“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 4:10).
The story gives the origin of Jabez’s name and the Hebrew seems to clearly mean “he causes pain.” But there are two possible ways to translate the final part of Jabez’s request to God. The New International version and English Standard Version, for example, translate it like this:
“ … keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” NIV
“ … keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” ESV
Apart from the fact that there seems to be little about this request to make it worthy of recording (the number of people who have prayed to be free from pain is doubtless a considerable one!), these translations ignore the fact that Jabez was given his name because his mother had suffered pain in his delivery and his name means “he causes pain” – not that he was somehow prone to pain.
What makes the Prayer of Jabez so unique is that it seems more likely that he was very conscious of the great pain he caused his mother in childbirth, and sincerely desirous not to cause pain to others. That leads us to the other possible meaning of the Hebrew in the last part of his prayer which is utilized by a number of other translations – as seen, for example, in the Holman Christian Standard Bible and the New King James Version:
“… keep me from harm, so that I will not cause any pain” (HCSB)
“… keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” (NKJV)
These translations understand the prayer to be asking God not to keep Jabez safe from evil, but to help him not commit harm or evil; the translations opting for “that I may not cause pain” seem far more likely to be correct based on what little contextual information we are given. If Jabez prayed for God’s blessing on his life that he not cause pain to others, then the prayer was certainly a unusual and unselfish one. It is perhaps especially understandable that God granted his request, and that it was recorded.
If we are correct in this reading of 1 Chronicles 4:10, it is an unusual prayer indeed. How often do we pray not to cause pain to others as opposed to praying to be delivered from pain ourselves? It is perhaps a prayer we can and all should pray – and one that, just as in the case of Jabez, God is very likely to answer.