The Prayer of Jabez
It stands out. In the midst of chapters of geneologies and notations about the distributions of lands and settlements, Jabez' prayer sounds like a bell or chime slightly out of tune to the greater chorus of Israel's walk with God. What increases the dissonance with me is that the prayer, and God's response, does not fit into the paradigms we have been operating under until this point in the narrative of the Hebrew scriptures. Jabez is named because he caused pain for his mother. His name sounds like that admission on her part. Then, his prayer asks God for benefit, and for protection from pain or loss. God's only response is simply to grant that request.
There is no apparent sense to this response to a prayer that, frankly, sounds only selfish...and has Jabez offering nothing back to God. There is no pledge of fidelity, no demonstration of gratitude. There is no appeal to God's mercy, nor are remembrances offered of God's great works of the past. Jabez asks God to make him rich, to make him safe and to preserve him from suffering. And God says, "yes."
What can we infer? The only thing I can come up with as I struggle with Jabez and his prayer derives from our reading from Romans. In that passage, Paul asserts that God is the god of all. Gentile or Jew, circumcised or not, under the Law or not. God is God. God's grace and the demonstrations that come from the grace being given to us are to God's glory and our response in faith is intended to magnify that glory. Jabez' expansion is not to his credit, but to God's mercy. Our salvation is a blessing, but more it is a sign to the world that God is faithful and just.
Perhaps that is the key to understanding Jabez' place in this narrative. That dissonant note is beautifully placed to call attention to, and remind us of, the whole point of this story...that God's holy Name be magnified and that we are continually being saved for that Name's sake.