I imagine a ragtag, work-weary congregation half-listening as generations of their forefathers are traced, re-rooting those refugees from Babylon. “Kok, who was the father of Anub and Hazzobebah and the clans of Aharhel son of Harum.” Yaaawwn. Then the surprise:
“O-the-Pain (Jabez) was more honorable than his brothers.”
Who? More honorable? Why? How? The brief, poetic answer:
His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” (1 Chron. 4:9-10)
I hope the reader paused there to let that prayer sink in. Maybe he read it again slowly. Jabez embodied the primary message of the Chronicles, which is “seek the LORD.” That phrase and its variations appear 29 times in 1 and 2 Chronicles! Like this:
… if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways … (2 Chron. 7:14)
Jabez, the man defined by Eve’s cursed pain, prayed like a man throwing his arms around God’s covenant and hanging on for dear life. “O that you would bless me with the land you promised, with the mighty hand that set us free from slavery, and by keeping me from the harm of evil, so that my name will not be my epitaph.”
Here was a prayer handed to the whole beleaguered nation on a silver platter. Handed to us, too, and all our churches, a fore-prayer of the one Jesus taught us. To ask God to bless us is to pray for grace, for God to freely give us more than we deserve and what we could never earn. For us, all the blessed promises of God are now Yes in Christ.
And God granted his request (v. 10).
That explains Jabez’s honored status and the overcoming of his name. He prayed for God’s blessing and God gave it. That answered prayer changes our lives. It echoes through all Scripture:
… then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:14).
“I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16)
We shepherd people who have nothing more important to do than seek the LORD. And they do, more often than we give them credit for. Some seek him with robust, faith-filled prayers and others with spotty, feeble, distracted prayers. Our task is to pray well for them, with them, and before them; to teach them to throw their arms around the promises and character of God in Christ so that we might bear God-blessed fruit.
Remind them, whenever you can, of what Moses said, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deut. 4:7). Take them to the Chronicler’s story of King Asa in 2 Chronicles 14-16. He is the poster boy for seeking the Lord. Have them stand quietly in the back of the room in Acts 4 listening to those early Christians pray till the room shook with the presence of God. And to Revelation 8:1-5 where the incense of prayer is the very fragrance of heaven.
Think of it! We teach God’s people to pray!
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.