Now I want you to turn with me to the book of Job, the book of Job just before the book of Psalms, and first of all our reading is taken from chapter 1. We'll not take time to read the whole portion, I am assuming - maybe it's a big assumption - but I am assuming that you know the general tenets of the story of Job's life. If you don't I would encourage you to go home and read it, but with that assumption I just want to read a few verses from about verse 6, particularly emphasising verse 10:
"Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD", now the sons of God are just spiritual beings, spiritual entities that would comprise angels and also fallen angels, such as demons, "and Satan came also among them. And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land".
Then chapter 3, you have read just there the words of Satan regarding a hedge that God put around Job, his family, and his possessions. Now in chapter 3 Job is speaking, and he now refers to this hedge, but he refers to it in an extremely different light. Verse 23: "Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?"
I want to speak to you this morning on the sides of the fence, or 'The Sides of The Hedge' if you want to be more exact. Job's story, if you don't already know it, a quick resume of it is: Job was a righteous man, a godly man in his generation. He was an extremely prosperous and rich man, but the fact I want you to note is that he was a righteous man. He was a good and a godly man. The story of his life, as you read through this book, is that he lost his wealth, he lost his family through sudden death and tragedy, and he even lost his health in the end - and bad health, disease touched his body, until he was beside himself and actually wished that he could die, that his life would end and be taken from him that he might escape all of the sorrow and turmoil that he faced.
Now I don't want to home in specifically on those aspects of Job's life, but what I want you to see is that in this book there are several perspectives of the events in Job's life. In this book you can see Job's predicament at times from God's perspective; then there are other times like chapter 3 that we read together where we see his predicament from his own personal perspective and viewpoint, how Job saw it, Job saw that God had hedged him in with a hedge, that God had finished guiding him, directing him, and helping him and protecting him. Then later on we see the famous Job's comforters, and we see that they give their perspective of what is going on. Some of them say: 'Oh, Job you're suffering this because you've sinned in the eyes of God, or you're too stuck up, you're too arrogant and you won't be humble enough to acknowledge that God is sovereign in your life' - and we could spend much time talking about his comforters and his friends. Then we see the perspective of his wife: 'Curse God and die, why not just end this all? What's the point in honouring a God that doesn't seem to have honoured you? Just curse Him and have it all done with'.
There are different takes on the different scenes in Job's life that we find in this book. But the one, surprisingly enough, that I want us to home in on today is Satan's - Satan's perspective on Job's predicament. I wonder if I was to ask you the question: what is your attitude toward a hedge? What would you say? Imagine if you were to ask a farmer, and on the other side of the hedge there was a bull ready to bore him through, he would be glad that the hedge was there. Perhaps if you were going through a maze in a country park, and all that you could find was a hedge in front of you and you couldn't get your way it, you wouldn't appreciate the hedge. Hedges have different views from our point depending on our perspective, depending on our particular personal situation.
I don't like hedges whenever I'm asked to trim one, but when you see a hedge or when you see a fence, do you see it as something that protects you or something that restricts you? When you think of a hedge or a fence, do you think of it as something that helps or hinders? Is it something that keeps trouble out from you, or is it something that is keeping you in from getting to a place that you want to be? The answer really depends on your perspective, doesn't it? If I'm going to say anything to you today, it's going to be this: that perspective of life's troubles is probably one of the most important things that will get you through all that you face in this life. You've maybe heard the quip and verse: 'Two men looked out through bars, one saw mud, the other saw stars' - that is so true: two men in the same predicament, but they saw the situation from two different perspectives.
Another poem, quite a humorous one I read this week, is called 'The Blind Men and the Elephant' by John Godfrey-Saxe. Listen to it:
"It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"Oh bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!"
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!"
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he:
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!"
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!"
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!"
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!"
Here is his last verse:
"So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!"
Is that not the story of Job? Different perspectives on the one situation. I read the story this week about the police in New York City, particularly in Rochester, New York, who on October '93 surrounded a car simply because in the back seat there was a man with a rifle. The people attempted to negotiate with the man, and no matter what they said, no matter how much money they seemed to offer there was no answer. They watched and waited and there was no movement - finally the police discovered the truth: that the armed man in the back seat was a mannequin. When the authorities tracked down the owner, he told them that he keeps a dummy in the car for protection. He said: 'You've got to do it these days, with all the carjackings, it helps if it looks like you've got a passenger'. Now from the driver's perspective that mannequin, that dummy, was for protection - but to the police authorities and officers that dummy proved a lethal threat.
Now what I want you to see is that Job began to view God's protection, God's hedge round about as a lethal threat. We might say, knowing the story of Job, he might have been forgiven in thinking that. But nevertheless we've got to ask ourselves: when we reach life's hedges and fences and restrictions, how do we view them? What is our perspective? Do we take a merely earthly perspective? We should, of course, I'm sure you would agree, have a more heavenly minded perspective in that regard - but what I'm going to bring to you today as a suggestion is that we should even have Satan's perspective with regards to life's hedges, because we could even learn a lesson from him! He had the right perspective with regards to Job's hedge.
You see Satan in chapter 1 verse 10 had the perception to know that there was a hedge of protection around the believer. He said: 'Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land'. This hedge was a problem for Satan, and he had to acknowledge it - yet when we turn to chapter 3 verse 23 the same hedge that was a problem for Satan had become a problem for Job! He felt that it was hemming him in, it was restricting him, it was harming him: 'Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?'. Could I be right in suggesting that Satan knew the value of the hedge better than Job did?
Satan says in verse 10: 'I see', it's the suggestion that he had circuited the whole hedge to find if there was a chink, or a crack that he could exploit against this man of God - but he couldn't! He couldn't get through on any hand. That's what Satan saw, yet is it not true that Job's problem too much of the time is our problem: that we only see the wrong side of the fence. We see the brick wall that our head is continually banging against, that restricts us in our plans and in our prospects, but we do not see that on the other side of the fence there is the devil! 'Which side of the fence are you on?' is often the question that we are asked. Well I'm asking you this morning: which perspective of the fence are you seeing? Whose perspective have you adopted?
Now you'll never hear me say this perhaps again, but I want you to adopt Satan's perspective in this regard today. Because as far as this is concerned, Satan had the right viewpoint - what was his viewpoint? He saw the fence around the child of God as keeping his evil influence out. Do you realise this today? As you sit in this meeting, regardless of what circumstances have come into your life, that there is a wall like that around Job around you - and the devil had to take notice of it! This is very interesting, isn't it? When we go to the book of James, chapter 2 and verse 19 in the New Testament, we read these words: 'The devils also believe and tremble'. Here's my question to us today as the children of God, the people of faith presumably, could it be that demons and devils have more faith in the providential protection of God's people than they have themselves? Is it possible? Indeed, it's not just possible, and probable, it's factual, for here we have it! God had protected Job, it says, He had put a hedge about him; He had set defence for his family as well, and for his possessions; he was one of God's peculiar people, so He took him under His protection - he, his family, and all that he had, all that belonged to him!
The devil speaks of the hedge with great vexation and peevishness: 'I see that thou hast made an hedge round about him'. He was frustrated that he couldn't get through it, he couldn't spy a single gap, it was a complete hedge of protection. Now isn't that remarkable that the same entity in chapter 3 and verse 23 is viewed by Job as a restriction, as a problem. He saw it that there was no way of deliverance open to him before him, because it was a complete hedge and he was viewing it from the wrong side. He didn't realise what was on the other side, he resented the fact that God had this hedge round about him, he saw it as a hedge of thorns, he saw himself as not being able to find his true path.
We sang: 'God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain' - and sometimes we as children of God try to interpret God's dealings in our lives, and we are confused, and we get perplexed, we maybe even lose faith, we misinterpret His dealings as God striking His hand against us in some way. That is not peculiar just to us today, we see it in Job, we see it in his life in chapter 23 and verse 8, where he says: 'Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him'. In Lamentations 3 Jeremiah expressed the same thought: 'He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy'. In their adverse circumstances of life they saw the hedge of God round about them as something to lament, rather than something to take comfort in.
Satan's side of the perspective was the right side, now look at our side, which too often is the wrong side. Can I ask you: are you seeing God's hedge in your life as a restriction of your progress, when really what it is is providence for your own personal protection? It all depends on your perspective, doesn't it? What is your perspective? I love reading Christian biography, and as much as I can I try to encourage you folk to read it too - the life stories of great saints of God throughout Christian history. When you read their lives you begin to see that it wasn't all golden experience, it wasn't all heavenly views of things, but they passed through tragedies and trials, tribulations that maybe none of us will ever face. And in fact it seems that the greater men and women that were used of God in the past went through the greatest perplexities and problems. Many of them found that at times they felt that God was hedging them in, that God wasn't delivering the way they thought that He should. But with the gift of hindsight, looking back on their experience, they saw that those hedges were not restrictions, they were protections!
Hindsight is not a gift that we have today, but one gift we do have is their hindsight. Saint Augustine tells the story that once he was saved from death by a mistake of his guide. The guide was leading him along the road, and he had gone up the wrong road and both of them had got lost. Little did they know that the providential hand of God was leading them up the wrong road, because up the right road the Donatists were laid in wait to murder the great Augustine! Their plans, perhaps, their progress, their journey was being interrupted inconveniently - but the fact of the matter was that the hand of God was hedging them in, He was protecting them.
John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim's Progress, before he was a converted man, when he was young was a foolhardy man. We're told of stories of him in his childhood when he would just lift up an adder when it rose up against him, and he would take his other hand and would pluck the venom right out of its mouth and not be harmed - he had no fear, it would seem. On one occasion when he was in the army it was his turn to stand sentinel at the siege of Nottingham, an adventure and a privilege he would have counted as something worth doing. But right at the last minute a man offered to take his place, and that man was shot dead, and Bunyan escaped and lived - and the fact of the matter is that he wouldn't have been saved if that hadn't been the case. We wouldn't have had Pilgrim's Progress today if it had not been for those providential circumstances. He would have loved to have stood sentinel, what a privilege to do so in this great war, but God had other plans - but it was his good that God had in His providential dealings.
After Luther, Martin Luther the reformer, made his historic stand before the Diet of Worms he started for home. His friends were greatly perplexed and worried about his safety, and as Luther entered the carriage and went down a narrow road, it was suddenly surrounded by five horsemen masked and completely armed. In silence they forced Luther to alight their horses, they threw a knight's cloak over his shoulders and placed him on an extra horse, and in a few moments all of them had disappeared into the forest. Silently the five captors took him to the Castle Wartburg and hid him in the high mountains. When they got him in they took off the garb, the ecclesiastical garb of a Roman Catholic priest off his back, and they put on him the garb of a knight, and they knighted him 'Knight George'. They kept him for ten months in that Castle, and gave him the job under their protection of translating the Scriptures into the German language, the language of the people. Most people including Luther thought that it was his end, that he was to become a martyr just then - but it was God's protection, it was God's wall, it was God's hedge.
Now we do not take hymns as divinely inspired, sometimes you hear preachers quoting them as if they were - but the hymn that we just sang before the message, 102, is one worthy of our study. I've already quoted a line from it, here's another verse:
'Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face'.
William Cowper wrote this hymn, I wish I had time to tell you something about William Cowper - but if he was around today he might be classed as a manic-depressive, and even if not that a very very depressed individual who was driven at times to suicide attempts. But here was a man who realised that his hedges were God's protecting providential fences to keep him from worse trouble. In another verse of that hymn he says this:
'Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head'.
Let me ask you: is that the perspective that you have in your life of the hedges that come round about you? If Job tells us anything in these two verses, as we compare them together, in fact they would have to say if Satan tells us anything in this book at all, he tells us that there is a wall of fire around every believer that paralyses the influence of the evil one. The only way we can be touched with anything is if the evil one requests and gets divine permission to touch us.
I know, I'm not ignorant of everything that Job suffered, but let us not attribute to the evil hand of Satan more power than is really there. Sometimes you hear people talking about Satan as if he was omnipresent, as if he was omnipotent, as if he was omniscient; he knew everything, he saw everything, he could do everything - not a bit of it! Satan's power is limited, and even he had to admit it was limited. He had carefully considered God's servant Job, he had circuited the hedge round about him, and he couldn't exploit any oversight in the providential sovereignty of Almighty God. After considering all that, he had to admit that he was unsuccessful in doing anything against him. This is the God we have, don't run through chapters 2 and 3 and get into all the suffering and forget that God, if God had wished, wouldn't have let a finger touch him!
Do you know that today? No matter what you're suffering, Satan's power is limited. Do you know that Satan's actions are limited? Do you know that Satan is without divine almighty power? Do you know that Satan is accountable to God? Do you know that Satan is under God's control? Is that the perspective that you have of your troubles? Admittedly we all know that God, I say it, for a divine experiment of what the life of God in a man can do, to show that Job did not serve God for nothing, allowed Satan to touch Job - but God had to allow him to do it. Was it Isaac Watts who said that we are immortal until God gives the word for the breath to be taken from our bodies? Is that the way we view life? Do we go through life with the perspective of the evil one even in this regard, that there is a hedge round about us - or do we see it as Job saw it, that God has restricted us, that God has prevented us, that God maybe even is trying to harm us, keep us in the midst of harm?
There were once two very ancient charts dating back to the time of Henry IV's navigators. On one chart there was a vast unexplored waste, over which the geographers had written the weird legends - they didn't know what was there, so they let their superstition run away with them, and wrote at the bottom: 'Here be dragons, here be demons, here be sirens', and everybody was frightened to go into that area on the map. But the second map, the second document had passed through the hand of a valiant master mariner by the name of Sir John Franklin who was also a great man of God. Franklin was a man who knew the Bible, and knew the great stories of the Old Testament, the great miracles of our Lord Jesus, the promises and prophecies concerning Him, and crossing out - with his knowledge of God, mark - all of these superstitions on that map, he boldly wrote across them all not 'Here be demons, here be dragons, here be sirens', but: 'Here be God'.
Do we as the children of God acknowledge even that elementary fact, that in the darkest of our experiences God is there? Don't ask me to explain it, I can't. William Cowper couldn't, that's why he said: 'God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm'. Whose viewpoint have you adopted? Whose perspective of the hedge have you accepted? Can I close by reading you a poem that I read this week that speaks of what I have just shared with you, and speaks so well that I want to take time to read it all - please do note it carefully. It goes like this, it's anonymous, we don't know who wrote it, there isn't even a title on it, listen:
"The hawthorn hedge that keeps us from intruding
Looks very fierce and bare
When stripped by winter, every branch protruding
Its thorns that would wound and tear.
But springtime comes, and like the rod that budded
Each twig breaks out in green
And cushions soft of tender leaves are studded
Where spines alone were seen.
The sorrows that to us seem so perplexing
Are mercies kindly sent
To guard our wayward souls from sadder vexing
And greater ills prevent.
To save us from the pit, no screen of roses
Would serve for our defense,
The hindrance that completely interposes
Stings back like thorny fence.
At first when smarting from the shock, complaining
Of wounds that freely bleed,
God's hedges of severity us paining,
May seem severe indeed.
But afterwards, God's blessed spring-time cometh,
And bitter murmurs cease;
The sharp severity that pierced us bloometh
And yields the fruits of peace.
Then let us sing, our guarded way thus wending
Life's hidden snares among,
Of mercy and of judgment sweetly blending;
Earth's sad, but lovely song". Amen.
As we bow our heads together, could it be that there is something that is surrounding you at this present time, and you feel that there is no way out. You feel that God has done this on you. Can I remind you of that little verse from Philippians 2: 'Let this attitude be in you which was also in Christ Jesus' - perhaps the need of the hour is for you to change your perception of the situation, and see God's providential protection is not to harm you but to help you. You may not see it, but that is what faith is: the substance and evidence of things not seen.
Father, help us all when we cannot see the track, to trust the hand that has traced our way. Lord, even when things seem to oppose and disrupt, we pray our Father that we may know that God is round about us, and we ought not be dismayed. Take us now with Thy blessing, and we pray Lord that we may go with Thy presence conscious round about us and underneath. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape entitled "The Sides Of The Hedge" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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