1 Chronicles 4:9-10
"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 that it may not pain me!" And God granted him what he requested." (NASB)
The narrative concerning Jabez is found in the midst of detailed genealogy concerning the descendents of Judah.
The purpose of the genealogy is to show the faithfulness of God in sustaining a descendent line in fulfillment of His covenant with Abraham. It was stated through the prophet that the Messiah would come through Judah’s descendents (Genesis 49:10). The detail and order of the genealogy demonstrate the sovereign care of God to fulfill all He promises (1 Chron 9:1). As with Enoch (Genesis 5:22), who was being recorded in the midst of detailed genealogy, the writer broke with the genealogy and commented on him in reference to his special relation with God. So here, the writer breaks with the mundane listing of names to comment on an unusual man of faith in his day. Jabez is singled out from his kin and apparent brothers (assuming the statement “than his brothers” is referring to those immediately listed in the last verse) Anub, Zobehah, and Aharhel as being more honorable. The idea of honorable here is to be set apart by being distinguished or noble. This idea of special nobility is contrasted with a background comment about his miserable beginnings and name. He was named by his mother as a person of poor expectation. She was so troubled by the pain he caused her in birth that she named him accordingly (his name means pain or grief). So his notoriety of being honorable did not come from his name or heritage, and was in fact likely something difficult “humanly speaking” for him to overcome. How was he then more honorable? The passage tells us he was honorable because of his relationship with God – seen by his faith in God. “Jabez called on the God of Israel.” The title “God of Israel” is given to clearly show that he wasn’t just a religious man, but a man in communion with the only true God.
We deduct from the position of his genealogy in accordance with others in the same general context and time frame, and find Othniel in verse 4:13 who is the nephew of Caleb (Josh 15:17). The importance of this is that it places the context generational living time of Jabez from the time during the wars for possession of the land into the time of partial possession in the book of Judges. The spiritual condition of Israel in the time of Judges is given in Judges 2:10 that after the death of Joshua “there arose a generation who did not know the Lord.” It is further reiterated in Judges 5:11 (the next verse) “the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.” 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. Like Enoch in his day (Gen 5:22) he obviously knew the Lord.
There was one other cultural issue to understand regarding Jabez and his time. As a Jew he was responsible in his relationship and worship of the true God to be obedient unto all God had commanded. His near forefathers (likely his grandparents) had wondered in the desert 40 years for elimination of an entire generation for their disobedience, and lack of faith in not entering the promise land as commanded by God. By the time Jabez became a man the Jews were in the promise land, but had not completed what God commanded. They had become content and compromising, and had not driven out all the inhabitants as God commanded, nor had they taken full possession of all the land. The history of this takes up a large portion of passages and difficulties of Israel with those nations and peoples remaining in the land (Numbers 34:1-19; Duet 11:24-28; 12:20; Joshua 15:1-63; 2 Kings 14:25-28). In Deuteronomy 11:22-28, in relation to the Mosaic Covenant of which all Israel was familiar, Moses says the following: “For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours, your border will be from the wilderness to Lebanon, and from the river, the river Euphrates, as far as the western sea. No man will be able to stand before you; the Lord your God will be the dread of you and the fear of you on all the land on which you set foot, as He has spoken to you. See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse; the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God…” This is the foundational explanation then of why Jabez is honorable, and why Jabez is calling on God with a specific type of prayer. He was seeking God’s help so that he might be obedient to God as stated by Moses for his circumstances in his generation.
The text just read, and its reiteration in a number of other passages answers the statement in Jabez prayer “oh that you would bless me indeed.” This is clearly derived from the Mosaic Covenant just included – Moses statement: “see, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse.” Jabez was desirous of pleasing God, and in that sense seeking His favor as a blessing. This was far from a self-centered prayer, as it was the will of God that His people function in obedience and thereby be blessed. Not only that, but Jabez recognized the necessity of the supernatural power of God to accomplish the task of “enlarging my border” and God’s special protection “you would keep me from harm that it may not pain me.”
The idea of “enlarging my border” was also far from a personal selfish ambition. This is shown clearly in contrast by the lack of faith of his brothers, and their contentment to co-exist with the pagans that God had commanded be destroyed (see Joshua 23:4-13). In addition, there is a listing of all the places and people Israel failed to conquer in Judges 1:27-36. Keep in mind that Joshua had allotted the tribes of Israel very specific portions of land. It was there responsibility to rid their land of remaining people (Joshua 18-19). They were later chastised by the statement from the angel of the Lord “you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars. But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? Therefore I also said, I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare unto you” (Judges 2:2-3). Jabez was a man concerned to honor the Lord in his time, and the “enlargement” of his border had to do with the conquering of Israel’s enemies who would ultimately turn the heads of Israel to foreign gods. He was asking God to help him complete the will of God as a faithful Israelite by taking full possession of the land God had given. This was a prayer having to do with faithfulness, not selfishness.
“God granted Jabez his request.” We take from this that Jabez filled the role of ridding his portion of the land from those God had chosen to be removed, along with their pagan gods, and possessing the portion allotted to him in his time. He was able to do this as he stated because “Your hand might be with me.”
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. God ultimately blessed Jabez in two obvious ways: He was present in His sovereignty with Jabez so that he was able to complete his righteous and committed task, and Jabez was recorded in God’s Holy Word as a hero of the faith and someone to be emulated as honorable before the Lord. All of this despite the fact he carried the name "Jabez" with the meaning of grief. Practically speaking for those of us in our generation, who are also to be doing God’s revealed will, being lights in the world, preaching the gospel, being witnesses, things difficult in our time requiring the hand of God. Jabez prayer motive is similar to the statement made in the context of ministry by our Lord “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” Jabez was desirous of doing God’s will, and asked for strength and protection to complete it. He knew from whence his ability would come. Today, as we seek to live faithfully according to God’s revealed will in our generation, as living sacrifices, and seek to be a blessing in our generation, and need the ability of God to perform it, we are in the same situation. We look to and call upon God.