“There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request.”
1 Chronicles 4:9-10
Ever met anyone with a goofy nickname?
I just found out a sweet gentleman I know used to go by the lovely term ‘Slug’. Not slug as in slimy critter with one foot and no shell. ‘Slug’, as in short form of ‘slugger’, in honour of his baseball prowess.
A bit off-putting, to call someone a slug.
(Not so bad, when you know what it means.)
But this mama back in the day gave her wee one a real doozie – and it was no nickname.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
First of all, no one was calling this little bundle of joy ‘Slug’. That would have been a marked improvement.
His mama’s name for him in Hebrew means ‘pain’.
I mean, who does that??
“Meet my son, Pain. He almost broke me in half comin’ out, I’ll tell you! I can’t even look at him without thinking about that terrible botched episiotomy…”
This a-little-too-honest moniker would have been a little hard to outgrow. Little Pain, growing into Larger Pain. Getting his camel’s license. In a grad hat. Signing for his first mortgage.
Introducing himself to the cute girl at the local well.
I mean, sheesh kapeesh. Imagine how many times he had to explain himself? Talk about a curse following you around wherever you go.
But like the boy named Sue from Johnny Cash fame, this boy named Pain grew up emotionally tough and resilient. He ended up ‘more honourable than any of his brothers’. The end result of a birth marked by pain and trouble was a man who called on the Living God to enlarge his territory.
Oh, that You would bless me.
He recognizes that the source of all good is God. He was cursed with a living reminder of the suffering of his mama – and it helped turn his eyes to heaven, understanding how trouble-filled this life really is.
‘Expand my territory.’
As in, enlarge my influence. Give me the responsibility for more. I can handle it. I know firsthand what pain can do – and I’ve met it face to face like a man. I know I have something to give because of my life experiences.
‘Be with me in all I do.’
Jabez recognized early his need for God’s presence. Was it when he was teased on the playground? Excluded from neighbourhood birthday parties? We don’t know. All we know is that he somehow learned that the presence of the Living One was what redeemed his birth curse.
‘Keep me from all trouble and pain’.
Wait a minute.
Didn’t he start out his life in trouble and pain? Didn’t he learn in the school of hard knocks to rise above his brothers in honour?
Some scholars translate this rather as ‘keep me from evil and the pain it causes’. As in, keep me from causing pain through my own evil choices.
Here is a man sensitive to the product of pain. He prays to never be the cause of harm to anyone else. I’m sure he understood how much his own struggles had produced in himself – but he doesn’t ever want to be that source for others.
Look at the grace here.
Were the circumstances surrounding your birth less than ideal?
They don’t have to define you.
And that pain you’ve endured?
It’s going to give you a softness, a sense of responsibility towards your fellow creatures – it’s called compassion.
The threads of grace are positively glittering through this tiny tale – and they can also turn your story around. The product of pain can be beauty, sensitivity to the needs of others, a reliance on God, and a desire to make a difference in the world.
Pray like Jabez with me??
Father, what a sweet little story! It gives us all hope, knowing that our pain can produce strong character and big faith! Bless our lives with Your presence, and expand our influence as we learn more about You. Amen.