Reading the genealogy of the family of Judah in 1 Chronicles chapter 4 is like reading a Hebrew telephone book! Curiously, we discover a brief biography of a man named Jabez recorded in verses 9 and 10.
Someone explains, “The compression of Scripture truth within its limited area is one of the great miracles which belong to the structure of God’s Word.”
John shares in the Gospel that bears his name: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (John 21:25). In a few words, God expresses His message in the Bible!
A Google search of the name “Jabez” on the Internet yields some interesting information. For example, you will read about the Guanghzhou Liby Enterprise Group Co., Ltd. established in south China in 1994, which boasts annual sales in excess of $375 million. According to their Web site, one of the product lines is know as “Dr. Jabez.” For example, they have “Dr. Jabez Multi-purpose Cleaning Detergent,” “Dr. Jabez Glass Cleaning Detergent” and “Dr. Jabez All-powerful Kitchen Cleaning Detergent” to name a few.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible explains, “The Jews say that he [Jabez] was a famous doctor of the law and left many disciples behind him.” Henry continues, “And it should seem, by mentioning of his so abruptly here, that his name was well known when Ezra wrote this.”
Robert Jamieson (1802-1880) also states in the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary: “The Jewish writers affirm that he was an eminent doctor in the law, whose reputation drew so many scribes around him that a town was called by his name.”
I. His Sorrowful Problem
The name “Jabez” means “sorrowful” His mother called his name Jabez (sorrowful), saying “Because I bare in him with sorrow.” “The sorrow implied by his ominous name was averted by his prayer.”
Jabez was an “underdog,” or “one that is at a disadvantage” as The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition defines the term.
II. His Simple Prayer
The prayer of Jabez is simple but profound. It is profoundly simple and simply profound.
Although his prayer was simple it was also specific. George Williams (1850-1928) writes, “The prayer of Jabez [1 Chronicles] (ch. iv.10) may be expressed by four words: grace, growth, guidance and guardianship.”
The Reverend Matthew Henry (1662-1714) states that the prayer of Jabez is like the prayer of Solomon for wisdom recorded in 1 Kings 3:5-9. Rev. Henry explains “. . . just when he was setting out in the world. He set himself to acknowledge God in all his ways, put himself under the divine blessing and protection, and prospered accordingly. Perhaps these were the heads on which he enlarged in his daily prayers; for this purpose it was his constant practice to pray alone, and with his family, as Daniel. Some think that it was upon some particular occasion, when he was straitened and threatened by his enemies, that he prayed this prayer.”
The prayer of Jabez is scriptural. After the heated discussion generated by the best-selling book by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson titled The Prayer of Jabez, maybe you are thinking, “Is it wrong to pray like Jabez?”
Dr. F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) writes, “There was a godly ambition which may be reverently cherished for wider influence over men, not for its own sake, but the Master’s.” The life motto of Dr. Meyer was, “Make the most of me that can be made for Thy glory.”
While there is a “blind ambition” that Jeremiah warned Baruch about in Jeremiah 45:5 [“. . . do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. . .”]; there is also “a sanctified ambition” as Albert Sims notes in his comments on Psalm 71:16 which says, “I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only.”
British Baptist missionary statesman William Carey (1761-1834) declared in his “Deathless Sermon” (May 31, 1792) on missions based on Isaiah 54:2-3: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.”
It is my understanding that Dr. Elmer Towns was encouraged by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell to write a series of books on praying through the Bible. Our prayers must be biblical if they are to be effective and we can learn much about prayer from the prayers recorded in the Bible.
Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Ill., writes in his book titled Failure: The Back Door to Success, “I’ve always liked the prayer of Jabez: ‘Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my border, and that Thy hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldst keep me from harm, that it may not pain me!’ (1 Ch 4:10). Here was a man who did not feel guilty about asking God to bless him and enlarge the influence of his life. And because he asked this for God’s glory, the Scriptures assure us, ‘And God granted him what he requested.’ Don’t be satisfied until you have seen God conquer the unconquerable!”
A.F. Joselyne writes of the prayer Jabez: “This prayer reveals the true spirit of the Christian life.” W.G. Lewis explains, “One prayer has lifted a man out of the lowest depression to the loftiest summits of enjoyment.”
III. His Spiritual Privilege
Like Abraham, Jabez was “blessed to be a blessing.” As we read in Genesis 12:2-3, God says to Abram: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).
Unlike Esau, Jabez sought the spiritual over the secular. Esau was unappreciative of his “spiritual birthright.”
Hebrews 12:15-17 records the following warning: “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”
We read “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers” in 1 Chronicles 4:9a. This special recognition distinguishes Jabez from his brothers and infers a great spiritual victory in his life. Jabez had a very inauspicious start in life, but went on to finish well. Tragically, many of those born with great opportunity and ability have failed to accomplish anything worthy of divine acclaim. We will be judged based on what we did with what we have been given. With great privilege comes great responsibility. Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48b).
According to tradition, Jabez became a spiritual leader and had a very influential (mentor / protégé) relationship with his disciples. In fact, his story still encourages believers today.
Eric Liddell writes in Disciplines of the Christian Life: “Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives, but God is not helpless among the ruins. Our broken lives are not lost or useless. God’s love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out his wonderful plan of love.”
“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption-that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”
Paul the apostle reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 that God quite often uses those “most unlikely to succeed.”