1 Chronicles 4:9-10 is a two verse power-punch that carries a message that should ignite modern believers. It is the account of Jabez. Throughout its pages the Bible teaches that children are a blessing from the Lord. This was especially understood in Israel, an agrarian society that often used the blessing of multiple children to meet the demanding farming needs of the families. Nevertheless, Jabez’ mother named him “sorrow” or “pain.” The Bible specifically says she named him so because she “bore him in pain.”
This description could simply be a reference to the physical strain that often accompanies labor and delivery. But, I think it is revealing much more. In Israelite culture a person’s name played a significant factor throughout life. The Bible is filled with examples of people whose lives matched their names’ meanings. The Lord even changed the names of people like Abram and Jacob as they matured in faith to prophetically reflect their destinies. Abram, “exalted father,” became Abraham, the “father of a multitude” or “father of many nations.” Jacob, the “supplanter” or “deceiver,” became Israel, the namesake of God’s chosen people which means “God prevails.” With this in mind, it is interesting and important that Jabez' mother gave her son a name which means “pain” and “sorrow.”
His father is noticeably absent from the naming decision. This could be an indication of the type of “pain” present with Jabez’ birth. It’s also very possible that Jabez was born in poverty. The biblical passage reveals that he wasn’t an only child but had siblings. Whereas children are normally welcomed as a blessing from God in Hebrew history and culture, the presence of a new baby boy seemed to be viewed by Jabez’ mother as an ill-fated burden.
It is also clear from Scripture that Jabez’ mother didn’t expect him to produce much in life. Thus, the environment was set for Jabez to become an abject failure, to live a life characterized by nothing more than pain and sorrow. There were no expectations of success, no illusions of grandeur. There wasn’t any encouragement to thrive, achieve or succeed. When the world rages against you, usually mom is there to love you and encourage you to keep going. But what can you do when even your mom doesn’t expect much from you?
Yet, in spite of the environment he was born into, we get this unearthed diamond in 1 Chronicles 4:9. Though he may have been born into poverty, though he may have entered the world in desperate and difficult conditions, and though everyone around him may have expected him to absolutely flop at life, end up dead or in jail, Jabez “was more honorable than his brothers.” Even though momma called him “pain,” God made him “honorable.”
Lots of books, memorabilia and other knick-knacks concerning Jabez’s prayer and God’s answer to it in verse 10 have been marketed and sold for millions of dollars. Not much attention, however, has been given to the subtleties of verse 9. More specifically, the fact that Jabez’ established honorability proceeds his prayer. With the deck completely stacked against him and the palpable anticipation that he would never be anything more than another negative statistic, Jabez shattered expectations. Scripture says he was more honorable than his brothers. This is more than a fleeting moment of honorability. It shows that his character and conduct, displayed consistently over time, superseded the path that was laid for him. Jabez exceeded his family pattern and birth conditions. Jabez was a person of honor.
This is a powerful biblical demonstration that we can be more than a product of our environments. It doesn’t matter what family we’re born into, what economic conditions we’re born into or even what societal expectations may be. What matters is what God says about us. Amazingly, the Bible reports that after God recognizes Jabez' honor he’s found pouring out his heart to God in prayer. Biblical honor always includes a vigorous and passionate prayer life. Our Lord so regarded Jabez’ honor and passionate plea that he answered his prayer. God enlarged Jabez’ physical territory, expanded his social influence, provided him divine protection and established him in life. Pain and sorrow were uprooted and replaced with honor.