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1 Chronicles 4:1-43
The sons of Judah.
Survey of the genealogy
I. How great the obscurity of most men!
II. What folly to seek place and power only here!
III. How needful to secure renown hereafter! “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” said the dying Haller, when friends congratulated him on the honour of receiving a visit from the Emperor Joseph II. (James Wolfendale.)
1 Chronicles 4:9-10
And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren.
We know nothing whatsoever of the Jabez here commemorated beyond what we find in these two verses. But this is enough to mark him out as worthy, in no ordinary degree, of being admired and imitated. There is a depth and a comprehensiveness in the registered prayer of this unknown individual--unknown except from that prayer--which should suffice to make him a teacher of the righteous in every generation. Let us now take the several parts of the text in succession, commenting upon each and searching out the lessons which may be useful to ourselves. The first verse contains a short account of Jabez; the second is occupied by his prayer. Now there is no denying that we are short-sighted beings, so little able to look into the future that we constantly miscalculate as to what would be for our good, anticipating evil from what is working for benefit, and reckoning upon benefit from that which may prove fraught with nothing but evil. How frequently does that which we have baptized with our tears make the countenance sunny with smiles! how frequently, again, does that which we have welcomed with smiles wring from us tears! We do not know the particular reasons which influenced the mother of Jabez to call him by that name, a name which means “sorrowful.” We are merely told, “His mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow.” Whether it were that she brought forth this son with more than common anguish, or whether, as it may have been, the time of his birth were the time of her widowhood, the mother evidently felt but little of a mother’s joy, and looked on her infant with forebodings and fears. Perhaps it could hardly have been her own bodily suffering which made her fasten on the boy a dark and gloomy appellation, for, the danger past, she would rather have given a name commemorative of deliverance, remembering “no more her anguish for joy that a man was born into the world.” Indeed, when Rachel bare Benjamin she called his name Benoni, that is, “the son of my sorrow”; but then it was “as her soul was in departing, for she died.” We may well, therefore, suppose that the mother of Jabez had deeper and more lasting sorrows to register in the name of her boy than those of the giving him birth. And whatsoever may have been the cause, whether domestic affliction or public calamity, we may consider the woman as having bent in bitterness over her new-born child, having only tears to give him as his welcome to the world, and feeling it impossible to associate with him even a hope of happiness. She had probably looked with different sentiments on her other children. She had clasped them to her breast with all s mother’s gladness. But with Jabez it was all gloom; the mother felt as if she could never be happy again: this boy brought nothing but an accession of care. And yet the history of the family is gathered into the brief sentence, “Jabez was more honourable than his brethren.” Nothing is told us of his brethren, except that they were less honourable than himself; they, too, may have been excellent, and perhaps as much is implied, but Jabez took the lead, and whether or not the youngest in years, surpassed every other in piety and renown. Oh, if the mother lived to see the manhood of her sons, how strangely must the name Jabez, a name probably given in a moment of despondency and faithlessness, have fallen on her earl She may then have regretted the gloomy and ominous name, feeling as though it reproached her for having yielded to her grief, and allowed herself to give way to dreary forebodings. It may have seemed to her as a standing memorial of her want of confidence in God, and of the falseness of human calculations. And is not this brief notice of the mother of Jabez full of warning and admonition to ourselves? How ready are we to give the name Jabez to persons or things which, could we but look into God’s purpose, or repose on His promise, we might regard as designed to minister permanently to our security and happiness. “All these things,” said the patriarch Jacob, “are against me,” as one trial after another fell to his lot. And yet, as you all know, it was by and through these gloomy dealings that a merciful God was providing for the sustenance of the patriarch and his household, for their support and aggrandisement in a season of extraordinary pressure. Thus it continually happens in regard of ourselves. We give the sorrowful title to that which is designed for the beneficent end. Judging only by present appearances, allowing our fears and feelings rather than our faith to take the estimate or fix the character of occurrences, we look with gloom on our friends and with melancholy on our sources of good. Sickness, we call it Jabez, though it may be sent to minister to our spiritual health; poverty, we call it Jabez, though coming to help us to the possession of heavenly riches; bereavement, we call it Jabez, though designed to graft us more closely into the household of God. Oh for a better judgment! or rather, oh for a simpler faith! We cannot, indeed, see the end from the beginning, and therefore cannot be sure that what rises in cloud will set in vermilion and gold; but we need not take upon ourselves to give the dark name, as though we could not be deceived in regard of the nature. Let us derive this lesson from the concise but striking narrative in the first verse of our text. Let us neither look confidently on what promises best, nor despairingly on what wears the most threatening appearance. God often wraps up the withered leaf of disappointment in the bright purple bud, and as often unfolds the golden flower of enjoyment in the nipped and blighted shoot. Experience is full of evidence that there is no depending on appearances. If, in a spirit of repining or unbelief, you brand as Jabez what may be but a blessing in disguise, no marvel if sometimes, in just anger and judgment, He allow the title to prove correct, and suffer not this Jabez, this child born in sorrow, to become to you as otherwise it might, more honourable, more profitable than any of its brethren. But let us now turn to the prayer of Jabez. We ought not to examine the prayer without pausing to observe to whom it is addressed. It is not stated that Jabez called on God, but on “the God of Israel.” There are few things more significant than the difference in the manner in which God is addressed by saints under the old and under the new dispensation. Patriarchs pray to God as the God of their fathers; apostles pray to Him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In both forms of address there is an intimation of the same fact, that we need something to encourage us in approaching unto God; that exposed as we are to His just wrath for our sins, we can have no confidence in speaking to Him as to absolute Deity. There must be something to lean upon, some plea to urge, otherwise we can but shrink from the presence of One so awful in His gloriousness. We must, then, have some title with which to address God--some title which, interfering not with His majesty or His mysteriousness, may yet place Him under a character which shall give hope to the sinful as they prostrate themselves before Him. We need not say that under the gospel dispensation this title should be that which is used by St. Paul, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Having such a Mediator through whom to approach, there is no poor supplicant who may not come with boldness to the mercy-seat. But under earlier dispensations, when the mediatorial office was but imperfectly made known, men had to seize on other pleas and encouragements; and then it was a great thing that they could address God as you continually find Him addressed, as the God of Israel, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. The title assured them that God was ready to hear prayer and to answer it. They went before God, thronged, as it were, with remembrances of mercies bestowed, deliverances vouchsafed, evils averted: how could they fear that God was too great to be addressed, too occupied to reply, or too stern to show kindness, when they bore in mind how He had shielded their parents, hearkened to their cry, and proved Himself unto them “a very present help” in all time of trouble? Ah, and though, under the new dispensation, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” be the great character under which God should be addressed by us in prayer, there is no need for our altogether dropping the title, the God of our fathers. It might often do much to cheer a sorrowful heart, and to encourage a timid, to address God as the God of our fathers--the God in whom my parents trusted. And what did Jabez pray for? for great things--great, if you suppose him to have spoken only as an heir of the temporal Canaan, greater if you ascribe to him acquaintance with the mercies of redemption. “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed.” Lay the emphasis on that word “indeed.” Many things pass for blessings which are not; to as many more we deny, though we ought to give the character. There is a blessing in appearance which is not also a blessing in reality; and conversely, the reality may exist where the appearance is wanting. The man in prosperity appears to have, the man in adversity to be without a blessing--yet how often does God bless by withholding! And Jabez goes on, “That Thou wouldest enlarge my coast.” He probably speaks as one who had to win from the enemy his portion of the promised land. He knew that, as the Lord said to Joshua, “there remained yet very much land to be possessed”; it was not, then, necessarily as a man desirous of securing to himself a broader inheritance, it may have been as one who felt jealous that the idolater should still defile what God had set apart for His people, that he entreated the enlargement of his coast. And a Christian may use the same prayer; he, too, has to ask that his coast may be enlarged. Who amongst us has yet taken possession of one-half the territory assigned him by God? Our privileges as Christians, as members of an apostolical Church, as heirs of the kingdom of heaven, how are these practically under-valued, how little are they realised, how sluggishly appropriated! What districts of unpossessed territory are there in the Bible! how much of that blessed book has been comparatively unexamined by us! We have our favourite parts, and give only an occasional and cursory notice to the rest. How little practical use do we make of God’s promises! What need, then, for the prayer, “Oh that Thou wouldest enlarge my coast”! I would not be circumscribed in spiritual things. I would not live always within these narrow bounds. There are bright and glorious tracts beyond. It is a righteous covetousness, this for an enlargement of coast; for he has done little, we might almost say nothing, in religion, who can be content with what he has done. It is a holy ambition, this which pants for an ampler territory. But are we only to pray? are we not also to struggle, for the enlargement of our coasts? Indeed we are: observe how Jabez proceeds, “And that Thine hand might be with me.” He represents himself as arming for the enlargement of his coast, but as knowing all the while that “the battle is the Lord’s.” There is one more petition in the prayer of him who, named with a dark and inauspicious name, yet grew to be “more honourable than his brethren”: “That Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me.” “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Jabez prayed not for the being kept from evil, but kept from the being grieved by evil. And there is a vast difference between the being visited by evil and grieved by evil. He is grieved by evil who does not receive it meekly and submissively, as the chastisement of his heavenly Father. He is grieved by evil whom evil injures, in place of benefits--which latter is always God’s purpose in His permission or appointment. He is grieved by evil whom it drives into sin, and to whom, therefore, it furnishes cause of bitter repentance. You see, then, that Jabez showed great spiritual discernment in casting his prayer into this particular form. We, too, should pray, not absolutely that God would keep us from evil, but that He would so keep it from us, or us from it, that it may not grieve us. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The prayer of Jabez
Many comparisons have at times been instituted, and I think not altogether without reason, between this book as the work of God and the world as the production of God; such, for instance, as that what is necessary and essential lies amply upon the surface of both. Analogies have sometimes been gathered from the mixture that there is in Scripture in the developments of the character of God; sometimes all that is awful, and sometimes all that is benignant. So in the material world there is the same mixture in the development and display of the Divine character and perfections. Sometimes, again, an analogy, not I think altogether fanciful, has been supposed to exist between this book and the world, in that there are some parts of it that seem luxuriant and beautiful--some parts of the book in which every verse and every word is like a flower springing up under your feet, or like the shade of a beautiful vegetation around you, or like an exhibition of the magnificence and loveliness of vegetable nature, while other parts appear sterile and barren, with rocks on every side. When we look at this barren catalogue of names, when we look at what is here presented, we seem to have got into one of those parts of Scripture in which there is very little to delight the eye or to refresh the heart, just as sometimes we may be passing through some sterile part in the scenery of this world. What is suggested by what we see in some of these barren spots of nature? Why, just this--that we there get a view of the rocks, of the bands and the pillars of our earth, that bind it and keep it together, and make it what it is, and which are essential and necessary for the support of all the earth, and the soil by which is supported and displayed in other parts the beauty and sublimity of vegetation. So it is here; these parts of the Bible are just representations to us of some of those barren rocks, you may say, but still those rocks which run throughout Scripture, those genealogies which are connected with all that is important in the history of the Messiah and the fulfilment of prophecy. In looking at the passage we observe that with respect to this Jabez we really know nothing but what is combined in these two verses; there is no reference to him in any other part of Scripture. He was unquestionably, I suppose, from the position in which he stands, of the tribe of Judah; as this is the genealogy of Judah. We know not precisely from the passage who were his parents; what particular line in Judah he belonged to; nor can we exactly make out the precise time in which he lived; though it appears to me the passage gives us a little light on that subject. It is said generally of him that “he was more honourable than his brethren.” That may or may not imply censure against his brethren. He might be honourable among the honourable; he might be great among the great. The probability is, however, that it does rather convey the idea of imperfection and defect in the character of surrounding society, and hence it does mark more prominently the influence of principle and of piety in him. But men may be honourable on various accounts: generally at the time to which the Scripture refers, and now, men are estimated honourable for valour, for wisdom, and for pity. I think it is very probable that all these met in Jabez.
1. There are traditions among the Jews respecting him; and they make him to have been a man distinguished for wisdom as a teacher; distinguished as the founder of a school, and having around him a multitude of disciples. This opinion has upon it, perhaps, some air of probability from the last verse of the second chapter in this book, in which it is said, “And the families of the scribes which dwelt at Jabez,” or “with Jabez”; “the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and Suchathites. These are the Kenites that came of Hemath, the father of the house of Rechab.” Now, “the families of the scribes which dwelt at Jabez,” supposing it to be the name of a place, refers to men who are devoted to study; if it be the name of the persons that dwelt with him, still the same idea seems suggested. So that I think it very probable that the idea of the Jews is right. They themselves take these words which are here used, and in which these different divisions of scribes are distinguished, as being signifcant, expressing certain qualities of these disciples with respect to the manner in which they received the instruction of the master, and the manner in which they were devoted to God. It is very probable, therefore, that he was distinguished and honourable for his mental acquisition and his wisdom.
2. It seems to me that he was honourable also for his enterprise and activity, and perhaps also for his valour, because he prays for the enlargement of his coast. Now it strikes me that this particular prayer of Jabez about the enlargement of his coast, and God being with him, seems to cast a little light on the time in which he lived. It strikes me that he lived soon after the settlement of the people in Canaan, and before they had taken complete and full possession of the different lots. And there was among many of the people a sort of reluctance to do this, a want of vigour and enterprise of mind and character. Joshua really had to reprove them for sitting clown contented too soon, saying, “Why, a few of you have got possession; yet there remains a number of places that are not yet divided; why sit you here? Arise, take possession.” It strikes me, therefore, this prayer has relation to that, and that he was more honourable than his brethren because he entered into the mind of God.
3. Whatever may be thought of that, that he was honourable for his piety is, I think, manifest. “He was more honourable than his brethren”; and the sacred writer, after having stated that generally, in the next verse develops the principle of this honourable character: “And Jabez called on the God of Israel,” etc.
(1) On looking at this prayer you observe the propriety of the feeling with which it is addressed to God. “Jabez called upon the God of Israel.” He was neither lost in the vagueness of mere theism, nor led astray by the grossness of idolatry. He understood and felt the principle of the economy under which he lived; he rejoiced in the privileges and advantages which God in covenant had conferred on the people, and he rejoiced to look at God in that aspect, and presented his prayer to Him in that covenant relation. It is thus that you and I must come to God; it is thus that we must be prepared not to lose ourselves in the vagueness of sentimentalism and the generalities of religion, but to feel that there is a way by which we are to come, a specific view we are to have of God.
(2) Then let us look at the comprehensiveness of the prayer; how much it includes with respect to the life that now is and the life that is to come.
(3) Then I think you may observe the humility that marks the prayer; how completely he is emptied of self, how he goes out of self, feeling that all his resources must be in God. There is a feeling pervading every petition and every expression, marking the consciousness that he had of his own weakness and his own danger: that he needed to be held and sustained by God.
(4) Then you may observe the intenseness, the fervour, and the earnestness which seem to mark his supplication: “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed!”
(5) Then observe the fulfilment of the prayer: “And God granted him that which he requested.” Such is a brief illustration of what is here stated with respect to this distinguished man, and the prayer that is here recorded of him. Before I pass on to the more general lessons to be drawn from this prayer, I cannot help just observing how short this prayer is. And this is a characteristic of the prayers of Scripture--the prayers of Scripture are almost all brief, many of them are very brief. But I pass on to make one or two general observations arising from the subject.
1. I should think it very likely that Jabez owed a good deal of his religion to his mother.
2. We learn also, that piety towards God, the possession of the principles and the manifestation of Scriptural religion, is in the sight of God essential to the possession of a true and honourable character. The terms “honourable” and “honourable character” have very different senses among men. That which is highly approved among men in this respect is often an abomination in the sight of God. There is many a man distinguished by this epithet in society that is loathed in the society of heaven. A merely honourable character in society means often nothing but a man of integrity. He is honourable in the relations of common life. Under the influence of their principle men are led to pay debts which they have contracted by vice, but to starve and to crush the honest tradesman, and neglect to pay other debts which they have accumulated upon themselves. And yet they are “honourable men!” Such are the perversions abroad in the world and the absurdities in society.
3. Another thought is impressed upon us by the passage: the importance that God attaches to faith and piety, and the character that flows from it. The importance that God attaches to it is proved by the very circumstance of there being this abrupt introduction of the character of Jabez in the midst of this dry genealogical detail. It reminds one of a similar passage in Genesis 5:1-32., “Enoch walked with God”; impressing a glory and distinction upon the character of the man, and making it stand out prominently from the midst of those with which it is connected. Now if your genealogies were made out would the scribe have to pause at your name? Is there anything about you of this character and these principles that in a similar scroll or writing to this there may be this reason to pause and to dwell upon you?
4. Another thing which you may draw from this subject is the possibility of the combination of secular enterprise and activity with eminent piety. I think these seem to be indicated as having met in the character of Jabez. This piety towards God; his faith, his devotion, the time that he gave for prayer, did not render it impossible with him to give time to active duty. Perhaps, so to speak, he had a sanctified ambition to combine both activity and enterprise with religion. And both these may be combined--diligence in business with fervour of spirit, activity in the fulfilment of the duties of everyday life, in connection with the cultivation of those principles and feelings which keep us near to God, and which sanctify the activity and direct it. Now I think it is likely that Jabez was a young man when this prayer was offered; that there was this formation of his character comparatively early; that he thus started in life, that he thus acted.
5. Another remark we make is this, that certainly one of the best ways to preserve your speculations, your pursuits, your secular activity and enterprise from being offensive to God and injurious to yourselves, is to enter upon none, and to engage in none, but such as you can bring, like Jabez, and lay at the footstool of the throne of God, and ask God to bless.
6. In the last place, let us learn from this subject the gratitude that we ought to feel for the clear discovery that we have in Scripture of God’s covenant relation to His children; that we can go to Him, not merely as the God of Israel, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in Him reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing to men their trespasses. (T. Binney.)
The very situation of this text is worth remarking. It stands in the very midst of genealogies. Why those names are so particularly put upon record, or why nothing more besides the name, is not very easy to discover. Perhaps it was to let us see that multitudes of persons live upon the earth of whom, when you have told the name, you have told all that is worth mentioning. Great men they might be in their generations, men of renown in an earthly point of view, and yet, in the sight of God, insignificant and worthless. But, however this may be, here is one person, at least, whom the Word of God is not content with barely mentioning. It is said of him that he was “more honourable than his brethren.” In whatever other points he was so, in this especially, that, whereas the Holy Spirit barely runs over the names of others, and tells us nothing else of them, when He comes to Jabez He stops short. Something He relates concerning Jabez which He evidently holds forth to our praise and imitation. What is the fact in the history of Jabez which the Holy Ghost hath thought worthy of record? Is it any battle that he fought, or any exploit he performed? is it any proof he gave of earthly wisdom or of earthly policy? No; these are indeed the things which dazzle human eyes and which please the pens of human writers. But not so the great God. The events He dwells on in the history of Jabez is one which many earthly penmen would have scorned to write of. He takes us to this good man’s closet, and tells us of a prayer he offered there. All l amidst the multitude of things which are going on upon this earth, amidst the manifold events which man calls great, there is nothing in God’s sight half so considerable as the prayer of a poor humble soul for mercy and acceptance. The prayer of a Paul, of a Cornelius, of a Jabez--“What trifling matters,” saith the world, “are these!” But look into God’s Book and only see the notice which is taken of these prayers by Him who made us. Pray like Jabez. Pray, if not in his words, yet in his spirit, and you shall speed like him.
I. We are to consider the import of the prayer--the nature, I mean, of the petition it contains. There is no doubt but that it issued from the heart, and that it was offered up with holy fervency of spirit. “Jabez called upon the God of Israel,” such is the expression used. Something more, you see, he did than merely say the words of prayer. He called or “cried” unto his God. He put his heart into his words, as one in deep and holy earnest. There is a holy vehemence, too, in the very form of his address. “Oh,” says he, “that Thou wouldest do this thing!” And this should be your way of praying. But to come to the language of the prayer.
1. What is the first petition of this earnest suitor at the throne of grace? “Oh,” says he, “that Thou wouldest bless me indeed!” Now what sort of blessing does he mean? God hath many in His gift. Life itself is a blessing; health is a blessing; and so are food and raiment; so are the friends we mix with and the home which we inhabit. But it is clearly something beyond these which Jabez asks for. His language is emphatic: “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed!” As much as to say, “Oh that Thou wouldest give me Thy best, Thy truest blessings!” And what are these? Not the short-lived blessings of the body, but the eternal blessings of the soul. The man is “blessed indeed,” not who sits down to a full table and wears his purple and fine linen--but who can say with a good Scripture warrant, “Christ is mine and I am His.” He is “blessed indeed” to whom the God of grace hath said, “I am thy salvation”--with whose spirit the Spirit itself beareth witness that he is a child of God”--and “who is kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” These are the choicest gifts of God. Other things are blessings; but they are the blessings of God’s enemies as well as of His people. Other things are blessings, but they are temporal and transitory, and they “perish with the using.” Grace to enjoy here and glory to expect hereafter--let a man have these and he hath all. Jabez wanted Jacob’s blessing and not Esau’s--the birthright, not the pottage. Sure I am, such is the choice of every poor awakened sinner. “Give me Christ and His Cross rather than the world and its crown!”
2. But what is the next thing in the prayer? what does the holy man next ask for? “That Thou wouldest enlarge my coast,” says he. Perhaps this petition was of a temporal nature. Jabez, it is thought, was among those Israelites who went in with Joshua to the holy land and had a portion there assigned to him. If so, it is not unlikely that he was pressed and straitened by the Canaanites around him, and that he begs in this part of his prayer that God would clear the ground for him and give him room enough to dwell in. “Oh, Lord,” we may well ask, “enlarge the coast of my poor narrow heart. Give to my thoughts and my desires a wider range.” He grieves over the narrowness, the selfishness of his desires. He feels himself, as it were, pent in and circumscribed by things of this world. He is sensible that there is not room enough within him for his God and for his brethren. He longs, therefore, in all these respects to be enlarged to “reach forth unto the things which are before”; to “comprehend with all saints what is the length, and breadth, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge,” and to be “filled with all the fulness of God.” Again, here is another point of view in which the Christian seeks after enlargement. “Oh, Lord,” he is ever ready to exclaim, “enlarge my usefulness. Make me a more active member of Christ’s body; more abundant in the fruits of righteousness; more devoted to Thy work and service; more profitable to my brethren and fellow-creatures!”
3. But we pass on to the next petition in our text: “Oh,” says Jabez, “that Thine hand might be with me!” And why does he ask this? Evidently because he was thoroughly persuaded that without the Lord he could do nothing. How exactly in this point do his feelings meet those of all real Christians in the present day! The worldly man goes out in his own strength and trusts in his own arm to help him. Seldom does he feel the need of looking higher than his own wisdom and sagacity and resolution. Whilst the believer thus “goes forth in the strength of the Lord” he can do wonders; but let him at any time forget thus to pray, he is soon made to feel that he is a “man who hath no strength.”
4. To come now to the last petition of the prayer before us. How does the holy man conclude? Just as his Lord concludes in the prayer which He hath taught us to present to Him. “Deliver us from evil” is our last petition in that prayer. And what is the last request of Jabez? “That Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me.” “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” There is safety neither for the soul nor for the body except under the shadow of His wings. Apply this to spiritual evil, and it expresses what is true, what is most eminently true, of every real servant of the Lord--that sin is a thing which grieves him. Natural evil is painful and unwelcome; but the evil of the soul--the evil to which Satan tempts--this is the thing of all others which believers dread. A great deal of sin goes with the world under the name of “pleasure.” “But all this,” says the believer, “is not pleasure to my soul--it is pain and grief to me.”
II. The answer which this prayer received. Answered it was, and answered to the full. “The Lord granted him that which he requested”; not a part, you observe, but the whole. “That which he requested”--that is to say, all that he requested was bestowed upon him. Now do think over his request. It was a very large one. It comprehended much. He had not trespassed on the Divine bounty which says, “Ask, and you shall have.” Let us, then, admire the bountifulness, the abundant mercy of the God whom Jabez called upon. Surely He is a God of faithfulness and truth and love. When has any humble soul ever cried to Him in vain? When hath He ever said to the praying “seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me in vain”? To you who are really “calling on the God of Israel” my text is surely a comfortable and refreshing one. It affords a pledge; it gives, as it were, a promise and assurance--that you will speed in your petitions. The God of Jabez is unchanged, unchangeable--“the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” (A. Roberts.)
Blessing and enlargement
We come upon this little history of Jabez with a kind of surprise, as one who, travelling through a rocky and mountainous country, comes all at once upon some little green dell, watered with streams and filled with beauty. Observe--
I. Jabez called upon the God of Israel. He declared himself a religious man, a worshipper of the true God. It was the habit of his life. He was known by this. This still lies at the foundation of individual prosperity and goodness of the highest kind--personal religion, calling upon God. A man whose soul never “calls,” never cries, never looks, never waits upon God, is not living to the end for which a man should live; he is not truly living at all. Man is raised above the brutes, in that he alone of all the creatures is so endowed that he stands consciously before the face of the personal God, to reverence, serve, worship, and adore the unseen Being.
II. Calling, what does Jabez say? “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed.” This prayer is not very definite, but perhaps it is all the better, u expressive of many a condition of life, and especially the state of one who is just beginning to pray. In conscious sin and guilt, in weakness, confusion, and fear, a man knows not what to say. Then, bethinking him that God is greater than his heart and knoweth all things, and will therefore give interpretation to all the misery, penitence, longing, love; that He will hear the groanings that cannot be uttered; that He will take dim thought for words; the man is content, and with a cry of relief, as well as earnestness, he says, “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed!”
III. But there is something more definite immediately, “and enlarge my coast.” He prays for more territory to his people and himself, more power, more wealth. These are what we should call earthly and temporal blessings. The best men of the Old Testament did not distinguish between temporal and spiritual as we do. Life was a spiritual unity to these men. When a man’s sins are pardoned, and his life rectified, when his soul is nourished by the blessing of God, one cannot but think the more that man has the better. Let him be enlarged. No doubt an expanding life multiplies dangers, but it also multiplies grace if it be expansion on the right principle. When a penurious man makes money, that is not enlargement in the grand sense at all. He is building a prison, and himself will be the prisoner. An old man in his last illness was received at one of the metropolitan hospitals. He was without relations or friends, and to all appearance without resources. But a bag of money was found round his neck. When death had apparently claimed him, a nurse gently unfastened the string and removed the bag. At the same moment the old man opened his eyes and felt instinctively for his treasure, which was no longer in its place. He uttered the word, “Gone!” and died. The money amounted to £174, the accumulation, no doubt, of many years. But was that man “enlarged” as the process went on? He was narrowed and crippled. Every golden piece he put into that bag was adding to the weight he carried, in more senses than one, until it became a millstone about his neck and drowned him in death. From many a death-bed there goes up that old man’s sigh, “Gone!” money “gone;” houses “gone”; broad acres “gone”; name and fame “gone.” All that has been striven for through a lifetime “gone.” Ah! poor fatal enlargement that ends in such collapse. The true enlargement is such, that such a catastrophe as that is quite impossible. The man with soul enlarged never sighs in life or death “Gone!” He has chosen the good part that shall not be taken away.
IV. The summing up of the prayer. “And that Thy hand might be with me, and that Thou mightest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me.” So let us seek preservation from evil inward and outward, by watchfulness, by prayer, by dependence on God, and we need never fear enlargement. Let it go on without limit and without fear, if it goes on thus banked in on either hand by Divine blessing and Divine care. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
In visiting a foreign land, and seeing nothing but strange forms and faces passing and repassing before us, it affords most exquisite enjoyment to catch at the moment the well-known countenance of some dear old friend or acquaintance. So it is with us here on wearily poring over these chapters of names; we feel as if we were in a wilderness, at sea, on some foreign strand; and what blessed relief do we experience as unawares we arrive at this rare character of Old Testament Scripture, ensconced, enshrined in this desert nook of names. We realise with double zest that proverb of Scripture--“That as iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the countenance of a man his friend.” In considering Jabez let us look--
I. To the circumstances cast around his birth. He is here brought before us in connection with his mother. Mothers are often mentioned in Scripture as influencing their children for either good or evil--the mothers of the wicked kings of Israel on the one hand, the mothers of Moses, Samuel, Joseph, etc., on the other. The responsibility of mothers. The question was once proposed to Napoleon Bonaparte, “How was a better, a more moral class of young persons to be obtained in the country?” His answer was, “Let us have better mothers.”
II. To the character of his life.
III. To his prayer and its answer. (John Gardiner.)
The prayer of Jabez
I. Let us glance at the parental anxiety of his mother. Her fears and perplexities were not realised. The fears and dread of many a parent are never intended to be realised. The delicate little child may outgrow its frailty, and live to be your comfort and hope. The wild and unruly boy may become the staff of your old age.
II. The character of this prayer.
1. There seems to be a pious reference to the prayer of Moses for the tribe to which Jabez belonged. Jabez belonged to the tribe of Judah.
2. It is a prayer for spiritual blessings.
3. It is a prayer expressive of a humble dependence upon Divine Providence for temporal blessings.
4. It is marked by a singular and holy distrust of himself--“keep me from evil.”
(1) Trouble is an evil.
(2) Enemies are an evil.
(3) Sin is the evil of evils.
1. God still waits to hear our humble prayers, and will grant all those things which are needful for us.
2. It may teach us the source of some of our misfortunes and mistakes; we have restrained prayer.
3. It teaches emphatically the value of religion. Godliness is profitable for the life that now is. (W. J. Barrett.)
Jabez--an unexpected biography
As in life we are being continually surprised by the unexpected turn which events often take, so the Bible sometimes surprises us with unlooked-for disclosures. All of a sudden in the very midst of surrounding dryness a beautiful biography appears, and in two verses a man’s life is portrayed, beginning with birth, and containing a delineation of his character, a full report of one of his prayers, and references to his mother and brothers.
I. The significance of a name. Jabez was born at a time when “names meant truths and words were the symbols of realities.” Jabez means sorrow or trouble. The mother’s grief, expressed in the name of her child, was probably the ungodliness of her other children, and there is no more fruitful source of sorrow to mothers than this.
II. The distinction of a character. More honourable. He had a good reputation.
III. The devotion of a life. “Jabez called on the God of Israel.”
IV. The Divine recognition of true prayer. (Homilist.)
The prayer of Jabez
I. The prayer before us. Very striking is the ardour of expression contained in these words, “Bless me”; “Bless me”; “Bless me indeed”; Oh, that Thou wouldest bless me”; and “Oh I that Thou wouldest bless me indeed.”
II. Our encouragement to pray the same. “God granted Jabez that which he requested.” This shows us--
1. That God heareth prayer.
2. That God answereth prayer.
3. That God will grant us that which we request of Him.
1. Any among you who may live prayerlessly.
2. Any of you who may pray formally.
3. Any of you who do truly pray. (W. Mudge, B. A.)
Jabez: his life and his prayer
It is not much that we know of Jabez, but I think that in this recorded history of that man there is suggested to us something of as solemn warning and of as blessed consolation as you will find within the range of God’s holy book.
I. The lesson of the same given to him. Jabez--“sorrow.” It was to her best and worthiest son that the mother of Jabez gave the name that implied how little hope of future happiness with him or through him remained in her weary, despairing heart. We can think of a contrasted picture: you remember the proud and hopeful name which the mother of our race gave to her firstborn son; you know how much of confident hope was expressed in the name of Cain. “Possession” she called him--a great thing gained from God--who was yet so sorely to wring her heart. Ever thus are human anticipations, whether of good or ill; the first murderer welcomed with the hopeful name of Cain, while this wise and good and happy man was to bear the desponding name of Jabez. How often we call by hard names dispensations of God’s providence, which in reality are to prove great blessings probably in many cases those events in our history, those dealings of God with us, which we should call sorrowful at the time, stand us in more real stead, and do us more real good, than the brightest and happiest that ever come in our way.
II. We shall next consider the prayer which jabez offered and which God granted him. What a wise and what a safe prayer! Send me that which Thou knowest is blessing, though it may not seem blessing to me; and deny me that which Thou knowest is not blessing, however ready!, in my ignorance, may be to think it so.
1. The spirit of this prayer is that of confidence in God and unqualified acquiescence in His appointment. This is a lesson of how we ought to pray. You know, generally, the direction in which to steer; but you cannot say what little movement of the helm may be expedient from time to time, to suit each passing gust of wind, or each crossing wave. And it is just because we do not know these things that it is so wise to leave the decision of the precise thing to be sent us, as Jabez did, to God; and to pray with him that God would bless us “indeed.”
2. The next two petitions imply a great and sound principle--the duty of combining effort with prayer. When we are desirous to compass any new attainment, when we wish to enlarge our coast, as it were, by taking in greater fields of faith, of holiness, of patience, of humility, of all Christian grace--in regard to all which we may well take up Joshua’s words,”that there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed,” let us do like Jabez; working like him as if we could do all, and praying as if we could do nothing. The wisdom of Jabez appeared in that he put prayer and effort together.
3. The last petition is for deliverance from true evil--and from the evil effects and influences of all evil. He does not ask that evil may never come; but that evil may not be suffered to really harm when it comes. Evil coming and trying us may do us great good; but Jabez prayed, and we may pray, that evil should not grieve us. We may pray that evil may never be suffered to harden us; to stir us up to wrath against God; to make us fretful, rebellious, impatient; to tempt us to sin; in short, to do us harm when God intends it always to do us good. It was for this that Jabez prayed. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
These words contain a life’s history in a sentence. This brief epitome of human life appeals to universal experience. Its very brevity increases its suggestiveness.
I. The mother’s faithless anticipation reminds us how the present often colours our thoughts of the future. Our judgments are biassed, often warped by our circumstances. We interpret even the past by the present, and often fail therefore to make a just estimate of it. We can only form a right estimate of the past by transporting ourselves back into it. This is impossible with respect to the future. We may learn what has been yesterday, but we know not what shall be on the morrow. Hence the especial danger of letting our anticipations be coloured by our present circumstances. God’s teaching is the very reverse of this. The thought of the future is to colour the present. As Mr. Canning, when he announced in Parliament the independence of South America, said “that he brought in the New World to redress the balance of the Old,” so God gives us the bright inheritance of heaven as a counterbalance to the cares and sorrows of earth. It is only in the light of the future as revealed to us by God, that we can rightly estimate the present. When we reverse God’s teaching we unfit ourselves for the future. We go forth to the duties and burdens of the morrow weakened by apprehension, instead of being strong with the courage of hope.
II. The prayer of Jabez combines wise reticence and ordinary ambition. These are the elements of true prayer--a sense of dependence, the expression of confidence, and unrestrained petition, pouring out the heart to God, leaving to Him the decision as to what is blessing indeed.
III. This prayer also reveals the true spirit of Christian life. It is the outcome of practical piety. Perhaps like Caleb he had to conquer his own inheritance. His dependence upon God did not mean inaction. He had learned the great lesson that prayer and effort go hand in hand, the one inspiring and sanctifying the other. Our great need is to live more nearly as we pray. We can only ask that God’s hand may be with us when our supreme desire is to do God’s will. Such prayer is both a test and a safeguard. (A. F. Joscelyne.)
The prayer of Jabez
Remarkable is the honour which God puts upon prayer, and numberless are the instances recorded of its efficacy.
I. The import of the prayer of Jabez.
II. Its excellence. It was so both in respect to sentiment and expression. It was--
2. Diffusive (Philippians 4:6). We need to recite our wants in order to impress our own minds with a sense of our utter helplessness and unworthiness.
4. Believing. Petitions offered in faith, have as it were, the force of commands (Isaiah 45:1).
1. Let all now call to mind their several wants and necessities.
2. Let nothing be thought too small or too great to ask.
3. Let the pressure of our wants and the richness of our prospects stimulate us.
4. Let us expect the accomplishment of that glorious promise (John 14:18; John 14:14). (Skeletons of Sermons.)
The prayer of Jabez
Like a star set in the darkness of midnight, more conspicuous because of the surrounding gloom, is the name of a great man in the chronicles of the trifling and the insignificant. How encouraging is the assurance, “If any man love God the same is known of Him,” whoever he may be, wherever he may dwell. The name of Jabez stands in most emphatic isolation upon the sacred page. He is distinguished by his faith in God from hie contemporaries, of whom it would seem that the most important record of their lives was this: “These were the potters, and those that dwelt among plants and hedges: there they dwelt with the king for his work” (1 Chronicles 4:23). They served an earthly monarch; he a heavenly. Their business was among things frail and perishing; his was with things unseen and eternal. Their arts and manufactures have long since crumbled into dust. This prayer abides to bless the Church of God until the end of time.
I. A concise memoir--“And Jabez was more honourable than his brethren,” etc. The Scriptures are full of these comprehensive, brief, but weighty texts which Luther was wont to call “little Bibles.” “A man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.” “Apelles approved in Christ.” “He was a burning and a shining light.” “Of whom the world was not worthy.” The genealogy in which the name of Jabez occurs is that of the royal family of Judah. The compression of Scripture truth within its limited area is one of the great miracles which belong to the structure of God’s Word. It is said of Jabez that “he was more honourable than his brethren,” though with a less honourable name. His mother had anticipated the hour of anguish with unusual sadness, and she called him Jabez--that is “grief.” “When thou wast born,” say the Easterns, “thou didst weep, and all about thee did rejoice; so live, that when thou diest thou mayest rejoice, and all about thee may weep.” We may consider this epithet “honourable” as applied to Jabez, from either a secular or a spiritual point of view. In the former case it would mean that integrity and uprightness pervaded all his actions, that in the business of this world no impeachment could lie against his good name, that all his undertakings would bear the most rigid scrutiny. Nor is it a matter of small importance that those who profess to be the children of God should be recognised by the men of the world as actuated by unscrupulous integrity. The children in the marketplace very keenly scrutinise the conduct of those who avow themselves to be Christians, and they expect, and not without reason, that our code of morals should be superior to their own. But we may consider this title conferred on Jabez as issuing from the court of heaven, and bestowed upon him because of his eminence in the service of God.
II. A comprehensive prayer. “And Jabez called on thor God of Israel, saying, Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me.” He was a true prince in Israel, having power with God; and yet it is only one prayer of his which has been preserved. One prayer, doubtless one of many, for it reveals a mastery in the holy exerciser only attained by much practice. One prayer has lifted a man out of the lowest depression to the loftiest summits of enjoyment. It has expelled the dark tides of sorrow from the soul, and brought in proofs of God’s love dearer than life itself. It has widened the channels of enjoyment and filled them with inexhaustible supplies of delight.
1. He seeks the best blessings. “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed.” He “covets earnestly the best gifts.” God Himself is the only fountain and source of true blessedness. We should not, however, completely appreciate this prayer if we do not notice that temporal things may become blessings indeed. If we do not prefer the gift to the giver; if they are the means of drawing us nearer to Him, then “all things work together for good.” It would seem to have been the desire of Jabez to see his Heavenly Father’s smile through all earthly conditions and in all Divine bestowments. And it is indeed a true philosophy which determines respecting life and all its mutations that it matters not so much what we get for our earthly lot, as how we get it. The things which men most usually covet conspire to their hurt because they have not God’s blessing.
2. He prays for an enlarged territory. “That Thou wouldest enlarge my coast.” It appears probable that this Jabez was a younger son, and that he was born at a time when the patrimony was well-nigh, exhausted. This would account for the maternal solicitude which had conferred on him so dolorous a name. An Israelite might indeed put up this prayer without misgiving, because every inch of territory which he gained would be rescued from heathenism, and brought within the confines of the Land of Promise. But war prefer to look at this petition as a supplication for spiritual good. Every grace-taught man must sympathise with this cry for room. Too often fettered and environed by corruptions, cares, and infirmities, we feel the need of enlarged desires, expanding affections, and uncontracted views of Divine realities. “The world of the blind,” says Mr. Prescott, the historian, speaking from painful experience, “is bounded by the length of the arm.” A blind world revolves in the narrow orbit of things that can be touched. The gospel introduces its subjects into the vast regions of things unseen and eternal, and bestows upon them that “other sense” called faith, and confers the capacity of communion with the Eternal. When will the Church of Christ adopt this portion of the prayer of Jabez? “Oh that Thou wouldest enlarge my coast!” Too often we hear complaints of demands too numerous, and solicitations that are wearisome.
3. He prays that the hand of God may be with him. The hand that directs, supports, supplies, and chastens us. There can be nothing more delightful to the child of God than the constant recognition of the fact that his Father’s hand is pointing out for him the path of life.
4. He would be kept from evil.
“And that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me.” Now we gain more light on the suggestive name of this man. He was called Jabez--“grief”--and it is evident that he was one of those who grieve over sin. That is the greatest trouble of all good men. Not only from the wiles of Satan and the snares of the world, but from our very selves we require the defence of the Almighty arm.
III. The complete answer. God granted him that which he requested. Throughout all Europe we have seen in the Churches the votive garlands and offerings hung by the superstitious at the shrines from whose patrons their relief is supposed to have come. What a contrast between these tinselled trifles and the rich museum which the Church of God possesses of grateful recollection and adoring praise on the part of those who have prevailed at the throne of grace! He has a treasure of great worth who can rejoice in a distinct answer to prayer. (W. G. Lewis,)
The prayer of Jabez
We will without any formal divisions simply endeavour to travel through the petitions offered up in this prayer of Jabez. First petition: “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me.”
1. There are many apparent blessings that are real curses.
(1) Health. Its tendency is to remove far away all thoughts of death and eternity; to make a man more or less satisfied with the things of the present; and to draw comfort from the creature instead of the Creator.
(2) Money. It shuts up the heart; stiffens pride and becomes a temptation and a snare.
(3) The good opinion and praise of men.
2. There are apparent curses which often are real blessings.
(3) The scourge of the tongue.
3. There are blessings which are beth apparent and real.
(1) The fear of the Lord.
(2) Some intimation of God’s favour.
(3) The revelation of Christ to the soul.
(4) Unreserved trust in God.
(5) An appetite after God’s Word.
Second petition: “And enlarge my coast.” A coast means a boundary line, such as divides one territory from another, or terminates a country, as the sea-coast is the boundary of our island. Every quickened soul has a coast--the territory of inward experience which is limited and bounded by the line that the Holy Spirit has drawn in his conscience.
1. Some have a narrow experience, they cannot get beyond doubts and fears, guilt and convictions, with at times earnest desires for mercy and pardon.
2. Others have their coast a little more extended. They are enabled to hope in God’s mercy, and anchor in His promises.
3. Others can through faith rest in Christ’s blood and righteousness, having received some intimation of favour, but not brought into the liberty of the gospel.
4. Others are brought into the life, light, liberty, joy and peace of the gospel. The living soul cannot but earnestly desire to have his coast enlarged. More light, more life, more liberty, more feeling, more knowledge of God in Christ, more faith, hope, and love. To have his heart enlarged in prayer--meditation--communion, in affection to the people of God. Third petition: “And that Thy hand might be with me.” A living child wants to see and feel a fatherly hand with him and over him, going before him temporally, holding him up spiritually, clearing his path, and giving him testimonies that what is done in his fear shall terminate in his approbation. Fourth petition: “And that Thou wouldest keep me from evil.” It is a base representation of the gospel of grace to say that it leads to licentiousness. Every child of God will be more or less frequently offering up this prayer. Shun as you would a pestilence any one who makes light of sin. Evil is a grief, a burden to every living soul. (J. C. Philpot.)
The prayer of the warrior Jew
(Sermon to children):--In speaking to you about Jabez, I would say these four things and ask you to remember them.
I. He was a humble man. It is beautiful to be humble. All his trust is in God, he looks to Him alone. He reminds us of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:12).
II. He was a great man. It is well to be great.
III. He was a kind man. It is better to be kind. He was kind, I think, among other things, in that he loved his mother.
IV. He was a good man. It is best of all to be good. (J. R. MacDuff, D. D.)
The character and prayer of Jabez
I. His character. “More honourable than his brethren.” He was more pious. Piety is honourable.
1. For by “humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honour, and life.”
2. As it engages us in the most glorious employments.
3. As it interests us in the most glorious privileges.
4. As it interests us in the most glorious rewards.
II. His prayer. Notice--
1. The object of his worship--“the God of Israel.” He was not an idolater. He was grateful, he remembered God’s kindness to Israel. He confided in God’s sufficiency.
2. The contents of his prayer, or what he asked. We, like Jabez, ought to--
(1) Implore God’s covenant blessings--the pardon of sin and conformity of heart and life to God’s laws (Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 8:12). These are blessings indeed (Psalms 32:1-2; Psalms 89:15-16; James 1:25).
(2) Implore enlargement of heart, by the entire subjugation and utter destruction of every evil propensity (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalms 119:32).
(3) Implore God’s hand with you, to direct and lead you in all your difficulties (Job 27:11; Hebrews 8:9; Psalms 123:2); to supply all your wants (Psalms 145:16); to support you under all your trials (Psalms 37:23-24); and to keep you in all your exercises (Isaiah 41:10).
(4) Implore protection from all evil (Matthew 6:18; Psalms 17:7; Psalms 121:7; Proverbs 19:23). (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermmons.)
Jabez, the “honourable”
Some analogies suggested by the sea-coast may teach the following lessons.
I. An enlarged “coast” suggests an expanded horizon. Our spiritual relations determine whether soul vision command outlook from a small bay, or toward broad ocean.
II. An enlarged “coast” suggests a broader surface. The glory of a coast is its wide sweep of the ocean. Such in figure is the human soul when possessed and enlarged by the Spirit of God. What sublime possibilities of Divine enlargement belongs to the heart of man!
III. An enlarged “coast” suggests a more extended pathway. Sometimes a narrow strip of land forms the only path when walking on the sea-coast. The enlarged pathway will secure--
2. Peace. (The Study.)
The prayer of Jabez
The text implies more than it expresses. That there is a great variety and distinction among men; some are more and some less honourable.
II. The offspring of sorrow my become the parent of joy.
III. The best and highest honour attaches to true religion.
IV. Though Jabez (sorrow) is not the direct name of every one, yet sorrow is assuredly the lot of all.
V. Prayer is the appointment of God; He would have us pray always, and not faint.
VI. A blessing indeed will be found to have three properties which serve to enhance its value.
1. It is given in covenant love.
2. It is well suited.
3. It is abiding.
VII. Protection by the power of God and preservation in His way are momentous benefits.
VIII. Sin ever grieves the heart of a good man.
IX. In regard to property, it is lawful to seek addition and enlargement, if the will and glory of God be duly regarded.
X. Answers granted to prayer in time past, should encourage us to renew our application to the God of our mercies.
XI. The hand of God with any man is a certain pledge of prosperity.
XII. When faith and fervour accompany our petitions, an answer of peace is near at hand. (Tract Magazine.)
The lustre of a good man’s character
The occurrence of this text in the Book of Chronicles says far more for Jabez than though it had appeared in a list of biographical sketches; as, for instance, in Hebrews 11:1-40. We see as it were the ancient scribe penning down upon his manuscript one name after another in genealogical order, and with wonted precision; but arriving at this name he is so deeply impressed by the holiness of the man, and the peculiarly consistent character of his life, that when about to enrol his name in the annals of Israel he feels obliged to forget the stern prescriptions of form; and flinging aside under inspiration the proverbial stiffness of the genealogist, he becomes the recorder not merely of a name, but of a saintly character withal, and thus unwittingly confirms the important truth that the good man shines everywhere. (George Venables.)
What is God’s blessing
In the midst of this wilderness of dry names, the dead leaves of a long-gone past, we stumble by chance on a beautiful flower, lovely in form and perfumed with precious and holy sentiment, a perfectly glad surprise amidst the barrenness of mere enumeration.
1. How many and various are the meanings we attach to the word “bless”! In the Bible we find God blessing men, and quite as frequently men blessing God; God blessing man by pouring out upon him physical happiness and physical prosperity; blessing him also by making him righteous and cleansing him from sin. Man, on the other hand, is spoken of as blessing God for His bounty and care, for His holy chastisement, for His merciful forgiveness. Again we have men blessing one another and blessing themselves in the way of self-congratulation. We find the word used likewise in a more formal and superstitious way as though the pronouncing of it would entail its fulfilment and become not only a prophecy but a pledge. Leaving Scripture we notice that the term bless is in common use among ourselves in more senses than one. We speak of persons as blessed with high talents, or with a noble position, blessed with a large family or with good fortune; especially do we regard health as a blessing and in most cases also long life.
2. The meaning of the word “bless” or “blessing” depends on the person who uses the term, depends on his native character, surroundings, training, his self-culture or his entire lack of it, his toilsome struggle after virtue or his shameful familiarity with vice. You may be so debased as to think that God’s blessing consists in letting you do exactly as you please, however wicked it may be, without suffering the final consequences of detection, or you may have a nature as lofty, as to regard as the best of God’s blessings “a clean heart and a right spirit,” without which all other of His good gifts would be but curses.
3. The prayer for increased prosperity is perfectly justifiable so long as a man cares most of all to be kept from evil and sin. There is no harm in praying for temporal prosperity, if we feel it to be any real relief to our care and so long as we are ready to take God’s answer of “No” as willingly as to receive an answer of “Yes.” God’s blessing indeed is to be kept from evil.
4. It is a grand test, ever ready at hand for deciding the most subtle case of conscience, to look whether we can deliberately ask for God’s blessing to rest upon it. (Charles Voysey, B. A.)
Prayer of the son of sorrow
I. The matter of it, or the things asked for.
1. He begins by asking God to bless him. “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed.” He would want that blessing on himself personally, on his house, and on all his avocations. He knew that the blessing of God maketh rich; and he knew quite as well that nothing could really and permanently prosper without that blessing.
2. He prays for enlargement. “And enlarge my coast.” Both temporal and spiritual. Give me a larger heart; broader views of Thyself, of Thy ways, and of Thy purposes; and a wider sphere of sympathy, influence, and usefulness. “Thou hast enlarged me,” says the Psalmist, “when I was in distress,” And Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, as to his children, pleadingly entreats, “Be ye also enlarged.” It is neither pleasant nor advantageous to be cooped up within narrow bounds.
3. He seeks Divine co-operation. “And that Thine hand may be with me.” That Thy power may second and give effect to my poor energies. What can my hand do without Thee? But Thine is the hand that has created and sustains the universe.
4. He implores Divine protection. “And that Thou wouldest keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me.”
II. The manner of this prayer. “And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying,” etc. We altogether like the tone and spirit of this prayer.
1. There is the devout reverence of it. “Oh that Thou wouldest.” The Divine name is not so much as mentioned. He knew he was coming to the God of Israel, and that He is a great and holy and terrible God. And we can recognise the cry of a heart too full of pious awe to allow His hallowed name to escape the lips of the suppliant. This reverence should characterise all our approaches to God.
2. There is the spiritual wisdom of it. Jabez puts things in their right places; and what was for him the most important thing, first. Nothing could, in his esteem, antedate the blessing of God; hence he will put that first. “Oh that Thou wouldest bless me indeed.” And was he not perfectly right in this? Did it matter what God gave him if He withheld that blessing from him?
3. There are the speciality and comprehensiveness of it. It takes a wide sweep, and yet does not lose sight of what is most specific and particular.
4. At the same time there is the brevity of it. So specific, so comprehensive, and yet so brief. Assuredly Jabez recognised the solemn fact that God is in heaven, and man upon the earth, and therefore that his words should be few.
5. There is the earnestness of it. “Oh that,” etc. It comes directly out of his heart, and breathes the very spirit of desire.
6. There is the faith which inspired it, and which runs through it like a living soul. This man in coming to God believes that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
III. The success of this prayer. “And God granted him that which he requested.”
1. That he has come to a God who is as ready to give as He is to ask.
2. That he has come to a God who is as comprehensive in His gifts as He is in His desires.
3. That he has come to a God who never forgets His promises to those that seek Him.
4. That he has come to a God who will honour those with His benefactions who honour Him with their confidence and trust. Allow me, then, to propose Jabez to you as an example, and Jabez’s prayer as a model prayer. You have the same God to go to, and you have far greater light to guide you to Him than Jabez had. You have all gospel promises to encourage you. You have the new and living way thrown open to you. You have the Holy Spirit to teach and help you. You have the great Advocate to plead for you. (The Church.)
Verses 14, 21, 23. For they were craftsmen . . . that wrought fine linen . . . those that dwelt among plants.--
Craftsmen, potters, etc.
If all men affected one and the same trade of life or pleasure or recreation, it were not possible they could live one by another; neither could there be any use of commerce, whereby life is maintained. It is good reason we should make a right use of this gracious dispensation of the Almighty, that we should improve our several dispositions and faculties to the advancing of the common stock, and that we should neither encroach upon each other’s profession nor be apt to censure each other’s recreation. (Bishop Hall.)
Origin and use of arts and inventions
I. Useful arts emanate from the wisdom and goodness of god.
II. Useful arts are beneficial in their tendency.
III. Therefore all engaged in useful arts promote the welfare of society. (James Wolfendale.)
1 Chronicles 4:22
And these are ancient things.
The ancient is no use except it be also modern. This is the true test of antiquity. Things are not valuable simply because they are ancient; they may be ancient and dead. We have nothing to do with that kind of antiquity--it is the antiquity of mythology, not of history.
1. All the greatest things are ancient. All you can do is to modernise their form. The telegraph is older than the garden of Eden--not under that name: nothing new has been invented, except combination, adaptation; all the elements and factors are as old as God.
2. Where usefulness is proved antiquity becomes an argument and an illustration. This is the true root and the true use of history. Where usefulness has not been proved, to refer to antiquity is to invoke the sophistical assistance of superstition. We must insist on living usefulness. We must not prop up tottering walls because the copestones are covered with grey moss. This doctrine of the usefulness of antiquity must be applied ruthlessly:
(1) To churches.
(2) To men. Many men would like to live upon their reputation. It is poor living. You cannot live upon your old prayers; it is the prayer of this morning that fed your soul. Not the feast you had in childhood, but the bread you brake this very dawn is sustaining your frame.
(3) To the Bible. Would you burn the Bible? Yes, if it has been superseded, if it has proved itself to be useless, if it can no longer direct men to God, if it has ceased to be the messenger of salvation; but if it contain the living God, it it reveal the living Saviour and breathe the eternal Holy Ghost, then it is not ancient in any sense of obsoleteness, it is ancient in the sense of eternity.
3. Antiquity without Christianity dies. Any civilisation that has not in it the living spirit, the living God, dies. What is the proof? History is the elucidation and history is the evidence. Civilisation will be of no use to you when you lose the risen Christ. Non-spiritual civilisation is useless. Look at China--aa infinite death--the hermit of the globe--a living extinction. China was printing from type five hundred years before Caxton was born; she had the mariner’s compass before England was a nation. There was a time when our forefathers were clothed in sheepskins, when they dyed and painted their whole bodies; and at that time the Chinese were blasting their rocks with gunpowder. Before Daniel saw his visions China had a constitutional government. Then what makes China, this great cipher of the globe, a burden to civilisation? Because its civilisation is only ancient; she has not the Cross. Without that all things tend to decay. Greek--Roman--European civilisation have all gone down in the proportion in which they were not vitally connected with the Cross. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Chronicles 4:23
There they dwelt with the king for his work.
With the King for His work
(A motto for Sunday school teachers.) Work done well, however common, is accounted worthy of its wage, but work done for royalty generally has some special attraction to commend it. Such a man is privileged by appointment to be purveyor of this or that to her Majesty the Queen; and he takes good care to let us know it. It is published in his shop window. It is painted on his sign over the door. He is, “By appointment to the Queen.” Royalty seems to dignify him. Looking at my text I see three or four observations springing from it.
I. Our King has many kinds of servants.
1. Soldiers. It is their duty to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.
These may supply a very good emblem of Sunday school teachers. The potters take the clay while it is pliable and soft, and put it on the wheel and make the wheel revolve, and then with thumb and finger fashion the clay as it revolves before them. If ever at any time the human mind is plastic it is while the child is young.
This is just what a Sunday school teacher should be. He tries to get the plants out from the wild waste and bring them into the “garden walled around.” He knows that the Church is the garden of the Lord and he longs to plant many little slips in it.
II. All who live with our King must work. I have thought that some of our Church members imagined that the cause of Christ was a coach, and that they were to ride on it, and that they would prefer the box-seat, or else a very comfortable seat in the middle of the coach. But all who live with our King must work.
1. Because He works.
2. Because His company always inspires us with the desire to do something for Him.
3. Because there is so much to do that you cannot help doing something.
III. Those that work for our King ought to live with Him.
1. That they may gather strength. In the old fable, when Hercules fought with the giant he could not kill him. He flung him down with all his might, but every time the giant got up stronger than before. The old fable said that the earth was the giant’s mother, and every time that he fell he touched her and got new strength from her. So every time a Christian falls on his knees--draws near to God--he gets new strength.
2. To keep up their enthusiasm.
3. That they may be inspired with courage.
4. If they would cultivate the soft grace of patience.
IV. That which should reconcile us to any work is, that we are working for the King. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Certain members of the royal household
It is a matter of very common occurrence in this world, in forming our estimates of men and things, to ignore altogether the real and constant contributors to success, and to look only at him or them who represent the success. The commander of an ocean steamer is the person whose name is printed, who meets the public eye, and possesses the public confidence; the men who sweat and pant down deep in the ship before the hot and roaring fires, the men who climb the icy rigging, who with stiffening limbs battle with the frozen sails, and watch hour after hour amid cold and darkness for danger, are never thought of. We see the victorious leader of armies surrounded in the hour of triumph by a brilliant staff, while multitudes shout and cheer. How few ever think at such a time of the thousands of silent graves where men lie who paid the costly price of life for this hour of their leader’s triumph! Because the world judges usually in this way the strong contrast of the text strikes us. The royal household is not alone the king with his victorious generals and stately nobles, but the potters and the dwellers or workers among plants and hedges. Our text teaches us--
I. That none are ignored, despised, or forgotten in the royal household of our King because of the apparent insignificance of the position they fill. The work of the Church analagous to that of the potters and hedgers is not in favour. Only a few are willing to do the humble and necessary work of the Church.
II. That the recognition of the value of labour of the humble workers is just as sure, and reward just as certain, as of that which is most prominent. In the service of the King of kings there is no respecting of persons. It is not the position but the work accomplished that obtains consideration from Him. The name of Luther, or even of Paul, is of no account before Him, nor the office of reformer or apostle, only as meaning mighty labour accomplished in and for the Church. The Hudson may be of far more importance to the country because of its deeper channel, broader bosom, than a little brook that meanders through the meadows of some country valley. One is a broad highway, bearing much of the commerce of great States; the other gives grass to the meadows, drink to cattle, and beauty to the landscape; but surely the Hudson is entitled to no more praise for being what it is than the brook for being what it is. No occupation that is right, however mean, can debar us from dwelling with our Lord. We see constantly earthern pots, of very little value in themselves, crowned with the sweetest, the most beautiful, the rarest flowers and plants. Cheap as the red clay is, it is about the only material that could be used. One great value is its cheapness; another is, that plants, with a singular want of taste, would refuse to flourish in pots of silver or gold; their very density and want of porosity render them nearly valueless for this purpose. Just so the very humbleness of work renders some peculiarly fitted to do it. Conclusion:
1. Here we have encouragement for all the Lord’s workers, in
(1) the satisfaction connected with the doing;
(2) in the present beneficent results of the work;
(3) in the certain future reward.
2. Here we may find reason for warm sympathy with all the workers of our King. (Henry W. F. Jones.)
Working for the King
I. How work links men to kings. There are many wrong ideas in the world about labour. Not a few people try to bring up their children without it, and you will see a man toil early and late to make money, getting no enjoyment out of it himself, and when you get at the reason it is that he may make his son a gentleman, which means, someone who can live without work. This is not according to the Divine idea: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” It was not for nothing that Christ toiled at the carpenter’s bench. If you were to take out of the Bible all the stories of men who worked for their living, you would rob it of its greatest beauty. The men and women who work, whether with brain or hand, or both, are the people who save a nation from ruin. What is a man’s religion worth if it does not teach him to labour? Are we not to work out our own salvation, and that for the best of reasons, “It is God that worketh in us.” The sunshine and the rain are useless to the fields that have not been tilled. He who has no plough needs not to trouble to sharpen his scythe. Bibles and sermons to the idle are not, cannot be, appreciated, and Sabbaths are but a weariness to the man who does no kind of Christian work. Do not mistake yourself for a Christian because you like some popular preacher; it is on the same principle that wasps like honey, but they will rather starve than make it. You would not have heard of these men if they had not worked. Their toil has bound up their life with the king’s life. Why should you not act so that the story of God cannot be fully told without your name being mentioned?
II. Kings need different kinds of workers. There is a sense in which God needs us and cannot carry out His plans without us. Whatever your talent there is room for you. Not only genius, but dogged drudgery. We want the artist to paint the picture, and the workman to frame it; the author to write the book, and the printer to give it to the world. How true it is that no one man can do all that needs to be done, even with his own gifts. Does the gardener wish to send in a choice rose he has just cut? Does he wish his rose to stand on the king’s table? Then he must have the help of the potter. He must have one of his vases. (Thomas Champness.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Chronicles 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter