I want … a shrubbery!
People don’t get attacked by wild animals as much as they used to. Sure, you still get the occasional crocodile, shark, dingo or snake trying to take a bite out of someone, but it’s far from a weekly occurrence. For instance, when were you, personally, last attacked by a wild animal?
Back in the Old Testament days, we read about lions and tigers and bears attacking folks from time to time (apparently including Dorothy and her little dog too), and the shepherd boy David told Saul about killing lions and bears to protect his sheep.
In those days and in those areas, it seems wild animals were quite prevalent. People could build stone or wooden walls, but these would take time and labour and could easily be jumped over by your more athletic wolf (or a coyote with an Acme pogo stick).
What was cheaper and more effective was a hedge of thorny bushes grown around your home or yard. These thorn hedges were a common sight, and so, as happens with many common objects in the Bible (e.g. sheep, coins, lamps, pearls, goats etc.), they were given a symbolic meaning as well.
In the first chapter of Job, Satan says to God that Job has been well-protected by him, but his faith would surely crumble if God withdrew his support for Job. Satan says: “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” (Job 1:10, NIV). Some translations say a “protective hedge” or “protective fence”.
Subsequently, throughout the history of the Church, and even still today, you’ll hear people pray for a ‘hedge of protection’ over a person or a church or an event or a family. This ‘hedge of protection’ is a request for God to guard whoever is, apparently, hedged in.
Let me be clear: I have no problem with that sort of prayer. I think seeking God’s special protection over a person or people etc. is a good and wise thing to do. My concern is more around the phrase ‘hedge of protection’; I think it’s plantist.
Why should God only be able to use hedges? If I’m pretty confident about my faith but just need a little help, can I pray for a mere groundcover of protection or a climber of protection? And if I’m feeling quite weak in my faith, can I pray for a forest of protection? And why just protection when God can provide a range of supports to me?
“Lord, today I seek your hedge of protection over me as I serve you in ministry. Fill me with a shrubbery of your love, a creeper of your grace and a tree or two of mercy. In fact, make it three trees: I’m feeling a little merciless today. Let me sense your orchard of care for me and empower me with your jungle of justice for those in our community lost in the woods of … um, the woods of … um … lost in the woods.”
We’re a non-discriminatory Army, so let’s not limit our omniscient God to only hedge offerings when he can give us whole woodlands.
– Major Mal Davies and his wife Major Tracey are the Corps Officers at Adelaide City Salvos