Vol. 10, No. 6, Nov. – Dec. 1981
“Why is life given to a man whose way is hid,
and whom God hath hedged in? Job 3:23
THE man who so described himself was one who no longer had any desire to live. He longed to escape to that blessed place where “the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary be at rest” (Job 3:17). But he was not permitted so to opt out of life. God had hedged him in. Later he cried out in his misery: “Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to crush me; that he would loose his hand and cut me off!” (6:8-9). But it was not to be.
Life was an intolerable burden to him. He longed to discover a gap in the divine hedge through which he could quietly give up the fight and slip away. His way was hidden; it was securely hedged in. More than anything else he wanted to die. Before we condemn him in this attitude, let us remember that the great prophet, Elijah, passed through a similar experience when in his despair he requested for himself that he might die (1 Kings 19:4). And while Paul’s prayers were more disciplined and his feelings more restrained, he assured the Philippians that his deep personal desire was “to be with Christ, which is very far better” (Philippians 1:23). And was it not David who cried: “Oh that I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away, and be at rest”? (Psalm 55:6).
In the course of many years of pastoral ministry, I have tried to comfort godly people who shared this distaste for further life on earth, and have done so by the reminder that our times are in His hands — in other words, that we are hedged-in men and women. I write as one who has some small knowledge of how irksome it can sometimes be when God seems to hedge us in either to circumstances or to life itself. Why is there no gap in the hedge for us? What is the meaning of it all?
Let us make no mistake that Job was not imagining anything when he spoke of being hedged-in. Satan himself came up against that barrier when he tried to destroy the patriarch. It was he who complained to God: “Hast thou not made an hedge about him …?” (1:10). At the conclusion of his thoughts on Romans 8 in this issue, George Harpur remarks on the almost humorous situation when Satan was complaining that there was a divine hedge around Job which he could not break into, while Job was lamenting that it was a hedge that he could not break out of. Put like that it is rather amusing, but the hedge is a very real one and the whole matter desperately serious. To the sufferer the hedge does not seem to be a protection but an intolerable barrier against escape. Job was a desperate man who felt that he could bear no more. Enough was enough. “Why”, he queried, “is life still given to a man in such a plight?” Why, indeed?
It seems to me that there are three parts to the answer to this questioning ‘Why?’, three areas of comfort to those who would rather quit this earthly scene of conflict and are not allowed to do so. The first, naturally enough, concerns God. The second, quite rightly, concerns others than ourselves. The third, however, is comfortingly personal. I will try to enlarge on this three-fold answer. Firstly God aims to get glory for Himself through the sufferings; next He plans to use them for the blessing of others, and thirdly He will use them for the perfecting of the character of the sufferer.
1. Hedged-in For God’s Glory
We need to look at the setting of the whole book. To poor Job his way was hidden so that he did not and could not realise the real nature of the conflict in which he was engaged. We are told the whole story. It shows that God took the initiative. In the first two chapters we read that in his account to God of his activities, Satan implied that he was gaining considerable satisfaction as he went to and fro in the earth, for he observed that the race of men whom God had created for Himself had now blindly (or not so blindly!) transferred their allegiance to His enemy. God did not argue with Satan (nor did [101/102] Jesus) but He threw down a challenge to him with the triumphant question: “Hast thou considered my servant Job?” (1:8). My own guess is that Satan would have preferred not to consider men like Job — they were calculated to remind him of his own limitations. In this case, however, he was forced by God to take up the challenge and, as we know, he was completely defeated by Job’s faith. It was Satan who first complained of the ‘hedge’.
Inside that hedge there was set an arena. God was planning to demonstrate to the spiritual universe that He had men and women who love truly and will trust Him even in the most painful and inexplicable circumstances. This is no small matter. In the New Testament we are told that God’s intention is that “now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10). This does not so much refer to the ultimate day of God’s full vindication but to what is going on in the present — NOW!
Job was in the arena of faith. The Lord Jesus entered that arena and in it He triumphed gloriously. May we not say in all reverence that the Lord Jesus was supremely ‘the Man whom God had hedged in’? Listen to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane — but listen most reverently — and you will hear Him asking if there were no way out of that Calvary hedge in which He found Himself. His soul was exceeding sorrowful “even unto death” (Matthew 26:38). But He did not die there. He rose up from His praying prostration, faced His accusers, bore His cross and glorified the Father by His sacrifice unto death. For Him there was no escape gap in the hedge of God’s will.
So we must not resent the fact that we still have to live on. We must seek grace to be hedged-in here on earth until from our lives God has obtained something of the satisfaction and glory which He received through Job’s strange sufferings. We can be “a sweet fragrance of Christ unto God” (2 Corinthians 2:15); we can be “a spectacle both to angels and men” (1 Corinthians 4:9 m.); by our loyalty of faith we can silence and overcome the accuser of the brethren. The man who is hedged-in is therefore really being honoured by God.
2. Hedged-in For Helpfulness To Others
Reasonably enough, Job imagined that his greatest helpfulness to others was when all went well with him: “Oh that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me. … The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me … I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame” (29:2, 13 and 15). To Job, those were the days. Behind the hedge, though, he felt completely futile and helpless: “But now they that are younger than I have me in derision” (30:1).
He could see no value to others by the troubles which beset him and yet it is often the case that when death works in us, blessing comes to other. What a blessing the story of Job has been to multitudes! I can still remember the time and place when as a young Christian I first encountered that comforting verse: “But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold” (23:10). How many times since then have I been helped and encouraged by those words, and what a blessing they have been to so many tried Christians in the fires of God’s refining activities.
The story of Job has often been the Holy Spirit’s way of enabling tried Christians to accept God’s mysterious ways and to profit from them — “to come forth as gold!” Throughout the centuries, large numbers of believers must have found great consolation and faith for endurance from the sufferings and experiences of this ‘hedged-in’ man. In New Testament times, James comforted his tried fellow believers with the reminder of Job’s patience and “the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity …” (James 5:11).
Job doubtless said some unwise things. Who doesn’t? But he also uttered words of sublime inspiration. Out of the fiery furnace of his troubles he was able to speak words which have brought comfort to countless sorrowing mourners: “But I know that my redeemer liveth …” (19:25). If Job had said nothing more than that passage about the certainty of resurrection, his painful experiences would have been more than justified. In eternity he will never cease to praise the faithfulness of God which did not allow him to find refuge in the grave when he so longed to do so, calling him to live on and so to minister to troubled hearts and minds through the centuries.
Our own sphere of influence is doubtless much more limited. We cannot expect to convey comfort to many generations. Yet it may be that there can be much more value from our lives than we would think possible, and that more [102/103] people may benefit from our patient acceptance of the will of God than can be judged in our own lifetime. In Job’s case he was soon to see what help he could be to others, for those three well-meaning but irritating friends of his found that they had great need of his prayers. There on his ash-heap, with no visible sign of any change in his circumstances, he was given the high privilege of interceding on behalf of the three, and he was ready to take up their case as soon as they turned to him at God’s command.
We are not told anything more of their subsequent experiences, but we conclude that all went well for them when Job had offered prayers on their behalf. This privilege, at least, is given to us all. Hedged-in by circumstances we may be, but there is always a ministry of helpfulness by prayer if, like Job, we do not wait till things have changed for us before praying for others. Abraham prayed for Abimelech and his household in their barrenness even when he and Sarah had no indication of a child being born to them (Genesis 20:17). For him that was the turning point. The immediate sequel was the gift to them of Isaac. In that case, as in the story of Job, the Lord turned a man’s captivity when he prayed for others (Job 42:10).
3. Hedged-in For Personal Profit
The last chapter of this book tells us of the full restoration of a new family to Job and the doubling of all his earthly possessions. While everything seemed dark and hopeless, God was using the hedge and the test of patience, not only for the glory of His holy name and for the provision of a ministry of blessing to others, but also for the refining and enrichment of Job himself. “Oh that I were as in the months of old”, Job groaned, little realising that he was near to a much better “afterward”. His patience under trial produced a sequel in which family and friends combined to heap upon him every comfort and generous gift that he could have wished for (42:11). “Then” — when the refining work was done — Job found himself more honourable and more wealthy than he had ever been before.
This is God’s purpose with us all. It is quite true that, as Job said, the end of trial is to come forth as gold. His prosperity was earthly, and even his long happiness had an end, but in our case God is working for eternity. The values which He has in view for us will more than compensate for the pain which we endure for Him now. The New Testament makes this very clear. It is the only explanation, but it is a fully adequate one, for the strange ways which God takes with so many of His servants.
Right to the end of our lives, believers are being prepared for eternity. How many aged saints are pressed into complaint that the hedge remains and they have to live on when it would seem so much kinder if the Lord would remove them to their heavenly home. They know that it would be so much better to be with Him; that if for them to live has been Christ, then to die must mean gain. Yes, but even while Paul was penning those very words he knew in his own case that for the time being he must be prepared to live on. It is true that he remained alive because the Church still had need of his services, but he confided to the Philippians that he had not yet attained and needed to keep pressing on for the prize.
The time did come when he could be sure that he had finished his course. That time will come for each of us, though the Lord alone knows how and when it will be. Until then we must lie still and let Him mould us. Only the heavenly Potter knows when the vessel which He has in hand is as He planned it should be. But the very fact that I have passed from writing about the hedge to a Hand, shows how personal is the care being given to each one of us. Why are we now hedged in by God? So that in the end we may be unto praise and honour and glory at His appearing. “So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (42:12). He will not do less for us.