The phrase “hedge of protection” is one of those sayings that can be classified as “Christianese”, or the language of specific words or phrases given Christian meaning and used in Christian circles. It’s a phrase you’re likely to hear when someone is praying, “Put a hedge of protection around so and so”. It may be more commonly heard from charismatic churches or backgrounds and it is typically employed in the context of spiritual warfare. I suppose their biblical basis for this saying may be drawn from Job 1:10 where in that context Satan proposes that Job is untouchable because God has placed a “hedge of protection” around him. So it’s not to say that this is an unbiblical or bad saying, even though its overused and probably abused. However, what if there was another way to think of a hedge of protection. Not one so much focused on protection from Satan, as with Job, but one erected by God to protect us from ourselves.
Generally speaking a hedge acts as a barrier to either mark a boundary or as an added layer of protection. Used in this way it typically serves to keep what’s on the outside of the hedge, outside. Rarely is it considered to keep what’s on the inside, inside. But that is exactly how God uses this term through the prophetic message of Hosea.
“Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths.” Hosea 2:6
In the passage above, God is outlining His pending judgment on the Northern Kingdom of Israel by way of analogy with the relationship between Hosea and his wife of whoredom, Gomer. As the threats of desolation unfold, we see God’s promise to “hedge up her way with thorns” with application, by way of the developing analogy, to Israel. Verse 7 makes an important addition and clarification, “She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them.”
Here we see that the hedge of protection is not like the hedge that we hear so often in prayers or even the one referenced above from Job. Instead, this hedge is for the purpose of keeping Israel from her lovers, namely the idolatrous relationships that she has so wantonly pursued and the syncretistic manner in which she has co-opted the religion handed down by God. Thinking of it in this way, the hedge is not for the purpose of defending Israel from threats from the outside, but for defending Israel from threats from the inside and preventing her from acting on the adulteries of the heart.
Israel’s plight is not isolated to the 8th Century B.C. If, like Calvin has said, our hearts are idol factories then we are in far greater need of a hedge to protect us from acting on these sinful desires. Perhaps our tendency is to see ourselves too often as Job, the righteous sufferer in need of a hedge of protection from Satan and not more accurately as wanton Israel in need of a hedge of protection from the idolatries of our hearts. Perhaps our prayers should reflect the recognition of this enemy within more often than to assume our greatest threat is from the outside.
Oh how in need we are of Almighty God to hedge us in from acting on our sinful desires, preventing us from conceiving with them to bring forth sin. John Owen captures the intentions of sin and expresses well our need to be hedged in,
“sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, if it has its own way it will go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could, every thought of unbelief would be atheism if allowed to develop. Every rise of lust, if it has its way reaches the height of villainy; it is like the grave that is never satisfied. The deceitfulness of sin is seen in that it is modest in its first proposals but when it prevails it hardens men’s hearts, and brings them to ruin.”
Additionally, may we note that as God hedges against acting on unholy desires, He also redirects those desires towards Himself. The second half of Hoses 2:7 reflects this well, “Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’” As a result of the hedge, Israel would be unable to pursue her lovers and would consequently turn back to her Husband. In the midst of judgment they would find mercy.
May this be the case with us; that our hearts would be kept from idols and our desires redirected to all-satisfying Savior.
May our hearts sing with the Psalmist, “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins” Ps. 19:13a
May sin not have its own way in us.
And may God’s restraining hand act always as a hedge of protection against the idolatrous desires of our hearts.