Jabez Was A Coward
I may be several years late to this party, but I would like to reconsider Jabez. It seems like a cottage industry sprung up around this guy. He’s mentioned thrice in First Chronicles four, but then never again. We are told in verse nine that “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.” Well and good, but the text is just as interesting for what it includes as for what it doesn’t. It’s somewhat relative: who exactly were his brothers, and what did it take to be more honorable than them? “And his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”” “Jabez” apparently sounds like the Hebrew word for pain. Thus it seems that Jabez was a bit of a pain! But seriously, it’s curious to me that the text makes no mention of a father. Perhaps this was the source of his mother’s pain? That he was born out of wedlock? That’s a possibility, but we can’t know for sure (though we do know he had brothers). Whatever the cause, I want to look closely at verse ten: “Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “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 [or evil] so that it might not bring me pain!”” So he wanted God to bless him—ok. Who doesn’t want to be blessed? And apparently he wanted more land as well, and who doesn’t want to own property? It’s all about the equity, right? He wanted God’s hand to be with him—again, a good thing, right? Who doesn’t want God to be with them? Wouldn’t it be far better, though, to be with God? It’s the next part of Jabez’s prayer that’s key to me: “keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” Really? You want God to bless you, put His hand on you, enlarge your borders, for what? So that you can be comfortable? Free from harm, pain? Way to squander your honor! May as well pray to be free from risk–from both the joys and stings of life. Free from love. There’s no running “a mission a yard from the gates of hell” here—no, Jabez is safe within his borders. And the kicker? “And God granted what he asked.” Yes, Jabez is highlighted here in First Chronicles—I believe under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—but perhaps not for the reasons we’ve always assumed. Jabez was a coward.
(You may think I’m reading something into the text that isn’t there—that’s possible. If so, I’d love to hear your take in the comments. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your feedback!)
(All quotations taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible).