Summary: Jabez’ name meant "giver of pain" and that may have been part of the reason he prayed as he did. To whom do we give pain and how should that influence our prayers?
Years ago, Johnny Cash sang a song that began with these verses:
"My daddy left home when I was 3 and he didn’t leave much to ma and me… just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now I don’t blame him cause he run and hid, but the meanest thing he ever did was before he left, he went and named me Sue.
Well, he must o’thought it was quite a joke and it got a lot of laughs from a lot of folks. It seems I had to fight my whole life through.
Some gal would giggle and I’d get red - Some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head. I tell you life isn’t easy for a boy named Sue.
In Country & Western circles that song was really popular in its day because it seemed humorous to think anybody would call the son "Sue." But, as odd as that name may be, some parents have given their children names that are just about as peculiar.
One person told me of a girl they knew who was called Rusty Nail. Just in our area there are apparently two brothers named Michael Tri Angle & Justin Other Angle.
Years ago, I heard of a woman named Ima Hogg. And two preachers we’ve had in our brotherhood were Ivan Odor and Harry Pitts.
Why anybody would do that to their kids, I don’t know, but they do. And their names undoubtedly caused those children some very difficult and uncomfortable moments.
That brings us to the story of Jabez. I Chronicles 4:9 begins by telling us that Jabez was an honorable man – more honorable than his brothers… but then it tells us how he got his name. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, "I gave birth to him in pain." (Jabez literally means "to cause pain" or "painful").
She had had other sons, but something in Jabez’s birth hurt her. Perhaps she’d become injured in the delivery, or perhaps he’d been born in a time when times were hard. BUT, whatever the reason, Jabez’ mother was declaring to her family, to the people in her village, to all who lived around about: her child was a bringer of pain. And he grew up believing that this was his identity. This was his legacy. This is who he was. AND Every time he looked at his mother… every time he heard his name spoken… every time he would offend someone by his actions or his words… it drove home the image in his mind = he was bringer of pain. He was someone who hurt others… sometimes by just being around.
But why bother telling us the meaning of Jabez’ name?
I mean, every other time God’s Word stresses the meaning of a person’s name, there appears to be a reason. What reason could there possibly be to tell us why he had been given this particular name? I believe there is a reason here. The reason: knowing what his name meant was the key to understanding his prayer.
Reread vs. 10. Jabez asks for God to bless him, enlarge his territory, guide him with his hand and then he ends with this phrase: "Keep me from evil that I might not cause pain."
Jabez seems to have understood what many people never comprehend. Bringing pain into other people’s lives is a spiritual problem. In fact, when we offend others we can’t be pleasing to God, we can’t receive His blessings, we can’t take hold of his promises, we can’t have His hand guiding us in our lives.
Jesus goes so far as to say: "if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)
In the New Testament we get to look inside the church at Corinth, and in the first letter Paul writes to them we see a group of believers who seem to hurt each other every time they turn around. They are at each others throat on seemingly every issue. In I Cor. 11, they are told that when them to hurt each other and then partake of Communion they deeply angered God, so much so that some became sick and other died. Who caused them to be sick? God did. Who caused some of them to die? God did.
Jabez’s name was actually a blessing in disguise, because it helped him be sensitive to the fact that he did hurt people. We all do – sooner or later.
When Jesus established the Church, he gave one command AND it was repeated throughout the New Testament:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)