"He who digs a pit will fall into it, and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall." (Ecclesiastes 10:8)

We once had a dog which was rescued from the pound. It was a nice little dog and we immediately fell in love with it. Because we lived on a busy street, however, it was necessary to try and keep the dog within a fenced-in enclosure (for his own protection). We made the enclosed space as nice as we could and gave the dog everything he needed, but he absolutely hated it. He would bark and whine and dig out from under the fence at every opportunity. I concluded that there was something inherently rebellious about that dog. He simply would not listen to reason and would not accept any imposed limitations on his sense of dog-freedom. You know what? - I wonder if you and I aren't a good deal like that dog at times - especially when we chafe at rules and laws and restrictions we consider unfair.

The Speaker here (or Preacher) is doing much more than issuing us a simple warning about the possible dangers inherent to digging pits or remodeling work where walls are demolished. Rather, he seeks to draw our attention to a basic problem intrinsic to us all - a natural propensity for rebellion against all restrictions to our most basic impulses and desires. Left to ourselves, we would opt to enjoy the luxury of wandering hither and yon, to and fro through life, doing whatever we choose - whatever pleases us - without the confinement of consequences. But the Preacher warns us that such is not the nature of life, nor is such behavior consistent with true freedom.

From the context, it would seem the Preacher particularly has in mind here the individual who chafes at the fact that life seems to have dealt him a bad hand. Such a man looks around and can't help but notice that there are others who possess what he does not. Others have gotten ahead in life while he has languished behind. Others have enjoyed plenty while he has suffered deprivation. And so, he digs a pit. In other words, he sets a snare or trap into which he hopes others will fall. Oh, how he would delight to see someone else suffer for a change! But what happens? The Preacher warns; "he who digs a pit will fall into it". He ends up only hurting himself. His intention was to inflict pain on another, but he ended up only adding insult to his own injury.

Then the Preacher proceeds to address the need for us to have a healthy respect for walls, for in tearing them down we may get bit by a serpent. Now, what does that mean? Just this - walls serve a useful purpose. Life is full of limitations or as Alexander Maclaren wrote: "Life is rigidly hedged in". Some of those walls and hedges we erect ourselves for our more peaceful co-existence within a society. Laws are enacted to protect the individual rights of citizens and to provide for the relative safety of all. And while we may balk, at times, at the cumbersome intrusion and imposition of such laws, most of us recognize their value and agree to live within the boundaries of those erected walls and hedges.

However, there are those individuals who seem to possess an uncontrollable, nearly unrestrained hatred for any limitations whatsoever. Man's laws or God's Laws alike - they reject them all. Consistently they question the legitimacy of barriers and are ever seeking to tear them down. I think the Preacher warns us here of such an attitude of licentiousness for he understands that the walls serve a purpose and that there are consequences to the trespass of their boundaries. Hedgerows and walls are designed to steer us back into the way and keep our feet on the path we are to walk. To ignore them, reject them or seek to demolish them is not only foolish but inherently self-destructive.

Now let me ask you - what walls have you sought to bring down lately and have you gotten bit yet? We chip away at the wall of honesty in our business practices. We push through breaks in the hedge of faithfulness within our marriages. We circumvent the rules of social interaction to engage in destructive gossip. We cheat on our taxes. We cheat God with the withholding of the tithe. If we're honest, we'll admit that we have a base problem with any wall we perceive to be impinging on our freedom to live as we want and to live without consequences. The Preacher would remind us: "a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall."

That bite may come in the form of a ruined name and reputation in the community. It may come in the form of a broken marriage and home. The bite may come in a thousand different forms, but is most always painful and ruinous. Again from Maclaren: "Be sure of this, that every transgression and disobedience acts immediately upon the conscience of the doer, sometimes to stir that conscience into agonies of gnawing remorse, but more often to lull it into a fatal slumber."

How about it? Have you been bitten? Caught in your own pit? Then you may be asking yourself: 'Where do I go from here?' Look back at verse two: "A wise man's heart inclines him to the right, but a fool's heart to the left." Now, that's not political talk there, but rather good instruction where we are warned to respect the walls God has erected for us and make it our objective to walk within their confines. In other words, get back on the right path and determine, by the grace of God, to remain there. Maclaren wrote: "Freedom consists in keeping willingly within the limits which God has traced". While the path we walk may be restrictive, it will lead us home!