One of my favourite shows on television would have to be the documentary series “Who do you think you are?”. For those unfamiliar with the program, in each episode, a celebrity goes on a journey to trace his or her family tree and discover some interesting facts from their ancestors’ past that link to the person they are today.
The ancestral records that we find at the beginning 1 Chronicles are not (lets be honest about this) the most inspiring reading – well maybe if you were looking for some rare and unusual names for a baby – how about Zereth, Zohar, Ethnan, or Koz? One can be very thankful they don’t have to read these passages out loud in front of the congregation as part of worship.
So what do we do with passages such as todays reading from 1 Chronicles 4 ?
At first glance most of these names seem insignificant. But like in the TV show “Who Do You think You Are?”, it is only when we dig deeper to examine the back story that they begin to come alive and we unearth their relevance and find points of connection.
From amongst the list of names, we might recognise Caleb (Joshua 15:17) and Othniel (Judges 3:7-11). However in verses 9 and 10 the spotlight focuses on Jabez who is not mentioned elsewhere in scripture. He is introduced to us as being “more honorable than his brothers” who we can deduce had a bad reputation and that his mother named him Jabez which means pain because she “gave birth to him in pain”. Commentators assume this means more that just the pains of childbirth. We have to fill in with our imagination what has gone on but it is safe to say life had dealt him an unkind hand and so he cries out to God in prayer.
Even though the prayer is very personal, it is really not a selfish prayer because he is praying for something God wanted him to have. Just as in the Lord’s Prayer we pray: “Give us this day our daily bread; forgive us our trespasses; lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:11-13) — those are all personal, but they are not selfish.
The prayer is composed of four parts. First, Jabez asks God to bless him. Second, he asks God to enlarge his territory or increase his responsibility. Third, he prays that God will be with him and stay close. Lastly, Jabez asks that God keep him from harm so that he will be free from pain.
It is easy to see why Jabez would pray like this if we place him as living in the time during the wars for possession of the land or the partial possession in the book of Judges where we read in Judges 2:10-15.
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.
It is into this generation and culture that we find the meaning of honorable or noble when speaking of Jabez. He was different than his brothers. He was different than his generation in general. By application – we see that Jabez was a man faithful to God in his time. He stood out from all the rest because of his desire to be obedient and do the revealed will of the Lord. This was something undoubtedly extremely difficult, and dangerous, and took the supernatural blessing of God to accomplish.
His story would not even be here if it did not tell us that Jabez had found an answer; he knew where help was to be found. Jabez learned that there was a God, and that he answered prayer.
For us who are part of a generation that is growing up who don’t know the Lord there is great encouragement to be found in this prayer. May we as Christians be seen as honourable people and different from those around us. In seeking to be that kind of people, may the Lord will bless us and expand His kingdom, may his hand be upon us and keep us from harm so that we may be free from the grief and pain of sin. Amen