It takes more than a soft pillow to insure sound sleep. Americans live in gated communities, under radar surveillance, with patrol-men circling at all hours, and still can’t sleep for fear. Ancient cities encircled their cities with impenetrable walls. The pioneers circled their wagons to protect themselves from surprise dawn Indian attacks. Modern countries line their borders with nuclear arms. Today’s homes are equipped with alarms, motion sensors, and sprinkler systems but we still fear the worst. We are covered by life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, and fire insurance, but are still not too sure of the future. Even our pets reflect our fears. In 1975, cuddly poodles were the most popular purebred dog in America, with 139,750 registered. There were only 952 registered Rottweilers, a fierce breed often used as a guard dog. By 1994, the poodle population was cut in half to 61,775, while Rottweilers had increased 100 times to 102,596.
A Christian’s best defense is none of these things. It’s a child-like trust in a Father-like God. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God (Psa 20:7; cf. Isa 31:1). And Asa cried unto the LORD his God, and said, LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee (2Ch 14:11). With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles (2Ch 32:8a). And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? (1Pe 3:13).
God’s Protection is Like…
A Hedge of Thorns
Those who lived in Bible lands were familiar with thorns. Celius, for instance, describes sixteen varieties of thorny plants. Large thorn bushes – called nabk, from which tradition says the crown of thorns was woven – sprang up like fruit trees all over. In the Plain of Gennesaret thistles grew so tall and thick a horse could not push through them. Palestinian farmers used thorn hedges to divide fields and discourage intruders (cf. Mat 13; Mark 4; Luke 8). From the Garden of Eden to the cross of Calvary, thorns played a part in God’s plan for man. Interestingly, when Satan accused God of putting a hedge around Job, God didn’t deny it (Job 1:10). He denied that the hedge was the reason Job served Him. Isaiah pictured God’s people as a vineyard that received God’s attention. When they failed to remain faithful He threatened to take away the hedge thereof (Isa 5:5). God hedges us in with His love and powerful care.
The LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great re-ward (Gen15:1). The Psalmist rejoiced to know that the LORD wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield (Psa 5:12). The Christian’s armor includes the shield of faith by which we quench the fiery darts of the wicked (Eph 6:16). This shield (thureos) was large, oblong, made of wood, and covered with hides. Roman soldiers lined up in formation with these shields in front as a literal wooden wall against the initial onslaught of enemy arrows. Listening to a student read Psalm 23 in chapel, Joseph Sittler, blind with advancing age, heard something he’d never heard before. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. The text does not speak, said Sittler, of the valley of death but the valley of the shadow of death. There is a difference. The wonderful truth is that God is with us now. It is not simply that God will be with us in the experience of death itself; it is that God will walk with us through all of life, a life over which death sometimes casts its shadow.
A Wall of Fire
Campers in the extreme north U.S. and Canadian wildernesses have been known to build several campfires in a circle around their sleeping bags to put a wall of fire between them and timberwolves. Compare Zechariah’s record: For I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her (Zec 2:5). As late as the nineteenth century, a superstition existed about fire among European peasants. Fire started by the primitive method of friction was regarded as having supernatural protective properties. Cattle driven through this fire would come to no harm, provided all nearby fires were put out when it was kindled. Such superstition points to man’s desire; Scripture points to God meeting that desire for His people. Just as David’s men served as a wall of protection around Nabal’s shepherds in the field (1Sam 25:16), so the angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them (Psa 34:7).
A Mother Hen
If you’ve been on a farm you’ve probably watched a hen’s chicks scatter looking for insects and worms. As they peck here and there some distance may come to separate them. But let a cat or hound come in their direction, and the hen’s excited clucking brings the chicks under her with startling rapidity. As they hide, she puts herself between them and the perceived danger. This is how Jesus pictured His care for Jerusalem. He wanted to call them to Him and shield them from harm, but they would not (Mat 23:37). God’s arms are even pictured as underneath us (Deu 33:27). To use Whittier words,
I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.
A Crocodile’s Hide
God is a buckler to all them that trust in him (2Sam 22:31). The word buckler (magen) is often translated shield but can also mean the scaly hide of the crocodile. God can give us thick skin when we need it to turn toward those who unjustly criticize (Eze 3:9).
We’d all sleep better if we stopped at 1Pe 5:7 before closing our eyes: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. God is there. He is awake. He that keepeth thee will not slumber (Psa 121:3b).