25 October 2008

A Hedge or a Sword?

Hedgerows are a part of the history of humankind. They have been around since the Bronze Age, although many of the older hedgerows found today in Europe were first planted during Roman times.

They made life a living hell for soldiers of the Allied armies trying to break out of the Normandy beachhead in WW2. The hedgerows that they encountered, called bocage by the French, consisted of small, irregularly shaped fields, measuring only about 200 by 400 meters, enclosed by ancient, overgrown hedges that grow from earthen mounds flanked by drainage ditches.

These hedgerows surrounding the fields were four to ten feet thick, grew up to 15 feet high, limiting visibility to one field at a time, and were impenetrably dense — even for tanks. They formed a thousand square miles of tough patchwork terrain, connected by a network of dirt roads sunken far below field level.

The idea of a hedge is found in the writings of the Rabbis. They surrounded the law with a hedge, a body of interpretations, expansions, and applications of the Law that they came to regard as of divine origin. Look at this example from the Mishnah:
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah (Pirke Aboth, 1:1).
Incidentally, the word translated fence is a mishnaic hebrew word (סיג) for wall, fence, or a thick hedge.

Since you could inadvertently break the Law, we find the principle of “putting a hedge around the Law,” not to protect it, but to provide a margin of safety. Whatever one thought right to do, the oral Torah provided a margin of error. Any commandment was an opportunity to show one’s obedience. For Jesus this kind of scrupulous observance would only lead to a neglect of the major points of the Law. It is inevitable that there was an over-concentration on the manageable, the visual and perceptible things of the law—to the neglect of the weightier matters:
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel (Matt. 23:23-24).
Speaking to the city of Jerusalem through the Prophet Isaiah, God likens the city of Jerusalem to the planting of a vineyard:
Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,… (Isaiah 5:1-2)
The problem? quite simply:
...but it yielded wild grapes (Isaiah 5:2b)
The wild grapes, according the metaphor, are the sins and unrighteous acts of the people:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry! (Isaiah 5:7)
Because they refused to turn away from the sins and crimes, God made a promise:
And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down. (Isaiah5:5)
Hedges are meant for protection, either on a literal or metaphorical level. But I notice that a sense of complacency often occurs among those living inside a building, vineyard, or city protected by a hedge. God uses the hedge as a metaphor for his protection, by breaking down the hedge he allows the enemy to pour in to execute judgment.

What struck me is that I, like many people, often pray for a hedge of protection for myself and others. I’m not so sure that is the best use of that metaphor. I would agree that there are times when we need protection, but that is a passive approach to living the Christian life. I think Paul has a better approach:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Sort of reminds me of Nehemiah’s instructions to carry a sword in on hand and trowel in the other (Nehemiah 4:16-18).

So, the question is, do live behind a hedge, or do we follow Christ, in full panoply, ready for the day?

Print this post


Post a Comment