By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: "And Jabez was more honorable than his brethren; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, Because I bare him with sorrow. And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh, that Thou wouldst bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldst keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested." 1 Chron. 4:9, 10.
Some years ago I was invited to hold a camp meeting at Central City, Colorado, which is over 8,000 feet above sea level. While there I went out to a gold mine. This mine was between two cragged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. How they ever got the machinery up there I do not know. The ground was not level enough to stand a boiler, but they were digging gold just the same, and I got this lesson: Sometimes we get the richest deposits of golden treasure in the most unlikely places.
This chapter from which our text is taken is composed of hard names. I remember years ago, when starting to read the Bible through, I skipped over these places, but now I read them very carefully, for between these names we sometimes find rich deposits of truth.
Here was a boy whose name was Jabez -- a name seldom heard today. You know in olden times people named their children differently from what we do now-a-days. They used names which meant something: For example, Ichabod -- "The glory has departed." Jacob -- "deceiver." And here is a boy named Jabez, meaning "Sorrowful." Just think of a mother calling her children thus: "Come here, John, Mary, and Sorrowful." The very sound of his name was enough to cast a gloom over his spirit and take all the joy out of his play; everything was against him.
I wish to get three thoughts from this wonderful life which is recorded in just three verses. This is the whole history of the man. When God writes a man's biography he can couch a great deal into a few words.
I. Jabez made the right choice.
II. He rose above his environments.
III. He became more honorable than his brethren.
I. We are told that he called upon the "God of Israel." Now, just what that implied I do not know. It may have meant that he was in great trouble. It may have meant that he was in the midst of a famine, a plague, or a war, and he felt that none but the God of Israel could undertake his case. It may have meant he saw Baal worship sweeping everything before it, and he tried to stem the tide by calling upon the "God of Israel." This, of course, made him very unpopular and meant ostracism.
But no difference what it meant, he made the right choice. There is a great deal in making a right choice. Sometimes more than one life is ruined because of a wrong choice. Take, for instance, Lot: When the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot quarreled, Abraham said:
"Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we be brethren.
"Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself I pray thee from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or, if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left." Gen. 13:8, 9.
Now, note the result of a selfish choice. Lot had associated with Abraham, and as a result, had become immensely rich, and what he should have said, was, "No, uncle, I will never do such a thing! I have associated with you and because of it, God has blessed me. You choose and I'll take what is left."
Sometimes little things show more clearly than greater ones, the real character of a man. It is the little things in life which show the meanness, or greatness of a soul. When company is present, or when one is before a great congregation, he puts on his best behavior and is all smiles. But it is when he is behind the scene, in the kitchen, or the bedroom, that we see the unclothed spirit and the real man. Little choices show which way you are headed.
So, "Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan: and Lot journeyed east, and they separated themselves the one from the other .... And Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent toward Sodom." Verse 11, 12. See the plain of Jordan -- well watered and grassy! Abraham was left with the stony knobs where his flocks had to climb great distances to find a few sprigs of grass. I presume Lot thought, "Now I'll be well fixed in this fine green pasture. I'll have a ready market for the milk and butter and be near the city schools." And perhaps he bought right up to the city limits and said to himself, "Sodom is growing so rapidly, I will have a 'Lot-subdivision,' where we will have certain restrictions; we will not have any dance halls, or saloons." Thus he eased his conscience after having decided to pitch his tent toward Sodom.
The next chapter says he "dwelt in Sodom." Perhaps his proud daughters kept complaining because they had to walk in the mud, besides they did not want to be "country folks". They wanted to go to high school and be near the shows and entertainments.
One step out of divine order calls for another, and a little later we read that "Lot sat in the gate of Sodom." This means that he was now one of the officials, perhaps alderman, or mayor of the city. Next we read that he lost everything -- wife, property, and came near losing his own soul; at least a cloud was cast upon that good man's name, -- all because of a wrong choice.
In crossing the continent from the east, over the Rockies, on the Rio Grande system, we come to the "Continental divide." Here on a mountain peak stands a barn. Upon this barn falls two rain drops which have traveled together for a great distance -- from the clouds above. But now they must part -- never more to meet again. One goes on one side of the comb of the roof and the other goes on the other side. They are only a sixteenth of an inch apart, but the apex, -- that last thin shingle separates them and the result is, one travels to the Pacific Ocean while the other finds its way to the Atlantic.
In like manner, two persons may be parting ways here now. One makes a good choice -that he will be a holy man -- that he will do as Jabez did -- call on the name of God. The other fails to do so. He falls to make the right decision. And these two, all through eternity, will never associate again, because of a wrong decision on the part of one.
Do you know that while sitting here tonight, you have wonderful prospects before you? While you gifts are here in your bloom, without any straps upon your freedom, do you know what I see? I see multitudes of women who once had as fair prospects as you -- perhaps more admirers and more money; they lived in the glitter of society, but tonight they are wringing their hands and saying, "Oh, my God, why was I ever born? I thought when I married John (the only son of a rich merchant) that I was doing well, but he has gambled his money away, and here I am with these children crying for something to eat and shivering with the cold. I wonder why I was ever born. If it were not for fear of hell I would put an end to my existence!" Yes, this is what many heartbroken women feel, and perhaps say, who were once as free as you.
Why are they suffering thus? Because when young, they pulled away from father and mother and said, "I guess I am old enough to care for myself." Because they went with young fellows who puffed cigarettes, because they sat half way back in the church, were ashamed to kneel during prayer and unlike Jabez, did not call on the God of Israel. Oh, girls, you should never be ashamed to be found reading the Bible; you should never he ashamed to be found with spiritual people and be heard in prayer and testimony. Take a pronounced stand for God! If religion is worth anything it is worth everything! Even sinners will admire you more, if you are absolutely sincere and truly good, than if you compromise and tone down to escape ridicule.
Again! Here is a boy among many others. You look forward to the time when you will be a big man, with broad shoulders and be your own boss. But, do you know that there are men today who, when boys, had more money and more friends than you ever had? They graduated earlier than you, and had fair prospects, but where are they? I will tell you. Some are wearing stripes, and are in prison for life. Others have had their necks broken on the gallows. And still others are in the insane asylums.
I may be preaching to men, who, if like Jabez, had made the right choice, it would have kept them out of much trouble. I may be preaching to men now, who would have more friends and be better off financially, had they called upon the God of Israel. Do you know it costs a great deal to be a sinner and have your own way? It may cost you your health. It may cost you your wealth. It may cost you your fair name; yea, it may cost you the loss of your soul.
I tremble when I see a boy come into meeting and shake his head when invited to seek salvation. You may think that this is not a very great sin, but listen: that shake of your head may mean that you will be lost and ruined forever. Oh, the multitudes of people who are in distress, or are working for a mere living, with their noses on the grindstone of poverty, who would have been at the head of business firms, or presidents of colleges! But they are not a success -- all because of obstinacy and wrong decisions when young.
I believe the devil trembles when he sees a boy about to make a right decision, and if he can only get him to put it off once, until a later time, he knows he is likely to get him to do it again. II. The second thing I want to notice about Jabez is that he rose above his environments. Notice this boy! I know not what it was that came into his, or her life that caused the mother to give him this peculiar name. We might suppose this or that: It may have been an untrue father just when she needed assistance. Or, it may have been that one or more members of her family espoused the religion of Baal. Or, he may have been deformed, blind, crippled, clubfooted, or sickly, so that everything seemed to be against him. This weaned him from earthly joys and united him to God and his mother. No doubt these things made him more sympathetic and tender of his mother's feelings. And, because he was conscientious and exemplary his brethren would not have him in their company. When going fishing, or on similar expeditions, doubtless they whispered among themselves, "Let us leave Jabez at home, for if we have a big time he will tell on us." The fact that he was depreciated and set at naught drove him to prayer. But remember, anything that will drive us to our knees is a great blessing. I thank God that I was born poor -- so poor that they nicknamed me, "Ragged Elsie." I had two cousins about my age, who were well dressed and rode on their little ponies up the public road while I, on an out-of-the-way farm, mowed weeds, hoed corn and dug potatoes. I could look across to the public road and see them with their drums and brass buttons, going to band practice, while I was laboring with gravel in my shoes. and I said to father, "It doesn't look fair for me to work so hard while the other boys have such nice times."
Father answered, "Never mind, my son, we will wait and see how things turn out."
Well, we lived to see how it turned out. These two boys broke their father up and it was not long until the older one died. They said he died of typhoid fever, but the truth was, it was brought on by an ungodly life; sin killed him. He drank and gave way to licentiousness, until he undermined his health, then when fever seized him, he did not have enough resistance left to fight his way through. The other one was so ungrateful, that after his marriage, he compelled his now aged father to live in a woodshed, where he died, broken-hearted. Later, these things were visited upon his own head.
Yes, I thank God for poverty. While attending country school, the children brought out, with a degree of satisfaction their lunches -- big red apples, cake, chicken and custard pie. "Ragged Elsie" could not make such a display, so went out behind a log, or in the old coal house, and unwrapped his lunch where no one could see him. Sometimes his lunch consisted of cold corn, or buckwheat cakes without butter. I well remember having on my bread black cider apple butter, so strong I can almost taste it now. I never saw bought underwear until I was fifteen, and my best Sunday shoes were so coarse and hard, that to keep them from rubbing blisters on my heels, I carried them in hand nearly three miles, when they were put on before I entered the Sabbath school. Yes, I thank God for poverty and hardships -- that I was not born in a city, with carriages and automobiles at my disposal, but behind the hills, in seclusion, without many friends or visitors. Later, when I attended college, I declined assistance from father, or the "College fund," saying, "If a boy at the age of seventeen cannot educate himself he is not worth an education." I started in with less than five dollars and came out with twice as much and two new suits of clothes.
III. He became more honorable than his brethren. Jabez evidently had the ability to get sweet out of bitter, and sunshine out of darkness. Bless God for the man, or woman who does not under any kind of circumstances go into despair, or join the Socialists and begin fighting every one who has a little money. Never allow yourself to think you do not amount to much and give up, but do as did Jabez, "call on the God of Israel. When I get to heaven I am going to ask Jabez," why he was called by that name. But whatever was his trouble, he turned it to his account. He doubtless felt like saying, "Everything is against me! The young people refuse me their association and I must have Divine consolation." It drove him to his knees and so he found comfort in God. Listen to his prayer: "Oh that Thou wouldst bless me." Then he seemed to realize that there was a long, hard pull ahead, and felt the need of a special blessing and said, "Oh, that Thou wouldst bless me indeed" -- an indeed blessing. I do not know, it may be that Jabez felt the need of holiness, or the "second blessing."
The trouble with some of you is that you are satisfied with a thimble full of religion when you should have more than you can contain. I am sorry for people who have just enough to make them miserable, whereas they should say; "I am going in for all that is in it, for if I make any pretensions at all, people will expect much of me and I might as well get all out of it that is in it."
Jabez' prayer continues: "And enlarge my coast." He believed in the enlargement of the heart. The trouble with some of you is, that you are no larger now, than when you first professed. Your greatest blessings were way back there at your conversion; you have no new visions and revelations as in former days.
God wants you continually to be outgrowing yourself. He wants you to enlarge your coast and stake off new territory in the Land of Canaan. It is too bad when you become so formal and insipid that those with whom you live know what you are going to say when you testify or pray. It will not be so if you, like Jabez, keep enlarging your coast and mentally and spiritually discovering new things.
"And that Thine hand might be with me." He evidently felt that it was worth more to have the strong hand of God with him than to have great wealth or a large circle of influential friends. God grant that we may always put the same estimate upon earthly things. I would rather feel the pressure of God's hand upon me than to be on intimate terms with a human hand that could write a check for a million.
"And that Thou wouldst keep me from evil that it may not grieve me." He must have had a very tender conscience -- so much so that the sight of evil grieved him. Oh, that the boys of today were as careful to abstain from all appearance of evil! It is not enough to say that you have not actually committed certain sins. You must go farther and live so conscientious that the thought, or sight of evil will pain your heart. I will guarantee that any boy who lives thus, will turn out well. "And God granted him that which he requested," God is pleased to grant such a request, and, as in Solomon's case, God generally gives something additional.
Remember this, young man, that instead of being ambitious for honor, wealth, or position -instead of planning and scheming to attain any, or all of these -- if you will pray the prayer of Jabez, you, likewise, will become more honorable than others who do not care for sacred things. Others may outstrip you in beauty and natural accomplishments, but, as John Wesley's deep piety outlived George Whitefield's great oratory -- so it will be with you.
George Whitefield preached on one occasion to 60,000 people on the commons in London, and no doubt was one of the world's greatest orators. It was said that he could pronounce the word Mesopotamia three times and cause his audience to weep. Yet, Wesley became more honorable, because of his superior saintliness. "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches." Prov. 22:1.
"Then learn to scorn the praise of men
And learn to lose with God:
For Jesus won the world through shame,
And beckons thee his road.
"Thrice blest is he to whom is given
The instinct that can tell
That God is on the field, when he
Is most invisible.
"Blest too is he who can divine,
Where real right doth lie,
And dares to take the side that seems,
Wrong to man's blindfold eye."