Category Archives: Devotions

A Hedge of Protection

 

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.

A Great Light

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Isaiah 9:2

The Scripture’s great contrast between light and darkness is here on display through the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning, in the near, hope in the midst of the Assyrian invasion, yet in the far, a future greater in hope found in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, which like so much of Old Testament prophecy looks toward the future and sees an amalgamation of events (often called prophetic perspective) this prophecy is set in the midst of the coming judgment on Israel as God-ordained punishment for their apostasy from God. The darkness expresses the hopelessness of the current situation, yet the language of Isaiah, “…have seen a great light” is that of the prophetic perfect, used to express the surety of a future event as though it has already happened. Commenting on this passage Calvin writes,

“He speaks of future events in the past tense, and thus brings them before the immediate view of the people, that in the destruction of the city, in their captivity, and in what appeared to be their utter destruction, they may behold the light of God. It may therefore be summed up in this manner: “Even in darkness, nay, in death itself, there is nevertheless good ground of hope; for the power of God is sufficient to restore life to his people, when they appear to be already dead.”[1]

Certainly, a restoration from the hands of Israel’s captors is in view, yet we must not limit our understanding of this prophecy to the events surrounding Israel and Assyria, particularly since this passage is referenced elsewhere.

Written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel of Matthew 4:15-16 cites this passage from Isaiah 9 in the context of Jesus beginning His earthly ministry

“12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17

This further illumination by the Spirit of God, the Divine Author of Scripture, aids in our understanding of the fullness or fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah, namely that found in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the great light that offers hope in the midst of a darkened world. Turning again to Calvin we read,

“If, therefore, we wish to ascertain the true meaning of this passage, we must bring to our recollection what has been already stated, that the Prophet, when he speaks of bringing back the people from Babylon, does not look to a single age, but includes all the rest, till Christ came and brought the most complete deliverance to his people. The deliverance from Babylon was but a prelude to the restoration of the Church, and was intended to last, not for a few years only, but till Christ should come and bring true salvation, not only to their bodies, but likewise to their souls.”[2]

Christ Himself makes this connection in John 8:12 when He states,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

In John’s Gospel, this statement is buttressed with the truths about Christ being the Light from chapter 1, verses4-5, 9 and chapter 3:19-21. Our Lord’s declaration that He is light has profound biblical meaning. Primarily, it asserts His deity bringing to mind such Old Testament declarations such as Exodus 13:21, where the pillar of fire led the way for the Israelites in the wilderness; Psalm 27:1 “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear”; Micah 7:8; Isaiah 60:20; as well as 1 John 1:5. The declaration of light is a declaration of purity and holiness, in which there is no shadow or defect (James 1:17).  Additionally, several Old Testament passages assert that God’s Word is light (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23) adding to the profundity of John 1:1.

Secondarily, by stating He is light, Christ assumes the role that God had intended for Israel to occupy as a city on a hill whose light was to shine forth to the world, yet because of their disobedience failed to properly fulfill the mission of God. Therefore, God has appointed His True Servant Israel, His Son, to go forth as a light unto the nations bringing salvation to the ends of the world. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6

This advent season, may our eyes be drawn to the Light of the world. May we realize that He alone can shine forth in a world of darkness. This Light alone possesses the light of life. Walking in spiritual darkness, dead in our trespasses and sins is a hopeless and dire situation that leaves us under the wrath of God and destined for the experience of His everlasting judgment. May we look toward the light, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and see Him as our only hope. Surety in a world of darkness and a beacon for all who come to Him in repentance and faith.

 

 

[1] Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. VII Isaiah 1-32, Baker 2005, pg. 298.

[2] Calvin, pg. 299

Because of His Reverence

 

Hebrews 5:7 “…because of his reverence”

In the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry He was faced with much opposition from the world, from the Devil, and from weaknesses of His own human body. In the face of these fierce conflicts, He saw it necessary to retreat often to His Father in prayer. We find this in Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Mark 6:46, Luke 5:16, Luke 9:18, Luke 9:28-29, Luke 11:1, and John 17, but perhaps most notably His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26/Mark 14/Luke). Here we read of the attitude with which our Lord communicated with His Heavenly Father. As the author of Hebrews alludes, He “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” none more reflective of the man of sorrows than what we find in the intensity of His own Garden on the precipice of His crucifixion. Despite the affliction of His soul, we are told the reason He was heard was the posture of His heart, “he was heard because of his reverence.”

We may read of this account from either of the synoptics, yet our conclusion would be the same, “he was heard because of his reverence.” Note the passage under discussion from Matthew’s perspective,

“36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26:36-46

What may we say of this reverence? It can be none other than the disposition of His heart as He approaches His Father leading Him to utter those words, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” and again, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” An objection may arise here, if this is the prayer of reverence that was heard, how was it answered because we know that just a few moments later Christ would be crucified. Ah, but was His soul left to see corruption? May it never be! His prayer was answered and He was saved from death to the glory of our Lord! Let us not be guilty of assuming our prayers are not answered simply because the answer doesn’t look like how we pictured.

Dear Christian, what a privilege we have to approach the throne of our Heavenly Father by means of our Lord Jesus Christ the Great Mediator of the New Covenant and our faithful High Priest. Yet, how often do we do so with flippancy and triviality and wonder why our prayers never escape the ceiling of the room in which we’ve just prayed. God too is our Father if, and only if, we have embraced Him by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ relying only upon His finished work on the cross; yet God is nonetheless holy, necessitating all approaches to His throne be so done with reverence. May those Scriptural examples of persons who have had heavenly visions of the most awesome throne-room (see Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John via Revelation) serve as sign-posts on our own highway to the mercy seat reminding us that we ought to travel with a heart of reverence. In doing so, may we find our prayers more effective and the time spent on our knees more honoring to the Holy One.

Soli Deo Gloria!