Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Hedged In!

God's Gracious Lock-Downs


"Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers,
and shut thy doors about thee:
hide thyself as it were for a little moment,
until the indignation be overpast.
For, behold, the LORD cometh out of His place
to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity:
the earth also shall disclose her blood,
and shall no more cover her slain."

(Isaiah 26:20-21)



A personal note from the editor, Sarah Leslie

It was late Spring of May 1984 when I first noticed there was a problem. After a trip to the doctor with an ultrasound I was sent home with very strict orders: "Lie back propped up, don't lift anything heavy, don't do housework, don't leave home, don't engage in risky behaviors." A baby's life in my womb was at stake so I diligently followed the doctor's orders for the next three months.

This was not my first experience with being couch-ridden. Being stuck at home was an old friend and I knew it and its hidden joys very well. I actually looked forward to the isolation. You see, for a good chunk of my childhood I was an invalid. I missed most of second through fourth grade. My mother felt compelled to homeschool me in an era when it was extremely rare. For most of the time I did not feel well enough to do much more than read books or watch I Love Lucy and Three Stooges reruns on TV. But when I felt up to it I did my homework, keeping up with my classmates from afar. Eventually, because I had so much free time to read and study, I surpassed my classmates academically. One of the hidden benefits is that I learned how to learn, and I loved reading and studying. You can enjoy the fruits of this life experience if you are a regular reader of this blog. 

Two decades later, as day after day went by, and life went on, it felt pleasingly familiar. It began to dawn on me that this pregnancy crisis was actually a golden opportunity. When God closed the front door, quite literally, He opened other doors! For example, while I was propped up on the couch, my toddler played by my side on the floor for hours. He was excitedly learning his letters, the sounds of phonics, counting numbers and identifying shapes. By the end of my forced exile he was learning to read easy words.

I was experiencing the rare blessing of free time. What should I do during these long hours of isolation? Several years prior to this home confinement period the Lord had impressed upon me to read the seven volume book The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn. Normal life duties of work and home got the best of me, and despite my good intentions, it never happened. Now, however, I could finally read. What immediately caught my attention is that Solzhenitzyn was writing about his imprisonment. Even though I wasn't imprisoned, nor was I being tortured or starved, I was feeling constrained by four walls. Amazingly, he titled a chapter "First Cell, First Love," where he began, "How is one to take the title of this chapter? A cell and love in the same breath?" He continued,

But in every case, out of all the cells you've been in, your first cell is a very special one, the place where you first encountered others like yourself, doomed to the same fate. All your life you will remember it with an emotion that you otherwise experience only in remembering your first love. And those people, who shared with you the floor and air of that stone cubicle during those days when you rethought your entire life, will from time to time be recollected by you as members of your own family.

Yes, in those days they were your only family.
[1]



Fenced In
What does God's Word say about times of isolation, imprisonment and confinement? Much actually.

First, it is God who is in charge of it! The prophet Jeremiah groaned, "He [God] hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: He hath made my chain heavy" (Lamentations 3:7) This word "hedged" means "walled off, walled up, shut off." Jeremiah's chains, with his spiritual burden, were indeed heavy, especially during those times when he was imprisoned for obeying the Lord and delivering His prophecies. Yet in the very same passage he penned some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible:


"It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed,
because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning:
Great is Thy faithfulness."

(Lamentations 3:22-23)

Interestingly, Satan also used a word translated "hedge," meaning fence, when he was describing Job before God. With what seems like a sassy tone, Satan answered God, "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." Satan then boasted that he thought Job "will curse Thee to Thy face" if all of this prosperity was taken away from him (Job 1:10-11). This episode tells us that Satan is counting on us to have a bad attitude, even anger, when our life's course is suddenly enveloped in inescapable crises that remove our worldly financial hedges. Yet Job did not curse God, even after his devastated wife urged him to "curse God and die" (Job 2:9). 

After his numerous terrible calamities, the very ill Job then inquired, "Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?" (3:23). In this case the word "hedge" has a meaning of covering and defense. Job was acknowledging that although God had fenced him in, He had blessed him with light. We ought to think of this hedge as not just a fence but also God's covering. Here we perceive God's hand of protection over Job in his most dire circumstances. We already know the back story -- God put restraints on Satan so that could only go so far in wreaking his havoc; he could not take Job's life. (see Job 1:12). Job would later proclaim, "When His candle shined upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness" (Job 29:3). David similarly wrote, "For Thou will light my candle: The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness" (Psalm 18:28). The prophet Micah wrote of this very experience, "when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me" (Micah 7:8). From this we learn that even though our very high hedges might be dark spaces, we do not need to be spiritually in the dark.

This same word used by Job for hedge/cover is translated in the beautiful Psalm of God's miraculous protection during multiple crises. Psalm 91 promises to cover those who trust in God, who dwell in His secret place, who abide under His shadow, that "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler." Other verses in Psalm 91 pertain to God's protection during times of pestilence, plague and danger. And David used the same word when he wrote in Psalm 140:7: "O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, Thou hast covered my head in the day of battle."

This brings to mind the time when the Lord covered His obedient people during times of crisis with His protection. During God's judgment on Egypt, the Lord promised:

"For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night,
and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt,
both man and beast;
and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment:
I am the LORD.
And the blood shall be to you for a token
upon the houses where ye are:
and when I see the blood, I will pass over you,
and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you,
when I smite the land of Egypt."

(Exodus 12:12-13)

But take note of God's people's stance. The passover lamb was to be eaten while they were standing on guard, prepared, ready to go at a moment's notice. "And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD'S passover" (Exodus 12:11). Similarly, we at the end of this church age need to be ready when we see these fearsome signs of the times: "And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences;... Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.... And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." (Luke 21:11a, 26a, 28). (As I was writing this an earthquake just occurred in the state of Utah.) 


Hedged With Thorns
Note that the verse in Luke 21 says to "look up." This is another reason God will hedge someone in but few will want to acknowledge it. Sometimes God will hedge someone in so that He can get their attention to deal with their sin. For example, God hedged up Hosea's errant idolatrous and adulterous wife: "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths" (Hosea 2:6). God's purpose for her painful confinement was to change her perspective, her view. If we are walled in thickly, surrounded by thorny brambles, we can only look upwards towards God's face. When we look upwards, and see the light of the Lord, we will then recognize our own sinful darkness.

Considering the current judgment upon the earth, which is global in scope, we who call ourselves Christians must seriously think about, and prayerfully consider, the reality that we all are tainted by sinful guilt in one way or another. Can we admit that the leaven of wickedness has so permeated our culture that we are profoundly affected, even deeply compromised by it? The parallel would be Lot when he lived in Sodom. The Apostle Peter wrote that "just Lot" was deeply grieved, he was "vexed with the filthy conversation [behavior] of the wicked" (2 Peter 2:7).

Our current global viral culture which has amassed in the past generation has been contagiously decadent, lascivious, covetous, blasphemous, gossipy, lying, adulterous, abusive, fornicating and idolatrous (see Gal. 5:19-21). Its leavenous filth is inescapable! The church world itself has been inundated with these same viral sins, sometimes erupting in flagrant scandals. It brings to mind the Scripture that filthy darkness "shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people" Isaiah 60:2a). Check your heart and see how desensitized you have become to sin. Remember when people used to blush? Commercials on television are an example of how pervasively sinful our culture has become.

Commenting on the words in Revelation 2:16, "Repent; or else I come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth," Matthew Henry wrote: "The filthiness of the spirit and the filthiness of the flesh often go together." He also wrote concerning the false prophetess Jezebel in Rev. 2:20-23, of whom God said, "I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not":

Repentance is necessary to prevent a sinner's ruin. Repentance requires time, a course of time, and time convenient: it is a great work, and a work of time. Where God gives space for repentance, He expects fruits meet for repentance. Where the space for repentance is lost, the sinner perishes with a double destruction.[2][emphasis added]

Is this a time for our chastisement? Consider how you and your family will be spending your days locked inside the hedge. Will it be a hedge of protection as you trust in the blood of Jesus Christ who cleanses you from all your sins? Or will you chafe at a scratchy, thorny hedge that urgently compels you to recognize your own battered condition? Will you use this time to return to your "first love" (Rev. 2:4)? Will you take this time to re-examine your life and your lifestyle? Will you adjust your attitudes and values to conform them according to Scripture? Christians love to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14, but they often leave out the key point: repentance must be accompanied by works -- i.e., turning from our wicked ways while turning our eyes humbly upwards to seek God's face:

"If my people, which are called by My name,
shall humble themselves, and pray,
and seek My face,
and turn from their wicked ways
;
then will I hear from heaven,
and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

(2 Chronicles 7:14)



The Fruits of Compulsory Exile
Amazing fruit was produced when the Apostle John was exiled on the small island of Patmos for the "crime" of preaching the Gospel. During John's confinement Jesus Christ Himself showed him His final revelation regarding "things which must shortly come to pass" (1:1) John was instructed, "What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches" (1:11). John's words, delivered unto him by the Word of God Himself, prepared the seven churches for persecutions and difficult times that lay ahead. Each of the seven churches was delivered a report card on the state of their works. Would they pass or were they failing in the times of their testings?

Churches throughout the ages have read and studied these words of John. Could John have ever dreamed that his words would last nearly 2000 years and bear fruit in millions of lives across the face of the earth? Likewise the words of the Apostle Paul, penned from dark, dank prison cells, have borne tremendous fruit "exceeding abundantly above all" that he could have asked or thought (Eph. 3:20). 

John's instruction to write was repeated in verse 19: "Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." Some of you who are reading this are gifted with discernment. Is the Lord saying to you now -- now that you have time -- that you should be writing while you are sojourning in your quarantined quarters? Should you be warning? Aren't these troubling times? Isn't it time to tell the ten virgins to be prepared to meet the Bridegroom with full lamps? (Matthew 25:1-12). The Lord concludes with "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (v. 13). Pray and ask the Lord about your calling, your assigned duty in these turbulent days.

Perhaps we, like Esther, are locked down in our particular circumstances for "such a time as this" (Esther 4:14). If we are realistic about Esther's unique position as a woman we recognize that she had little freedom in the highly confined wifely role for which she was chosen. Yet amidst this, she looked up to God, prayed and fasted, and obediently walked through the door that God did open to her even at the cost of her life: "and if I perish I perish" (Esther 4:16). Those medical personnel and first responders on the front lines of the current pandemic will find comfort in Esther's courage. Esther recognized, like the Apostle Paul, that she was "called... with an holy calling" (2 Tim. 1:9).

"Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples:
and they are written for our admonition,
upon whom the ends of the world are come."

(I Corinthians 10:11)

Each of us is gifted by God with time -- time that must be filled 24 hours each day. We are accountable to the Lord for our stewardship over this time. After all, it is His time, not ours: "My times are in Thy hand" (Psalm 31:15). What will we fill our hours with? Will we continue in the worldly pursuits that lead down the path towards lusts and unholy imagery (especially on video games, movies, TV, social media and the Internet)? Or will we seek His way, His will and His structure for our lives so that our use of time during these times bears fruits of the Gospel for His kingdom?

Exhibit (Source)


Hunkered Down
Those of you who have read this blog over the years may not know that its researchers and writers have been beset in their personal lives by illnesses and physical infirmities. Pastors Ken Silva and Larry DeBruyn endured the pain of debilitating illnesses, yet you can benefit from the prolific fruits of their writings on the Internet. The pioneer Internet discerner Ed Tarkowski suffered with a serious skin disease that left him very handicapped, yet his work is still bearing fruit online to this day.

The women in our Discernment Research Group have endured periods of confinement with illness, or caring for our children, elderly or infirm family members. Several of us happily homeschooled children, staying in the home by choice, serving the Lord through ministry to our families. Looking back there were rough times when it was impossible to leave home, even a time of persecution. Yet in the midst of these responsibilities we had another calling. We were compelled by the Lord to research, to write, to warn. The fruit of our work over the years can be seen in the long list on the right on this blog.

We can testify that there are great blessings while being hunkered down. We wish to encourage you at this moment in time to reconcile yourself to your current situation. If we could say a positive word it would be -- BE CREATIVE! We pray that you will see that while God has shut the front door He has opened other doors. Recognize you now have time... precious time... to work on your favorite projects, assemble family photos, do an in-depth study on a book of the Bible, plant a flower bed or a vegetable garden, dig up recipes and cook from scratch, teach a child to read and have fun doing science experiments, learn a foreign language, fix the broken stuff around your house, and finally do that long-neglected Spring cleaning. One of our fellow discerners suggested ways we could minister:


Wouldn’t it be wonderful, now that parents and children have time together, to go through albums, books the parents used to read the children when they were young, bake family-recipe cookies, play games, do jigsaw puzzles - in other words, become a family again! Think also how neat it would be to adopt an older couple on the block to go to the store for, even just socialize (by distance) so that the couple isn’t lonely. Why not have your block form some kind of committee so that they know if anyone has some extra toilet paper, or toothpaste, or butter ? Isn’t all this how we shine our light before men?
The author's early homeschool circa 1991.


Content With Confinement
And, finally, we should all examine our hearts. Paul wrote that he "had learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11). Are we content? From experience I can say that the one word that might best describe the early days of confinement is "restless." Even I have been restless these first few days. It helps to establish a routine, make a plan, establish some goals, accomplish even little steps. This verse is a reminder to have the proper mindset.

But there is another matter. A sign of the last days is that we will be "without natural affection" (Rom. 1:31, 2 Tim. 3:3). As we spend time cooped up with our families it can either bring out the best in us... or the worst. Times of testing cause us to reflect on those character qualities that the Lord desires to produce in our lives, dying to self -- "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" (2 Cor. 4:10). We can learn by experience that even during tough times the "fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," and "against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22). The true test of these fruits is how we conduct ourselves within our family confines.

Many years ago when I counseled Christians there were those who would plop down in a chair, fold their arms across their chest, and assert that "I am a such-and-so, and I'll always be a such-and-so and I am not going to change." Digging in their heels they were proclaiming that God's Holy Spirit could not overcome either their ingrown lousy attitudes or bad behaviors. They did not want to be convicted by the Spirit. But isn't transforming our inner man the entire point of sanctification? (See Romans 12:1-2). By God's grace we can grow and produce new fruit. God's Spirit fills us with the very inner strength at the very time we need it. The Apostle Paul testified,

"And He said unto me,
'My grace is sufficient for thee:
for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

(2 Corinthians 12:9)

Each of us can pray that God will enable us to gain virtuous qualities, greater strengths, and renewed courage that we did not think we possessed. We can learn endurance, choose peace, enjoy quiet, get some rest, and trust in God's faithfulness. 2 Peter 1:5-11 sums it up best:


"And beside this, giving all diligence,
add to your faith virtue;
and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance;
and to temperance patience;
and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness;
and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound,
they make you that ye shall neither be barren
nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But he that lacketh these things is blind,
and cannot see afar off,
and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
Wherefore the rather, brethren,
give diligence to make your calling and election sure:
for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly
into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."


It is our hope and prayer that during these difficult times that God "would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16). May you be encouraged by these words from a sister in Christ.


Endnotes:
1. Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1 (Harper & Row, publishers, 1973 paperback edition), pp. 179-180.
2. Matthew Henry, The Matthew Henry Study Bible (Tyndale House, 1986), p. 2679-2680.