I suppose chapter 4 begins with the end of the genealogy of Judah. Many more names are given that we haven’t seen before. More families are filled out and we find out where various clans come from.
In the middle of the genealogy, we are given a little vignette from the life of a man named Jabez. It’s been about twenty years, but I remember all the hype caused by the book The Prayer of Jabez. It’s a theological disaster, encouraging people to treat the Lord of the Universe as a prosperity-dispensing genie. So of course the religious unbelievers jumped all over it and the spiritually immature were swept up in the fervor. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from Jabez’s life and example.
We are told, rather suddenly, that Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. I don’t see any of his other family members mentioned anywhere, so it’s doubly strange that we are told about him here. However, he did have a city named after him, which showed up back in 1 Chronicles 2:55, where the clans of scribes lived. We are also told that the name Jabez was a reminder of the extraordinary pain his mother experienced while delivering him, which I can imagine was not a fun thing to grow up with.
Jabez’s prayer is actually a fine thing to pray. The Lord delights in blessing His people. We need His hand to be upon us to guide us through our lives. “Harm” could also be translated “evil”, which is certainly something we want to avoid. The expanding borders are a little trickier. According to an article by Steven Lawson, Jabez was part of the army that conquered Canaan in Joshua’s time. In order for Jabez’s borders to be enlarged, Israel’s enemies would have to be defeated, which is something the Lord had made clear He would help them do. Altogether, God answered Jabez’s prayer not because it was a magic formula, or Jabez’s faith was so amazing, but because He chose to glorify Himself to do so. Prayer is more about changing us to get lined up with what God wants us to have and be, rather than changing God to get what we want.
After this we get more names, some of which are famous. Othniel was the first judge of Israel, after Joshua. And we finally see Caleb the son of Jephunneh. Other names are linked with cities, clans, and trade-guilds.
Bless us, O Lord, according to Your good pleasure, for we are undeserving sinners.