08 May 2019

Praying for shrubbery.

In Job, right after the LORD commended Job for being such a good and faithful servant, the devil countered with this.

Job 1.9-11 KWL
9 Satan told the LORD in reply, “Job fears God for no reason.
10 Don’t you wall around him, his house, all he has, round about?
You bless his handiwork, and his possessions fill the land. 11 Now please:
Stretch out your hand and touch all he has. He won’t publicly bless you then.”

Y’know, 99 times out of 100, here in the United States, I’d say the devil hit the nail right on the head. Mess with our stuff and we’ll think God either abandoned us, or was never really here. Job was as good as the LORD said—and really, why would the LORD’ve thought incorrectly about Job? ’Cause omniscience. But I digress.

In the King James Version שַׂ֣כְתָּ/sakhtá is translated “made an hedge.” In 1611 this meant a wall of any sort; could be stones, could be thornbushes. In present-day English we only use “hedge” to describe shrubbery. One that looks nice, and not too expensive.

Well, we also use “hedge” in our prayers. Go to enough prayer meetings and one of these days you’ll hear someone use this particular Christianese saying: “And Lord, we just wanna ask for a hedge of protection around our team as they minister…” Sometimes they make it “a hedge of thorns,” just to make it extra hard to get through.

They don’t always know where they got the saying from, but it’s from that Job passage. (And if you wanna freak people out, point out it’s a direct quote from Satan, of all people. That’ll get ’em to read their bibles.)

There’s nothing wrong with asking for such hedges round yourself. Part of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Deliver us from evil”—or from the Evil One, as some translations have it. Mt 6.13 Whenever possible we’d like God’s hedge round us. But note, as we see in Job’s case, God can put it up or take it down as he wishes.

A hedge round the wayward.

Three reasons Christians ask for God to drop a supernatural force field around people:

  • We’re regularly tempted to sin, and have the darnedest time resisting it. So we want God to keep the sin away.
  • We’re worried about evil people or evil forces doing evil things to us. So it’s a prayer for safety.
  • We have a loved one who’s sinning, and we want God to cut off all their temptations and bring ’em to him.

Various Christians claim God would never, ever interfere with a human being’s free will. Yet a lot of these very same people will pray for hedges round sinners, asking God to totally interfere with their free will. Hey, when Christians get desperate, our theology doesn’t always come out that consistent.

But let’s look at that idea a bit. The first two instances of praying for hedges, we’re asking protection for ourselves, or for willing followers of Christ. The third, we’re asking God to redirect the wayward. Now, will God answer such a prayer with yes? Will he interfere with free will, or has he made that an absolute rule for himself which he’d never break?

Nah; God interferes with free will all the time. If he didn’t, there’d be a whole lot of evil running amok in this world. In Hosea, God compared his relationship with Israel to that of Hosea and his slutty wife. His solution to Israel’s misbehavior:

Hosea 2.6-7 KWL
6 “So look: I’m putting a wall of briars in her way.
I’m installing a levee. She won’t find a path through it.
7 She’ll pursue her lovers; she won’t catch up with them.
She’ll seek them; she won’t find them.
She’ll say, ‘I’ll go return to my man.
The past was better for me than the present.’”

Since God said he’d throw a “hedge of thorns” (KJV) round unfaithful Israel, we Christians figure we can pray likewise for faithless loved ones. So we do.

But here’s where it gets a little problematic. Israel had an existing relationship with God, which it’d fallen away from. It cheated on the LORD an awful lot, what with the Law-breaking and idolatry. Some of the people went full-on pagan. But there were enough of ’em still following God to make the nation not a total loss.

Our loved ones, on the other hand, are not a collective. They’re individuals—people who might have no relationship with God whatsoever. Even if they were raised Christian, they might never have committed themselves to God, and aren’t wayward: They were never on the way to begin with.

So is Hosea’s prophecy a valid pattern when it comes to praying for lost friends and loved ones? I seriously doubt it is.

I’ll pray it anyway, ’cause you never know.

Who puts this hedge up, anyway?

Functionally God’s hedge of protection is a literal, solid barrier between us and evil. ’Cause God’s almighty, y’know. If God doesn’t want anything to mess with you, nothing will mess with you. Jesus could call down ten thousand angels whenever he felt like it, Mt 26.53 and one would be plenty.

But the way I hear some Christians pray, they think they’re the ones throwing up the wall. “I call a hedge of protection…” or “I proclaim” or “I declare” or “I claim” or whatever first-person pronoun they use to make it sound like they’re the ones bossing angels around. They’re not making prayer requests; they’re making prayer demands, which is not something we get to do to our Father. He has a tendency to reward hubris with opposition. Jm 4.6 Sometimes passive—“Yeah, I’ve gotta say no to that one”—and sometimes not.

As demonstrated in Job, any supernatural protective hedge is God’s to put up or take down as he sees fit. It’s one he can put round anyone he chooses. He could even put it round evil people if he likes, but in the scriptures we notice his tendency is to defend his favorites, particularly favorites who are following him. ’Cause it won’t necessarily work unless we duck behind it.

Paul’s metaphor of the shield of faith, fr’instance. Ep 6.16 A shield is something we hold up when we’re under attack; something we get behind when bullets are flying. It doesn’t defend us just because we’re carrying it. We have to carry it correctly: We have to believe the things Jesus legitimately taught, and not our culture’s claims about what we hope he meant. That’s putting our faith in the wrong things. We put it, instead, in him.

Same deal with God’s hedges. If we don’t get behind them for cover, evil might still take us down. If our wayward pagan friends don’t turn to God when they’re in trouble, they’ll still likely suffer the consequences of their poor choices. (And y’know, sometimes they need to. ’Cause often that’s what’ll get them to turn to God.)