If you’ve embarked on a structured reading program, intent on reading through the Bible in a calendar year – using the straight-line approach from Genesis to Revelation – the last few days would have been a real challenge for you – Chronicles.
Last Thursday – April 30 – you would have landed on 1 Chronicles. Through the weekend, you would have journeyed through Chapters 1-8. Today’s reading would be 1 Chronicles 9-11. These were the days you may have re-considered your plan to wade through all 66 books, in order. Why?
In the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles, the uniqueness of the Judeo/Christian faith is in full display. No other religious system gives attention to people – real people, by name – in the way that the record of Jehovah (the formal name for the God of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob) includes.
Nine chapters; 911 people mentioned by name, beginning with Adam, as the family tree of Israel is established. Nearly a thousand names – 886 men, 25 women – are archived in this real-life account of the family line God chose to use to bless the nations (Genesis 12:3). The vast majority of them are, in this text, part of the rollcall; no embellishment or details are included by the author (Jewish tradition suggests that the prophet Ezra wrote this book of history).
Until you come to Jabez: “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10).
We’re going to spend a few Mondays looking into this extraordinary exception. Jabez’ life – in two verses – goes from start to finish. His biography can be memorized; in a life that spanned decades, what really mattered could be captured in two verses. Thousands of days spent in real-time, but the substantive story is short… and turns from loss to victory in the space of a paragraph.
His beginning: “His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’” In Jewish culture, names were never random. They represented a presumptive prophetic forecast of the child’s future; the coming course of life was set in motion with a parent’s declaration. Welcome to your future, son: you were a pain from the beginning… and you’ll likely keep that trajectory going forward.
There are certain painful conditions that are universally repulsive; no one wants to be charged with them. An example is prejudice: a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. Jabez’ mother was demonstrating prejudice toward her son; her act was akin to dooming his future before it ever took flight. She stamped him with a warning label…
Even before the details of Jabez’ prayer were articulated – the prayer that was the game-changer for him – Ezra gives us the epitaph for which Jabez would be remembered: “He was more honorable than his brothers.” In that genealogical flow of names, “his brothers” could include only his siblings, or his particular generation… or a larger populace against which to draw comparison.
Honorable: deserving of respect or high regard; of great renown; characterized by integrity. A continuing theme of the Scriptures is in evidence in Jabez’ life: one’s origins are no sure predictor of one’s outcomes. The shortfall of your past does not determine the significance of your future… unless you allow “the voices” that say “No” to shout over The Voice that says, “Yes.”
Jabez heard his mother’s voice every time he said his name… but he turned his conversation to his Heavenly Father, and received an entirely different answer. His ending outweighed his beginning.
Whose voice are you listening to today?