In the mid 90’s I called Tucson, AZ home. I thought I hit the jackpot when I was hired as a TV News Anchor/Reporter in the “Old Pueblo.” Tucson’s glorious sunsets, warm temperatures and NO SNOW held great appeal for me… for about six months. Then I discovered that scorpions in my bed and javelinas (wild pigs) on my porch made for a less-than-hospitable environment. Not to mention the blistering heat that literally melted the makeup off my face during my live shots. I know… it’s a “dry heat.” But for me, 120+ degrees of any kind of heat is beyond tolerable!
I lived in Tucson for 5 years but it felt like an eternity. The last three of those years I did everything I could to move on. But no doors would open. It was as if I had been LOCKED in by someone from the outside (besides the pigs on my porch).
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
(Psalm 139:5, NASB)
I recently “stumbled” over this verse as those old feelings of being LOCKED into my life circumstances surfaced again. Set within Psalm 139—one of the most beautiful songs in the entire Psalter—verse five is easily lost in the exquisite language describing God’s sovereignty as our omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (present everywhere) Creator.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
5 You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
(Psalm 139:1-6, NASB)
But as often happens when ancient Hebrew is translated into modern English, much of the meaning is lost. I have long viewed verse five as something akin to a warm blanket wrapped around me by the Lord to protect me from the cold. But in the Hebrew, this verse is about as warm and fuzzy as a battering ram. The Hebrew root of “enclosed” or “hemmed in” (matzor) is a military term that means “to relentlessly attack an opponent’s stronghold” (Source: Theological Word Book of the OT, TWOT). In the Ancient Near East, an enemy army would conquer a city by first surrounding it, then cutting off all supplies to the inhabitants, and finally using battering rams to breach the city walls. For those trapped inside, there was no escape. The only way to survive was to surrender.
So in Psalm 139, when we read “You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me” it doesn’t mean that the Lord is swaddling us like fragile babes. It means He has us surrounded on all sides… leaving no way of escape from His will. When we feel trapped by life’s circumstances, our only viable option is surrender.
Ultimately, I did move on from Tucson. But thanks be to God, it was in His time and not mine. You see, my Grandma Jo was dying during those last three years of my time in Arizona. She and my Grandpa Stu lived near Phoenix. And just about every weekend, I would make the 2-hour journey to love on both of them. I can still see the delight in Grandma Jo’s eyes when I walked through the door. And I wouldn’t trade that time or those memories for anything… not even for an escape from the misery of Tucson. Three months after Grandma Jo died I landed a new job in Atlanta, GA... and I was never happier.
Are you feeling “enclosed” or “hemmed in” by life’s circumstances right now? Maybe it’s a difficult relationship or an illness or a financial burden that has you feeling “trapped.” Well the truth is, you probably are trapped… by your Creator. And it’s not because He’s cruel or can’t see your struggle. The God who knit you together in your mother’s womb (vs. 13) has purpose for your life… even in seasons of misery. Like a military general lays siege to a city, He has you surrounded. You can try and fight your way out of your circumstances like I did. But I’ve learned that surrender is a far better response. It may not free us from our struggles any sooner… but it does free us to live peacefully in the midst of God’s will.
“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” (Psalm 139:6, NASB)