know that wasn’t Paul’s motive. Paul wanted to be blessed in those ways, not just for himself, but that He might do more in this world for the spread of the gospel and the edification of God’s people.
So I think it is perfectly legitimate to ask things for yourself in prayer when you intend to be a faithful steward of those blessings and use them for the glory of God and the furthering of His kingdom.
Jabez was an honorable man. So I think he wanted God to bless him, not just so that he might be blessed, but also that he might be able to be more of a blessing to others. It’s very interesting that in the Hebrew in I Chronicles 4:10 this prayer is actually in the form of a vow or a deal that Jabez is offering to God. The first word of his prayer, that my version translates “Oh that”, is a word that usually introduces a condition and is usually transalated “if”. So this could be translated, “If you will bless me and do this and this for me…” “God, if you do this for me…” and then it leaves it off at that and doesn’t tell you what Jabez promised to do for God in return. But that makes it appear that Jabez intended to use these blessings from God to do something for God in return. I think of Hannah’s prayer in I Samuel 1. “Lord, if you will bless me with a son, I will give him to you for all of his life.” Likely Jabez made some sort of deal like that with God when he made these requests.
Look at the next request in his prayer.
“Enlarge my border”
He wanted more land, more property, more territory. That sounds to me like asking that God might grow your business, or that God might give you a higher position in society, or that God might give you bigger barns full of more produce. (You know about the guy that wanted bigger barns? Read Luke 12 if you don’t.) Is it wrong to want or ask for bigger barns? If your intention with it is just that you might take your ease, eat, drink and be merry, then yes. It’s wrong if you’re just going to spend it on your own personal pleasure. But if your intention is that you might able to do more for the Lord, take care of more people, influence more people for Him, then I think it’s a good prayer.
There is an ancient Jewish Rabbinic tradition about this man Jabez. They said that he was a famous expert in the Law, a great scribe and teacher of God’s word, and that he basically started his own scribal school, a Bible college sort of operation. That was either an oral tradition that was handed on down to them through the centuries. Or they came up with that theory from I Chronicles 2:55, which says, “The families of scribes who lived at Jabez were the Tirathites, the Shimeathites and the Sucathites.” So there came to be this town called Jabez. Quite likely it was named after the man Jabez. Some scholars think that the little paragraph that we’re studying in chapter 4 about Jabez was actually put there by the author of Chronicles as a comment on this town called Jabez mentioned in 2:55. In other words the author may have intended us to understand 4:9-10 as the background for 2:55, that there was this man named Jabez by his mother because of the pain in which she bore him, and he grew up to be an honorable man, and he asked of God to be blessed and for more territory, and God granted his request, and he came to have his own town, and he used it for God’s glory. Did you notice who lived in this town of Jabez? “The families of scribes.” Scribes were considered the guardians of the Scriptures. They were dedicated to copying and preserving the Scriptures and studying them and teaching them accurately to people. They were the Bible scholars. Ezra is great example of one. Ezra 7:7 says “Ezra was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses.” And Ezra 7:10 says, “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” And it’s interesting that Ezra quite possibly was the author of I and II Chronicles. Jabez may have been one of the first scribes. And he wanted enlarged borders that he might be able to do more and influence more people for God. And so when God gave him a town, it became a center of Biblical scholarship and teaching.
I think we should pray for more territory, for more resources, for more talent, for more skill, for more education, for more position, for more audience, for more ability, more influence, more opportunity that we might use it for Him. All that stuff is dangerous though, you know, because the more God gives us the easier it is to become prideful, to think too highly of ourselves. And the more God entrusts to us the more responsibility we have. So if God doesn’t give us more it may be because He knows it would inflate our heads or we wouldn’t handle it well, that it’d be bad for us. I’m not going to give my kids knives and B-B guns and power tools until they’re mature enough to handle them. But if we are being faithful with what we already have and our hearts are ready for more, it won’t inflate our heads and we will use it for His glory and the salvation of souls, then I suspect that God will likely grant that request.
The next request of his prayer…
“That Your hand might be with me”
God’s hand is figurative for His empowering, guiding, protecting, helping, supportive presence. Jabez knew that to be successful in the things he set out to accomplish he needed God’s helping hand. He did not feel self-sufficient or adequate to do the things he wanted to do alone. So he asked God to team up with him, to be a supporter or co-worker with him.
You know why the 1st century church in the book of Acts had such phenomenal success in spreading the gospel and kingdom of Christ throughout the world? Listen to Acts 11:21, “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” The hand of the Lord was with them. And that early church was a praying church. Acts 2:42 says they were devoted to prayer. Acts 4:29-31 gives an example of a prayer they prayed, “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bondservants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” They were praying for the hand of the Lord to be with them, and God was granting their requests.
And then Jabez’s last request…
“That You would keep me from evil that it may not pain me!”
My version actually says, “that you would keep me from harm that it may not pain me.” That Hebrew word can mean harm or evil. I think evil is the sense of it. It seems to me that it would be kind of redundant and make the last phrase of the statement unnecessary if he said, “Keep me from harm that it may not pain me.” Well, of course harm is going to pain you. That goes without saying. That’s what harm is; it’s something that pains you. But if his request is “Keep me from evil,” it makes the last phrase more meaningful. It’s an expression of his faith that sin, living contrary to the will of God, is what will pain him. It’s an expression of faith that in order for his name “Jabez,” “pain,” to not be a title for his destiny, he must stay away from evil, he must do things God’s way in his life.
Proverbs 13:15, “the way of the transgressor is hard.” The pleasures of sin are shallow and brief, and the shame and consequences are deep and much more lasting.
Safekeeping from evil is a very common prayer in the Psalms. Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight…” Psalm 141:3-5, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to any evil, To practice deeds of wickedness With men who do iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies. Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me; It is oil upon the head; Do not let my head refuse it…” “Whatever it takes, Lord, just keep me from evil, that it may not pain me.”
Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
“Let Thy goodness like a fetter Bind my wandering heart to Thee; Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” Keep me from evil and it may not ruin me.
We read finally of Jabez that…
“God granted him what he requested.”
It means God blessed him indeed. God enlarged his territory. God’s hand was with Him. And God kept him from evil.
Would you listen to one more verse as we end here? II Chronicles 16:9, something a prophet named Hanani said to king Asa, “The eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” Do you hear what that’s saying? God is looking in this world, scanning this earth, for people whose hearts are completely His, for honorable people, for people who want more than anything in the world to please Him and to be a light for Him and to do things in this world for His glory. And God will team up with those people. Those people have His listening ear and His support is available to them.
Will you and I be the sort of people that God is looking for in the world to team up with? Will we be honorable in His sight? And will we see the power of prayer, that God has help and guidance and resources and abilities and opportunities to give if you will show your dependence on Him and be asking for them? Will we be devoted to prayer? And will you with me integrate these requests of Jabez into your daily prayers? May God bless us and further equip us and use us to save more souls.
– James Williams