“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).
In these two verses we have the life story of Jabez. We do not know why his mother bore him in sorrow, but we do learn that he was a man of faith and prayer. There has been much foolishness written on this man, and unfortunately it has been taken beyond the Scriptural record into the realms of myth and fantasy. In this study we will simply look at what the Bible says about Jabez and his prayer. This is a one-off payer by an obscure character, therefore it is not meant, as some suggest, to be one we can base our own prayer lives around. Nevertheless, we can learn from Jabez that God does indeed answer prayer.
He desired the blessing
The root of his name means “to cause pain and sorrow”, so we can see that Jabez wanted to be set free from the stigma attached to it. Instead of being known for sadness, he desired to be a man blessed by God. Was the fact that he sought God the reason why he is called honourable? The Jewish Targum (an ancient Aramaic Paraphrase of the Bible) suggests that since Jabez was calling on “the God of Israel”, he was actually making a vow to the Lord.
He wanted God to enlarge his coast. This may mean that he was already a wealthy man who owned some land. To ask for more appears to be selfish, but since he is called honourable we have to assume that his request was not sinful in any way. It is also possible that he was being plagued by the Canaanites around the borders of his land, so he could be praying for protection from the enemy too. “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4:1). “Enlarge – Drive out these Canaanites, whom thou hast commanded us to root out” (John Wesley). There is no flippancy here, for “as the text reads it, it was the language of a most ardent and affectionate desire: O that thou wouldst bless me!” (Mathew Henry). We wonder if Jabez had in mind the covenant promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 22:17, “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.”
He desired God’s presence
Jabez understood that his greatest blessing would be the presence of the Lord in his life. If this indeed a part of a vow, then he wanted God in every part of his life rather than just for protection from his enemies. Making a vow so that God’s presence would be with him was not unknown at that time, for even Jacob did exactly this when he was fleeing from Esau, “Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God” (Genesis 28:20-21). Jabez trusted in the “God of Israel”, the true God rather than the idols made by the enemy or even the idolatrous amongst his own people. He did not need the amulets of the heathen to bring him good fortune and protection, his desire was for the Lord. We cannot believe that this man’s prayer was anything but passionate. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
He desired deliverance from evil
The “evil” was grieving him. The phraseology here indicated that the enemy was continuously causing him trouble. It is likely that he had sought ways to hinder and overcome the Canaanites, and maybe he had come to an end of his human resources. He turned to the Lord for strength to resist those who were out to destroy him. Jabez’s prayer is remarkably similar to the words Jesus spoke to His disciples regarding prayer. “Deliver us from evil” (Luke 11:4). Notice that he prays that God’s hand would be with him.
We cannot ignore the fact that evil includes sin, so for the Christian who seeks the blessing, there must be the desire to depart from iniquity. How can we expect to be blessed if we hold on to our sin? “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18) … “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).
Jabez did not come with a shopping list, but neither did he pray meaningless prayers. Here is a man who meant business with God and received his request. It is possible that the city of Jabez found in 1 Chronicles 2:55 is directly connected with him. Jabez did what many believers seem to think is no longer a requirement for walking with Christ that is, he committed himself to God. “Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established” (Proverbs 16:3) … “Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established” (2 Chronicles 20:20). This might be an obscure prayer, but it is certainly one that God highly honoured enough to be included in Scripture. It stands as a testimony to the fact that God answers the prayers of those that truly put Him first. “The righteous example of Jabez stresses the truth that God blesses those who faithfully call upon Him” (The Full Life Study Bible).