In the middle of a list of fathers, sons, and a few of the wives and daughters, there’s a short description of the life of Jabez:
1 Chronicles 4:9-10 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested.
Jabez had no family listed, other than his mother, and even she had no name. He’s probably in the tribe of Judah, because everyone around him in this part of the scriptures is, but we can’t be certain.
It seems he was successful, because there was a town of the same name shortly afterwards. Jabez was a made-up name, so it’s unlikely that the town got there all by itself.
So what does his prayer mean?
It’s not a get anything you want prayer.
God had carefully defined the land Israel could occupy, and each tribe and family had an allocation within that. Indeed, boundaries were a serious business, and moving boundary stones invited a curse.
Since Jabez was an honourable man, he can’t have been asking for anything more than God had already promised in giving the land to the Israelites. In other words, he was asking for God to help him take the land that was supposed to be already his.
His prayer was also to do it without causing trouble, as commanded in the law:
Leviticus 19:18 … but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Jesus taught us to pray in the same way
It’s an ancient version of the prayer Jesus taught centuries later:
Matthew 6:9-13 Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.