There are certain phrases in the Christian vocabulary that, while normal to believers, are head-scratchers for unbelievers. For example: “traveling mercies.” Camp or spiritual “high.” Doing “life together.” Inviting Jesus “into your heart.” Those of us who are familiar with western Christian culture have likely assimilated these phrases into our religious word-stock and don’t even blink an eye when hearing them. But it might be wise to pause every once and a while to really think about what they mean.
This is especially true in my context.
Working with and teaching the Bible to teenagers can be tricky at times. And when it comes to the Bible, a good rule of thumb is to never assume that your audience knows what you’re talking about. Saying things like “you all know the story of Jonah the prophet,” or using phrases like “make sure you have a good quiet time with the Lord,” can be damaging to someone who isn’t in the know. Not everyone has had the privilege to grow up within a Christian circle. And it seems like more teenagers today live in a post-Christian world than not. If we are going to use these phrases, we need to make sure we explain what they mean. But we cannot explain what they mean if we don’t really know ourselves.
Praying a “hedge of protection” over someone is another one of those common Christian phrases that gets used often.
So, where did it come from? What might it mean? And is it even biblical to pray such a prayer? Let’s look at a few passages of scripture to find out.
The Devil, Angels, Psalm 91, and Job 1
There are two passages in scripture where this “hedge” and “protection” language is commonly taken from: Psalm 91:11 and Job 1:9-10. I do intentionally put quotes around those two words separately as this exact phrase is nowhere to be found in the Bible. That is not to say that the idea it conveys isn’t, though.
In the context of the Job 1, we see that Satan has come before God’s divine counsel looking to accuse the righteous Job. But where did this righteousness come from? Satan asks if Job might be blameless simply because he has been so blessed in life. And if God were to remove the “hedge around him and his house,” would that righteousness remain? So, in this context, the “hedge” is a metaphoric stand-in for divine blessing as thorny bushes were commonly used in the ancient Near East to protect houses from wild predators or bandits. God has protected Job and his family from harm like a thorn bush might have protected a family’s sheep from hungry wolves.
Psalm 91:11 is a little different.
It’s a song of worship dedicated entirely to praising the Lord’s might as He is a great refuge and fortress. And those who trust themselves to the protection of the Lord can know that He “will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.”
This psalm gives language to a reality experienced by many in scripture. In 2 Kings 6:8-17, when the armies of Aram surrounded the prophet Elisha and the people of Israel at Dothan, it was revealed that God had send an army of angels in flaming chariots to protect His people. An angel of the Lord was sent to keep Daniel and the Jewish boys from harm in the flaming furnace of Daniel 3:24-25, and angels shut the mouth of lions in Daniel 6:21-22. It was also an angel that was sent to rescue Peter from prison in Acts 12:1-11.
Luke 4 and Jesus’ Temptation
It should be mentioned that Psalm 91:11 is quoted in the New Testament. But it isn’t Jesus that brings this passage up, it’s Satan.
In Luke 4:9-12, when tempting Jesus to put God to the test, the Devil led Him to the Temple’s pinnacle. And when there, he asked Jesus to jump off to test God’s promise of divine protection. Would angels really bear Him up like Psalm 91 states? The temptation Jesus faced here was to take the promise of divine protection into the control of His own will. In other words, Satan was trying to get Him to pray the Father into action instead of relying on the Father’s sovereignty and timing. He wanted Jesus to test God but not trust God.
This is something that should be kept in mind when we pray for “hedges of protection” ourselves. While there is biblical basis to pray such prayers, and evidence of God protecting His people in miraculous ways, is it always God’s will to provide us such a “hedge?”
Job’s metaphorical hedge was removed by the Lord so that his faith could be challenged. The early church was not protected from persecution or saved by angels all the time either. And they didn’t pray for a hedge of protection but boldness to persevere even in the midst of danger (Acts 4:23-31). Safety isn’t the end-all-be-all for God’s people. It is sometimes the case that God uses suffering and danger to refine the faith of his people.
In sum, a “hedge of protection” prayer is a prayer asking for God’s divine protection. And there is biblical warrant to pray such prayers. We need to be careful when doing so, though, lest we accidently wander into the realm of trying to force God to act on our will instead of the other way around.
 James Luther Mays, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 298.