Summary: The vision and prayer of Jabez provides inspiration for the local congregation
When we lived in Japan, we often rode the trains. Just outside the train window we could see houses very close to the tracks as we whizzed past. Then as we slowed for a stop we were able to see, for a moment, people going about their daily activities: kids playing, housewives hanging up wash, or families sitting on the floor around a table inside. We caught just a glimpse of their lives before our train rumbled on.
In a sense we are doing that today in I Chronicles. Our train is heading down the track through a long list of over 500 names, most of them related to King David in some way, and they go whizzing past. It takes nine chapters to get through this list. If you are reading the Bible through, you might be tempted to quit here because there is nothing more boring than a list of hard-to-pronounce names. But the list is important, not just because it establishes the importance of David in God’s lineup which eventually goes all the way to the birth of Jesus, but also because through all these generations of people, God worked to accomplish his purposes.
In this list are not only people who were part of the bloodline back to Abraham, but people are named here from outside that biological family, people from different races and national backgrounds who were grafted into the family tree. For example, we see an Ishmaelite father in 2:17, a mother who was an Egyptian slave in 2:34, an Aramean princess, one of David’s wives, in 3:2. Already, long ago, God was reminding his people that his family was not limited to a certain race, or place, or ethnic background. And we dare never forget that. As Paul reminds us in Romans, salvation comes through faith and it is for everyone.
But as our train rumbles through this list of names, here and there it slows enough for us to catch a glimpse of someone whose name gets special mention. One of those names is Jabez, mentioned once in the Bible.
You have probably wonder how some people got their names. One course I enjoyed teaching was The English Language about why and how American English got to be the way it is. One lecture focused on the names of people in the U.S. Some names come from the Bible. Some from tradition. Some are just unusual. For example, a man who graduated from Harvard in 1852 was named States Rights. Another man I heard of was named Adrian Constantine, because his mother was born in Adrian, MI, and the father in Constantine, MI. In 1936 a man died whose name was Willie 3/8 Smith.
Some parents, in naming their children, choose an admirable quality such as Faith, Hope, or Justyce. Or it may be a person they admire. On my 33rd birthday, after we had been in Japan for several years, I received a letter from my mother saying that my parents had named me Wesley because they hoped I would be a missionary like John Wesley. Other times parents use names related to an experience they had. I heard of two babies born during a flood: Highwater and Overflow.
The name Jabez meant pain in Hebrew. His mother chose the name because his birth was especially painful. Maybe his father died. Maybe she didn’t want another baby. Maybe he was a breach baby. And just maybe this kid was a pain from the moment he was born. I don’t know. But, Kids, can you imagine having a name like ache or hurt or pain and being reminded every day that you were a pain to your mother? With an unfortunate name like that, we might think of Jabez as a born loser. Here he was trying to deal with an emotional hang-up that was weighing him down. How could he ever succeed in life with a burden like that? If there ever was a guy who could be bitter, it was Jabez. His very name could have driven him to a life of hate and bitterness.
You may have heard of the song by Johnny Cash, A Boy Named Sue. It’s the story of a boy who was named Sue by his father, who wanted his son to become tough in this mean old world. But it drives this boy to become bitter and mean and he seeks revenge on his father for this awful name. He finally finds his father, who had abandoned the family, and beats him up in a bar, and nearly kills him, as his father tries to explain.
As for Jabez, rather than letting his name determine his destiny, he rose above his name, becoming a man of noble nature. What does that tell us? It tells us that our past does not have to determine our future. Booker T. Washington said "Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed." Washington was a good example of that. Jabez helps us to see that by giving ourselves to God we can become all that God wants us to become.