The Prayer of Jabez
And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren: and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested.—1 Chronicles 4:9, 10
By Carl Hagensick
The brief history of Jabez is dropped into the genealogy of Judah by the ancient Hebrew archivist. Frequently these short cameo appearances by seemingly unknowns reveal deeper insights into the word of God. We know virtually nothing about Jabez except what appears in these two verses, yet they reveal aspects of prayer and God’s character seldom examined.
The Birth of Jabez
All we know about the birth of Jabez is that he is from the tribe of Judah and that his mother named him because his mother “bare him in [her] sorrow.” The Hebrew word here translated “sorrow” is not the usual word for this concept. In fact it is only used three times in the Old Testament, here and in Psa. 139:24 and Isa. 14:3. The Psalm reference reads: “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Professor James Strong gives as the definition: “an idol (as fashioned); also pain (bodily or mental.)” Cognate words are translated “idol” in Isa. 48:5 and Jer. 22:28. The thought therefore seems to be that of wickedness, especially connected with an idol; and, secondarily, the pain or guilt that comes from such an experience. Since the pain, or guilt, is associated with his mother’s birthing experience we may reasonably speculate that the pain was caused by the circumstances associated with his birth, perhaps illegitimacy. Analyzing his three requests this seems further borne out.
The first blessing he requests is the enlargement of his coasts. If we were illegitimate he would have no claim to an inheritance but would be dependent on his father’s generosity for sustenance. (Note Gen. 25:6 for a parallel example.)
The second request was that the Lord’s hand would be with him. If he was not a legal child he had no claims to protection under the law. Therefore this plea is also especially meaningful under such circumstances.
But it is the third request that seems to specially revert back to the circumstances of his birth: “that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!” The word “grieve” here is directly related to the word “pain” in the preceding verse which described the circumstances of his birth. The logical deduction is that he wished to avoid the pain and grief of guilt which his mother experienced over his birth.
Whatever the circumstances that attended his birth, they evidently did not dictate the course of his life. Rising above the past, he gained a reputation for being “more honorable than his brethren.” We are not informed as to the acts which demostrated this honorableness. They may have been acts of courage, or of simple honesty in everyday dealings, but they yield a sweet perfume wherever his name is mentioned.
Only too frequently do the instances of our past lives affect the course of the future. It is frequently said, “nothing can change the past.” The Bible paints a different picture. Sincere repentance and conversion if we are the erring one, and forgiveness if we are the one sinned against, both have the power to alter our perception of the past. Thereby they also change the direction of our future.
It was the honorableness, in the case of Jabez, which brought about the favorable answer to his prayer. The same is true with us. Our course of conduct in life has a definite bearing on the answer to our prayers.
While the circumstances of Jabez’ birth may have made his inheritance questionable, it was perfectly proper for him to beseech an inheritance. Supported by the body language of a “more honorable” lifestyle than his peers, his request was granted.
So it is with mankind. Because they were born under a death penalty they have no right to claiming sonship with God. Yet those who seek it (Rom. 2:7) and back up their prayer with repentance, conversion and a “more honorable” life may receive “adoption as sons” whereby they may call God “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:5, 6). Now, instead of receiving the opportunity for eternal life in the Millennium as a “gift,” they, as sons, may lay claim to an inheritance, “the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12), “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
Prayers for enlargement may include much more than larger borders. As the Christian progresses he needs growth in many lines. ENLARGED HEARTS: “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.”—2 Corinthians 6:11-13
A large heart is an open heart, an honest one. As Paul had opened his heart to the Corinthians and beseeched that they open theirs to him, so every Christian should pray for an enlarged heart, one that communicates freely and honestly with all.
“I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.”—Psalm 119:32
ENLARGED VISION: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”—Proverbs 29:18
Each of our journeys toward the Lord began with a vision. We saw an ideal in Christ we could find no where else. We saw a beauty to his plan that showed a breadth of love in his character. We desired to become more and more like him. As we progress in the ways of Christ we need to constantly expand that vision. The more we study his word to find the treasures hidden there the more we will react as the poet, “and still new beauties do I see, and still increasing light.”
ENLARGED SCOPE OF ACTIVITY: “Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.”—Luke 19:24
As the most industrious servant in the parable of the pounds was given the stewardship of his more idle peer, so each faithful steward of the Lord is rewarded with further responsibilities. To successfully pray for increased service the Christian must accompany that request by zealously fulfilling then privileges he already has. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10).
The second request of Jabez was “that thine hand might be with me.” As aliens in a strange land, how we need the guiding power of Jehovah in our lives. Knowing not what he expects from us, how earnestly we must pray for a revelation of his will for our lives. The entrance into the Christian walk is with the same commitment made by his Lord and head, “I delight to do thy will, O my God” (Psa. 40:8). It becomes tempting afterwards to spend all our time deciding what the Lord’s will should be for us instead of seeking his guidance, “that thine hand might be with me.”
That nobility of heart and life which commended Jabez to his God will also secure for the earnest Christian the desired guidance and protection. These go hand in hand. The more we follow his guiding direction the more we are assured of his constant protection. As we grow in the ways of Christ and in the paths of prayer our assurance of his guiding and protecting hand leads to the confidence which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”. (Rom. 8:28)
Kept from Evil
How reminiscent is the last part of Jabez’ prayer, “that thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me,” to the conclusion of the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13).
The word translated “evil” in the case of Jabez is the Hebrew ra, a very general word for bad experiences, whether caused by a moral lapse or not, as in the case of calamities. The word translated “grieve” is, however, from the same root as “pain” in the previous verse, referring to the trauma his mother went through at his birth. It is unclear whether Jabez is praying to be kept from the guilt and chastisement that his mother went through, or from committing a similar type of sin himself.
The latter thought, especially, holds a strong lesson for the Christian. The Jewish proverb, “the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezek. 18:2), is true in more than a theological sense. Children are strongly affected in a practical way by their early environment and tend to copy the behavioral patterns of their parents. Studies have shown that our image of God is influenced greatly by our image of our natural parents. Not only do we need to be free from Adamic sin and condemnation, but to be kept from the wrong things we have learned from having imperfect family environments.
How necessary it is, therefore, to pray, like Jabez, for God to show us a better way and to keep us from duplicating the mistakes that we learned in our youth. The best way to avoid the pain of guilt is to avoid the act that causes the guilt. Seeking to do this without divine help is to attempt the impossible. As the hymn phrases it, “when I think of self I tremble; when I look to thee I am strong.” “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).
The Final Assurance
If we, then, pray the prayer of Jabez and if we live the nobility of life of Jabez, that we can expect, as with Jabez, “and God granted him all that he requested.”
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”—John 15:7