Jabez - From Shame to Honour

A Meditation

September 15, 1999

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg


"Pain," it has been said, "is the best teacher." After all, children of every age listen to the instructions of pain when they will listen to no other teacher. That is called the "school of hard knocks." But there are other kinds of pain that do not teach, and every child of God deserves to be free from them. Consider Jabez.

I Chronicles 4:9,10  NIV  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. (NIV)

Often Bible characters were named prophetically to reflect something of their character and destiny. Jabez' name means "causes pain." Another way to say it would be "child of sorrow," "my grief," or in the more common language, "the loser." And it was his own mother who gave him this name.

With a name like that, it is not hard to imagine childhood dynamics. Imagine when he was 5 years old out playing in the fields with others the same age and his mother's voice called out... "You who have cause me pain, you source of grief, you loser, time for dinner!" The children around him, doing the occasional cruel things they can sometimes do, stop playing and suddenly jeer at him, "Hey, Loser! Mamma's calling."

Most often parents will call their children their pride and joy, but this guy was their grief, their sorrow. Deserved or undeserved, the shame label sticks with a merciless glue that will not let go, no matter how hard a child tries. Jabez, it seems, was such a child. And the burden of shame drove him to cry out to God so that he would finally be free from pain.

And we discover that this time the grace of God had no desire to send Jabez through the school of hard knocks - shame teaches us no good thing. The scriptures tell us that among the children we serve, it is the shamed ones that God identifies with - his jubilee mercy is to the broken hearted, he hears the cries of the "losers" - "For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help." Psalm 22:24 When Jabez cried out to God, God's ready answer was YES!

In answer to his prayer - though he wore the label of shame all his life, the eternal record of scripture records that Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. So often, the painful labels of shame burden the forming character of a child. In counseling language, we hear today of "adult children of disfunction" - adults whose life and social skills have been shaped by the forces of shame in their youth. How often those who have received pain continue the cycles of pain to others around them. Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. God, in answer to prayer, protected Jabez. God set his character, not in the stone of paralyzed emotions and pain suffered in silence, rather God enabled his character to grow strong, lively, selfless and true even under the burden of shame he carried.

Not only was Jabez's character different from his label of shame, so to was his destiny. Jabez asked for God's blessing and for the Lord to make him a greater person than he was. In those days, land was marked by unmovable boundaries. Jabez was drawing on that image and asking God to move the boundaries that had been impose upon him by his cruel, sorrowful name - and the Lord of Creation, who sets the boundaries, said "YES!" God moved the limits placed by shame so that Jabez's future was filled with the prosperity of God's blessing.

In each one of our classes we have a child, or two, who have picked up a label of shame - maybe because of some distinctive physical quality, or maybe because of a special character trait or a disability - a label of shame like freak, geek, loser, liar, failure, fatso. But with prayer - our prayers personally, and prayers with our students, with our love, our love personally and our example of love in the classroom, these labels of shame need not cripple character or determine destiny. God, who will always be close to the broken hearted will hear their cries, our cries and pour out his blessing.

Jabez was a living testimony to the goodness of God despite his birth and circumstances. God heard the cry of this lone outcast and granted his prayers. His destiny was changed, his heart healed, and he stands as a memorial to the grace and mercy of the God who hears the cries of the brokenhearted.

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(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.