1 Chronicles 4:9–10 (ESV)

9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”

The account of Jabez appears out of nowhere and intrudes itself upon the Judean genealogy, expressing a measure of theological depth on the matter of prayer. The reason for its inclusion is unclear. Jabez is the name of a city occupied by descendants of Hur’s line through Salma, though there is no apparent connection between his name and this particular city (see 1 Chronicles 2:55). Nothing more is known about his family and who his brothers were. The name Jabez (Heb. yaʿbets) was given to the child because his mother bore him in pain (Heb. beʿhotseb).1

Jabez is described as more honourable than his brothers. Given the ancient belief that one’s name represented an individual’s character and, in some cases, personal destiny, Jabez prayed that God would overturn any curse associated with his name into blessing. Jabez called on the God of Israel to turn any possible disaster into blessing. Rather than having his future determined by what his mother called him, he called to God—and God answered his prayer. His name did not reflect his character. Instead, his mother had called him Jabez because of the pain she experienced in childbirth and so whatever associations might be made concerning his name, he remained an honourable man.2

The prayer of Jabez is, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain.” This is the first of 256 instances of calling upon the God of Israel, highlighting the Lord’s personal relationship with his people.

The prayer pleads for God’s blessing. In the Hebrew, the word bless is repeated twice: blessing I will bless you, which emphasizes the action of blessing. The sense is I will certainly bless you or I will give you great blessings. And he prayed for this blessing to come in three ways: he prayed that God would enlarge his border and keep him free from harm and pain.

The Chronicler closed the episode by simply noting that God granted his request (1 Chronicles 4:10b). God established Jabez’ honour by answering his prayer.3 His prayer to “keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain’ (1 Chronicles 4:10, NIV) was answered, thus proving that the threat of evil can be overcome by believing prayer and the power of a prayer-answering God.4

This prayer, set in the genealogical list of Judah, was included by the Chronicler as a source of encouragement to the postexilic community because it reflects God’s gracious promise to hear the prayers of his people. This is the first example in Chronicles of answered prayer, with more to follow (1 Chronicles 5:20–22; 2 Chronicles 15:1–15; 2 Chronicles 20:1–23). The emphasis upon prayer is a marked feature of Chronicles, and the inclusion of this prayer is instructive—and must have been to the post-exilic community—that the God of Israel could and would respond to the urgent prayers of his people.

Jabez’s prayer related directly to the needs of the Chronicler’s original readers in at least three ways.5 First, the Chronicler’s readers had experienced much pain during and after the exile. They certainly would have identified with Jabez’s desire. Second, Jabez’s prayer touched on the issue of expanding the territories of postexilic Judah. (For the Chronicler’s geographical hopes, see 1 Chronicles 2:42–55.) Third, the Chronicler pointed to Jabez as an example of an appropriate way to gain relief from the problems of suffering and territorial expansion. Jabez prayed, Let your hand be with me (1 Chronicles 4:10). In the Chronicler’s vocabulary, for God to be with someone was for him to aid them in their struggles and to fight for them (see 2 Chronicles 13:12). Sincere prayers to God for his help were essential for the postexilic community to receive these kinds of blessings.

What is instructive—and must have been to the postexilic community—was that the God of Israel could and would respond to the urgent prayers of his people, and as he had enlarged the territory of Jabez, so he could and would the territory of his regathered people.6

Significantly, while the genealogy of Judah commenced with a reminder of judgment for evil and the trouble caused by Achan (1 Chronicles 2:3, 1 Chronicles 2:7), the centre of its concluding section is God’s favourable answer to one who called to him.”7