Have you even been walking through the woods or working in the yard only to suddenly feel a cut on your arm or leg? Upon further investigation, you realize that you have just crossed paths with a thornbush. Although small, thorns certainly can inflict pain, causing you to change direction. When the Bible speaks of hedges or thorns, they have a similar purpose. Contrary to popular belief, we are never instructed to pray a “hedge of thorns” around those we love. Instead, the Bible shows us that hedges and thorns are sovereignly and providentially placed by our loving Father for our protection from others but also from destroying ourselves by our own sin.
I was intrigued as I recently studied the various teachings about spiritual warfare. In my opinion, this is not an area the church has a firm biblical grasp on. Many people falsely believe that Satan is to blame for everything- from hitting a traffic light to being told “no” to a promotion. Christians falsely believe that they are supposed to pray against Satan or even bind Satan. The way Christians live their lives suggests their belief that Satan is more powerful than God. One of these false teachings about spiritual warfare is that of “praying a hedge of thorns” around those we love.” Based on a few passages in Scripture, taken out of context, Christians have formed this theology that this is an admonition for us to pray in this way. Nothing is farther from the truth. Sadly, this false teaching takes away from the true beauty of the intended meaning of these passages and what they teach us about the character of God.
When the book of Job begins, we see that Job is a man who was blameless and upright, serving the Lord. Satan approaches the throne room of God after walking to and fro on the earth “looking for whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). God asks if he has considered Job. Satan shares his personal reasoning about why Job is being faithful to God. He says it is because “you (God) have put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has” (Job 1:10). Satan is suggesting that if Job’s life wasn’t so blessed and fruitful, then perhaps he would turn his back and curse God. The point here is not that we are to pray for a hedge of protection. No, it just shows that God is indeed sovereign in His protection of us. Satan cannot harm one of God’s children without it passing through the hands of our Almighty God. As Martin Luther once said, “The Devil is God’s devil.” This passage is not a prescription for prayer, but a purpose for praise. Absolutely nothing happens to a child of God apart from God’s loving and purposeful will.
The presence of thorns in other portions of Scripture show the deep love of God’s covenant with His bride. He is a jealous God, who does not want His bride’s affections turned elsewhere.
Hosea 2:6-7 states, “I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’”
I’m thankful for Pastor Jim Osman expositing this passage so well in his series, “God Doesn’t Whisper.” This passage isn’t at all about spiritual warfare. No, the thorns here are used as a protection against idolatry. When you begin to pursue other lovers, the Lord will make your way painful. Dear friend, what do you spend most of your time thinking about? What do you spend your time pursuing? Probably, for most of you, these things are in and of themselves “good” things. Perhaps it is parenting, a ministry in the church, a relationship with another believer, etc. These are all good things to pursue, but when they become the driving desire of your life to the point that you forget God, or you pursue them for the wrong reasons, then you are guilty of idolatry. Hosea paints this as a picture of spiritual adultery against Him. He refers to it as “whoring” after other things. That is a very stern warning from the Lord in love. He zealously loves His bride.
Spiritual adultery, or idolatry happens when we pursue something other than God Himself for the pure satisfaction of our souls. Does your soul pant for God (Psalm 42:1)? Do you believe that you have no good apart from Him (Psalm 16:2)? Is He truly your fount of Living Water? To whom or what do you consistently run to when life is stressful? What about when you are sad? When fears surround you and cripple you, what is it that you need? If your answer is anything other than a confident yearning for your Bridegroom, then may I suggest that you immerse yourself in the Word until your heart truly knows the person of Christ and runs toward Him first in any circumstance, as a bride delights in her groom.
If you continue to pursue other lovers as a true child of God, you can confidently expect that God will pave your path with a “hedge of thorns.” He will not make it easy for you to pursue other affections apart from Him. There may be disappointments, setbacks, or many other providential things that hinder you in your pursuit. These afflictions are evidence of the Lord’s great love for you. They were evidence of the Lord’s love for Apostle Paul.
A thorn was used to prevent Paul from boasting or relying on his own strength. He writes,
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” 2 Corinthians 12:7
Paul was still able to serve the Lord. The thorn was placed to lovingly prevent him from becoming prideful and relying on himself. The thorn was placed in love, for Paul’s good and God’s glory.
God wants your full attention, affection, and pursuit. Do not forget the One who rescued you from sin. Do not forget the One who sustains your life this very day. Do not forget the One who is the Giver of all good things. He is the only one worthy of praise. Hold tight to this promise.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
Christian, this isn’t saying, “Love God so that He will give you what you want outside of Himself.” No. It’s saying, “Love Him, and He will give you your greatest delight IN Himself.”