If you looked up the meaning of every name in a family lineage in the Old Testament of the Bible, you would probably find that the names tell a story about the journey that the family has traversed. The family of Judah started with three sons; Er, Onan, and Shelah (Genesis 38:3-5). Judah’s first son, Er was so wicked the LORD slew him (Genesis 38:7). When Er died, it became Onan’s responsibility to produce a male heir for his brother’s wife. Onan’s refusal to fulfill his obligation caused him to be slain also.
Eventually, Judah impregnated his daughter-in-law, Tamar and produced twin sons, Pharez and Zarah.
And it came to pass, when she travailed, that one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez. And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.
The name Zarah means to shoot forth or to appear (2224) and the name Pharez means to break out (6555).
Zarah is not mentioned in 1 Chronicles, Chapter 4 among the family of Judah, so it is possible he died childless like Er, but there is one man, Jabez who may have been his descendant. Jabez is not connected to any other relative of Judah and is given two verses to capture his biography in a list of names tied to Caleb, the first of Judah’s family to settle in the Promised Land.
And Jabez was more honourable 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 wouldest bless me in deed, 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. And God granted him that which he requested.
The name Jabez means to grieve or be sorrowful (3258). Sometimes Jabez’s name is translated pain, which is another word for sorrow. Jabez was not satisfied with his life of pain and wanted to become great, so he prayed that God would bless him. As illogical as it may seem, most people do not believe that God wants to bless them and therefore, do not ask for his blessing. It is possible to change your life, but you first have to realize that only God can change the future and you must ask him to do it.
Changing the course of a family legacy is comparable to changing the course of a river. For years, perhaps decades or even centuries, water has been following the same course, traveling from mountain peaks to the oceans below along pathways that have been forged through rocks and debris. Dams and channels are necessary to overcome nature’s force.
Many people enjoy going with the flow. They do not want to rock the boat or cause any friction in family relationships. The problem with going with the flow is that you will end up at the same destination as your ancestors, which could be a life of pain and sorrow.
Jabez knew there was a problem that needed to be overcome in order for his life to be different. Jabez prayed that God would keep him from evil, “that it may not grieve me” (1 Chronicles 4:10). Jabez understood that the reason he was grieved was because he was suffering the consequences of the evil that had become a part of his life. “One of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (7451). It is likely that Jabez’s trouble was not a result of his own actions, but those of his family. He may have inherited his mother’s sorrow, but he did not have to keep it and pass it on to the next generation.