Chapter 4: The God of Hedges (Job 3)
In God’s good providence, He places hedges around the righteous for protection and blessing. These hedges are like a spiritual fence, wall, or partition. In similar language, the Bible also refers to God’s protection and blessing of the righteous as a shield, a rock, a fortress, and even the hand of God (Psalms 5:11-12). For example, the psalmist promised the Lord would bless the righteous with favor and surround them with His shield. David also reaffirmed his trust in the Lord in Psalm 18:2-3: “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies”.
Moses also comforted Israel with assurance from the Lord that He loved them and “all His saints are in His hand.” Isaiah reminded Israel that they were in God’s strong hands. He said, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls (your hedges) are continually before Me” (Isaiah 49:15-16). The nail prints on Christ’s hands are like God’s hedges to remind us that He will never allow anything or anybody to touch our life that has not first been appointed by Him to accomplish His holy purposes and our good.
The safest place for any child of God is to be in His hands, hiding in His fortress and living within the hedge of His grace. But when God, in His infinite wisdom, sees fit to open the gate of His hedge or lower the drawbridge of His fortress forcing us to face Satan’s enmity and the adversity of life head on, He does so for good purposes. We, however, may never know why He allows this. There is no more familiar example of God’s hedge around the righteous than the one He placed around Job.
God’s Protective Hedge in Job’s Life
For many years Job lived behind God’s protective hedge in unrivaled prosperity. God’s hedge served as a wall to protect Job against Satan and the wicked. The Lord was like a wealthy landowner who had a beloved vineyard. He built a rocky hedge around it to keep out wild beasts and predators. Nothing could enter His vineyard unless it served His good purposes. In the same way, God’s hedge around Job was to keep Satan and evil men from touching him or his possessions (Job 1:10; 3:23; cf. Psalms 80:12; 89:40; Jeremiah 49:3; Matthew 21:33).
God’s hedge around Job also provided security so he could prosper. Inside this hedge the work of Job’s hands prospered until he enjoyed the reputation of being the “greatest man in all the east” (Job 1:3). Satan and Job’s enemies, however, waited for their opportunity to get inside this hedge to work their will against him. When Satan came before the King of Heaven, he tried to slander God’s motivations. He accused God of blessing the righteous so they would glorify Him. In other words, Satan was saying that Job was into honoring God for what he selfishly got out of their relationship. Satan wagered that if the Lord struck all Job had, he would curse him to His face. Unthreatened by this challenge, the Lord gave Satan permission to strike all Job’s possessions but he could not touch Job’s life.
God temporarily opened the gate to Job’s hedge to permit Satan to work his will. It is God’s prerogative to open and close the hedge that protects and blesses the righteous. Dwelling inside ancient stone hedges that surrounded vineyards were poisonous serpents. When the hedge was broken down they prepared to strike the next innocent victim. The same would result in Job’s life (cf. Ecclesiastes 10:8; Isaiah 5:5; Ezekiel 13:5; Ephesians 4:14).
God’s Hedge Around Us
As Job lived with blessing inside God’s protective hedge, so God’s elect today are blessed and protected in Christ. By His blood He brought down the wall or partition that separated God and man. With His flesh, he abolished our enmity with God and gave us peace. Now we are God’s vineyard, rooted in Christ. God the Father is the vinedresser and Christ is the hedge that protects us. Nothing can enter His vineyard unless Christ so ordains.
Now let us stop and pause to consider these things! The loss of all Job’s possessions and all his children came as a result of God’s permissive will to allow Satan to strike down the things and people Job loved most. Job, however, did not curse God as Satan had predicted. Instead, he blessed God by saying, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Satan again returned to the Lord and asked to enter the hedge to strike Job’s health. He argued, “Skin for skin,” meaning Job would barter away his faith to save his skin (Job 2:4).
So the Lord gave Satan permission to strike Job but not to kill him. What resulted was a debilitating, humiliating illness like leprosy. Every inch of his body was encrusted with swollen excruciatingly painful boils. His only refuge was the city dump littered with trash, refuse, and broken pottery. Alone he suffered scraping his skin with broken clay pots in an attempt to relieve his discomfort but it was to no avail. In his agony, he reminded his grief-stricken wife, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). It was an expression of his unshakeable belief in the goodness of God and His providence. We do not hear again in the story of Satan’s return to strike Job. But we must see that even as Christ was tempted by Satan through men surrounding the cross yelling, “If you are the Son of God, come down and save yourself,” so Job had three friends surrounding him outside the city gates accusing and troubling him. Temptation comes in many forms, even friends.
Job’s Three Friends
As the curtain rises in Job’s drama, three friends enter the hedge God put around him (Job 2:11-13). We are told they heard of Job’s adversity and each one came from his own place. We will learn much more about Job’s counselors later in the story.
Eliphaz, the Temanite, is mentioned first because he was the oldest friend. He came from Teman, a famous city of Edom known for its wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7). Teman was a grandson of Esau. As we will learn, he is the most gracious and conciliatory of the three friends. He claimed that much of his advice came from supernatural revelation and tradition.
The second friend is Bildad, the Shuhite. The Shuhites may date back to Shuah, who was Abraham’s youngest son by Keturah. He came with more of a scholarly and traditional perspective. His favorite motto was “back to the fathers” from which he quoted ancient proverbs.
The third friend is Zophar, the Naamathite. Not much is known about him or his land of origin. He is the youngest and most sarcastic, dogmatic friend. He prided himself as the straight shooter and the self-appointed, fix-it man. He will accuse Job of such undisclosed and unrepentant sin, that he deserved to be punished even more severely by God. With friends like these, Job did not need any more enemies. They all strongly believed in “retribution theology”. This means, bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. The bad you do comes back in spades and the good you do comes back in prosperity. You may see its similarity to legalism; keep the rules and you find approval with God, but break the rules and you must earn back God’s approval. We will talk more about this later in Job’s story.
His friends made an appointment together “to mourn and comfort” (Job 2:11). The author has deliberately repeated the idea of divine appointments for everything. Job offered sacrifices for each of his sons and daughters on their appointed day of birth. We also saw that in heaven there were appointed times for the sons of God to present themselves before the Lord. Satan attacked Job’s children on one of their appointed days of celebration. And now these socalled friends made an appointment together to visit Job. Their arrival, like the children’s birthdays, the angel’s day of accountability, and Satan’s attacks on Job, were divine appointments within God’s good providence. Their initial encounter with Job shocked them (Job 2:12-13). They hardly recognized his disfigured, swollen face and body. Like professional mourners they sat down by Job, shouting and weeping bitterly. But the best thing they did for Job was to remain silent for seven days and nights.
At the end of these silent days, Job opened his mouth to give voice to his anguished soul. It was not a prayer or a diatribe directly aimed at God or anyone else. Instead, it was a protest against God’s ordained will in placing a hedge around him (Job 3:1-10). He began by cursing the day he was born. When you hear his lamentation you know he was having a very bad day. Notice that thirteen times he utters a curse beginning with “may.” May his appointed birthday be wiped off the calendar and may a law forbid any celebration on this terrible day. May the sun not shine and may clouds shroud the earth on his birthday. He even cursed the night he was conceived (Job 3:6-7). In other words, it would have been better had he not been conceived at all. Non-existence, he felt, was better than experiencing the pain of life.
His words are very similar to those spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. He despaired of his life after experiencing pain and persecution as a faithful prophet. He cried out in Jeremiah 20:14-18, “Cursed be the day in which I was born! Let the day not be blessed in which my mother bore me! Let the man be cursed who brought news to my father, saying, "A male child has been born to you!” [Making him very glad.] “And let that man be like the cities Which the LORD overthrew, and did not relent; Let him hear the cry in the morning and the shouting at noon, because he did not kill me from the womb, that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb always enlarged with me. Why did I come forth from the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” Job, like Jeremiah, was suffering for righteousness’ sake and was overwhelmed with grief.
Job continued urging others to join him in cursing his birthday (Job 3:8-10). He acknowledged the practice of enchantment characteristic of his generation. He welcomed those who sought to arouse or awaken “Leviathan,” a mythical sea monster, to swallow up the sun and the moon so there would be no day or night on that day. He was not saying he believed in these enchantments, but he was using the language of his day to describe how he wanted this day to be swallowed up and remembered no more.
Let us pause again and try to make some sense of Job’s protestations with his life. Job came perilously close to cursing God by questioning His good providence. Life from conception to birth is a sacred gift from God. To curse life was a protest against God’s ordained will. God, however, did not consider this a sin. It is especially important to remember God’s mercy and grace when we suffer and grieve. God is secure enough to allow his children anger in their days of affliction. Job will later be called upon to answer these same questions. To this point in Job’s lamentation, he was denouncing the hedge God had put around him. He was protesting God’s good providence in putting a hedge around him from birth only to take it away now without notice and let him suffer such pain and loss.
Job’s displeasure with God turned to questioning why God had not let him out of this hedge so that he could die. His protest came with seven harsh “Whys?” (Job 3:11-26). He questioned why God had not let him die at childbirth. Why he had not died in the womb? Why he had not died in the arms of his loving mother? The death of a child, he maintained, offered more hope than the life he was living that day. At least the dead child could be at rest with kings and princes. He or she would never experience Job’s troubles or hear the voice of oppressors. He believed a stillborn fetus, which never saw the light of day, was better off than himself. He described an infant’s death as sleep and rest. David described the death of his stillborn son with similar hope. He believed he would go to see and be with his son in death. He believed in life after death through resurrection which is spoken of in Psalm 90:5-6 “You carry them away like a flood; they are like a sleep. In the morning they are like grass which grows up: In the morning it flourishes and grows up; in the evening it is cut down and withers.”
Likewise, Jesus approached the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, to awake him from sleep. Christ’s resurrection gives hope to every infant and every child of God that, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54) and it is not swallowed up by a seven-headed sea monster. Triumph in Christ’s resurrection could only be anticipated by Job. But for us, however, we have Paul promises, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Those who believe Jesus died and rose again from the dead, can anticipate Christ’s return bringing with Him all those who sleep in Him (Psalms 90:5; John 11:11; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 5:10).
Next, Job questioned why God still hedged him in when he wanted out (Job 3:20-26). Like many prophets who followed him, Job longed to be released from life. For example, there was a time in Hosea’s life when he felt this way (Hosea 2:6). Jeremiah also lamented being hemmed in by God’s hedge. He claimed he could not get out; so he cried and shouted for deliverance in prayer, but to no avail (Lamentations 3:7-10). Through these dark days Jeremiah learned wonderful things about himself and God. He discovered the Lord’s mercies in fresh new waysthey were new every morning. Because of God’s mercy, He praised the Lord and said, “Great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23).
The Lord did not let Jeremiah or Job out of their hedges. Instead, they had to learn to wait on the Lord, which is to persevere, believing in God’s goodness while suffering adversity and pain. He discovered the Lord is good to those who wait for Him. Jeremiah made a stunning admission in Lamentations 3:32-33: “Though the Lord causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict without purpose, Nor unnecessarily grieve the children of men.” These were the invaluable lessons learned by Jeremiah at the end of his troubled path.
However, Job was just beginning to walk down that rough road. There are lessons he will learn at the end of this journey that could never be learned in prosperity (cf. Hosea 2:6; Lamentations 3:7-9, 3:22-24). The Lord wished more for him than Job was pleased to settle for. But that is just like the Lord who is always working what is best, not just for now but throughout all eternity.
God and Hedges
In God’s good Providence, He places hedges around the righteous for protection and blessing. He holds them securely in His hands. He will never forget them, even though others will. How do we know He will never forsake His own? We know this because He has inscribed their names on the palms of His hands. He did that the day Christ hung on the cross. It is an eternal reminder of His grace and His sympathetic love for His suffering saints. The safest place for every child of God is to be in His hands, hiding in His fortress and living within the hedge of His grace.