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9 Jabez was more honourable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” 10 Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.
1 Chronicles 4:9–10
The first 10 chapters of 1 Chronicles, beginning with Adam, introduces the families of Israel and narrows it to the families of David and Saul. A pattern that can be observed in the books of Chronicles is when people cry out to God in prayer, He answers. And Jabez’s prayer is the first recorded prayer in the books of Chronicles. Nothing further is known about Jabez other than what is given in the two verses (v9-10) of chapter 4.
Jabez was evidently in the line of Judah. His unnamed mother named him ‘Jabez’ because she bore him in pain. For non-Hebrew readers like us, the word-play between ‘Jabez’ and the word ‘pain’ (otseb in Hebrew) is missed. (Is this perhaps a lesson for parents on how not to name their children?) Yet, despite such an identity, Jabez is described as “more honourable” than his brothers. Could it be that he was more honourable than his brothers because he called on the God of Israel? And could it be that Jabez’s prayer was answered not merely because he called on Jehovah but also because he was more honourable than his brothers? These are questions worth pondering. But I want us to consider two truths implicit in the text.
Firstly, though Jabez was more honourable than his brothers, he still sought the blessing of the God of Israel. And secondly, Jabez sought the blessing of the God of Israel because he understood that his identity bestowed by his mother is one associated with pain. We can infer from these two truths that Jabez knew that no earthly honour could erase an earthly identity. Only a heavenly blessing could renew his identity. So Jabez prayed that the God of Israel would bless him and he prayed for three things: to enlarge his border, to have the hand of God with him, and to be kept from harm so that he might not be pained by it.
The Reversal of a Curse: Cain and Jabez
Even on a cursory reading of the text, several echoes of the initial chapters of Genesis are evident. The naming of Jabez by his mother reminds the reader of the curse of God on Eve in Genesis 3:16: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain, you shall bring forth children.” Eve and all women after her bring forth children in pain. But unlike Jabez, Cain was dishonourable compared to his brother Abel; he was exiled from the land and the hand of God was against him. And because he was cursed, Cain could not be kept from harm since anyone who found him would kill him.
Whether Jabez knew this or not, the parallel is uncanny and Jabez’s requests seem to hint at a reversal of the curse on Cain: Jabez requests God to not merely establish him in the land but to expand his land; he requests God’s hand to be with him, and to be kept from harm and not be pained by it. In stark contrast with Cain, who took matters into his own hands, Jabez asks God’s hand to provide for him. And what does God do? He answers! “He granted Jabez what he requested.”
Praying Like Jabez?
So, what does the parallel with Cain and the prayer of Jabez have to do with you?
For starters, we are born as a sin-cursed people (Ps 51:5, Eph 2:1), deserving eternal exile from God’s presence and eternal torment for being rebels against God. We can claim no relationship with the God of Israel because we are “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and (are) strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Can such a people as us pray the prayer that Jabez prayed? By ourselves, we cannot and dare not pray it because we are not Jabez let alone an Israelite. Rather, we are in the line of Cain: dishonourable and cursed.
Yet, there came one greater than Jabez who reversed the curse of Cain. Like Jabez, He was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3) and his mother’s soul was pierced because of Him (Lk 2:35). And like Jabez, He “offered up prayers and supplications” (Heb 5:7) for blessing not for Himself but for His brothers (John 17). And like Jabez, God not only heard Him but “highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phi. 2:9). And because this Man is preeminent among his brothers, the same blessing and honour is bestowed to His brothers as well (Heb 2:10).
It is only through this Man, Jesus Christ, that those united by faith to Him can pray the same prayer. Indeed, as those united to Him, we must offer this prayer of Jabez unto God! But what is the prayer of Jabez that Christians ought to pray? We pray the same three requests that Jabez made of God.
Praying Like Jabez!
Firstly, Christians must pray that the God of Israel expands the territory of the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). In other words, we must pray that the inheritance God has promised to the Church (Rom 4:13) be granted to us by making His Church increase and abound in the world (Matt 28:18-20). This is the promise given by the Lord of the Church (Matt 16:18) so the Church can and must claim it for herself.
Secondly, Christians must pray that the hand of the God of Israel continues being with us by giving us “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). This is asking God to grant us a greater measure of the Spirit (Luke 11:13, Eph 5:18) for it is through the Spirit that the hand of God continues to remain with us. And asking the hand of God to be with us is inevitably also asking the Lord to make us more like the One at the right hand of God (Rom 8:29, 34, c.f. Acts 7:56, Eph 1:20, Col 3:1).
Thirdly, Christians must also pray that the God of Israel “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13, Lk 11:4). Sin harms us and causes pain (James 4:2, 1 Cor 11:30) since it separates us from the sweet fellowship that we have with the Triune God. Only the merciful hand of God can keep us from the harm of sin and only the disciplinary hand of God alleviates the pain of sin by restoring us back to God. In other words, God alone can keep us from sin and thereby keep us from the harm and heartache caused by our separation from God.
The Prayer of the Church of God
To put it succinctly, Christians can pray the prayer of Jabez because of the greater Jabez – Jesus Christ. And since we pray through Jesus Christ, the prayer of Jabez must be informed and shaped by the spiritual realities revealed by the God of Israel in and through Jesus Christ. Therefore, our prayer would be that the Lord of the Church bless her by enlarging the borders of the Church as promised by Christ, sanctifying her through Christ, and causing her to rejoice in Christ by preserving her from sin because of her union with Christ.
“13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”