Would you say with Job,
"Why does God make me keep on living? I long for death, but can't find it. Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?" (Job 3:23)
Fenced in. Covered over. Shut up. Entwined as in a net.
Would you feel this way about your life? That the Almighty One is shutting you up as in a jail cell, covering you up with miseries one upon another?
Would you wish for death?
And is Job right in saying the Almighty has fenced him in?
After all, that sounds harsh. Imagine the God you serve--and Job knows his own righteousness before God, although he admits that even he has sinned and committed transgressions--imagine that God imprisoning you in tragedies as in a cell.
Has God truly hedged Job in?
Ah. . . The irony.
The great, successful irony of the book of Job.
If we were to take out the first two chapters of the book, we would be irate because we wouldn't understand the layers of meaning in this story.
But we had just read, a few chapters before, Satan's own words to God:
"Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land." (Job 1:10)
And guess what? God doesn't deny it. He, in fact, adjusts the fence, thus proving that there is a fence; there is an actual hedge. He moves the boundary line. He tightens it a little, adjusts it to fit Job only. There is still a fence. Job was right about that. He just didn't understand the nature of the hedge. But Satan does.
"Go ahead," God says to Satan. "Do what you want to his possessions. Only don't touch Job himself."
What Job doesn't know is about to hurt him. What Job doesn't know is that God Himself, the Almighty One, is using him as an example of righteousness. For Satan, for the angels, for the readers of this inspired, preserved Book for ever and ever to come. For you. For me.
Job doesn’t know his pain is a direct result of his righteousness.
So Job suffers greatly.
And then, to complicate matters, God moves the fence again. Satan comes back from walking to and fro upon the earth, prowling, stalking the righteous. Meddling where he is able. Seeking whom he may devour.
And God points Job out to him again. "See that man? You said he would curse me to my face. Where are his curses?"
Does God know that Satan will ask for a smaller fence?
Surely. He is the all-knowing One.
Satan, predictably destructive, does: "Let me touch his body. He will curse you to your face."
God: "Go ahead, but spare his life."
The fence tightens even more.
So now Job is sitting in the ashes, scraping his boils with old shards of pottery. Lots of time on his hands to think. No wealth to oversee. No children to email. Even his relationship with his wife seems strained.
He starts thinking about all God has done to him.
Wait. . . Has God done this terrible thing?
We as readers are torn. We know it was Satan. Yet, God provoked Satan to ask for this. We know God's sovereignty; we just saw it in action as He moved the fence once, twice, and as He grants permission for Satan to afflict Job. The obvious conclusion is that Satan needs permission from God. He can't touch Job without it.
The players in the book all know this too. At least, they sense it somehow. The servant says, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep." Job says, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away." Satan says to God, "Stretch out Your hand and touch his bone and his flesh and he will curse You to Your face." And even God Himself says to Satan, "You incited me against him to destroy him without reason."
Everyone in the story agrees that God is responsible for all of this. Even though Satan is the one who wreaks the havoc in Job's life.
God is responsible for the hedges in our lives. And He is responsible when they are shifted.
Do we rejoice and take comfort in that during times of personal suffering?
Questions to think about from this story of Job:
- How do we feel about God's hedges in our own lives?
- Do we ask for God's protection and then chafe against it when we don't like the shape it takes?
- Are we willing to be a player in the epic battle for the glory of God?
- Are we willing to be the example of righteousness during distress to spiritual beings that we can't even see?
- What passages of Scripture remind you to rejoice and worship in the midst of personal suffering?