He that digs a pit shall fall into it; and whoever breaks an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.…
What is meant here is, probably, not such a hedge as we are accustomed to see, but a dry stone wall, or, perhaps, an earthen embankment, in the crevices of which might lurk a snake to sting the careless hand. The "wall" may stand for the limitations and boundary lines of our lives, and the inference that wisdom suggests in that application of the saying it, "Do not pull down judiciously but keep the fence up, and be sure you keep on the right side of it." For any attempt to pull it down — which, being interpreted, is to transgress the laws of life which God has enjoined — is sure to bring out the hissing snake with its poison.
I. ALL LIFE IS GIVEN US RIGIDLY WALLED UP. The first thing that the child learns is that it must not do what it likes. The last lesson that the old man has to learn is, you must do what you ought. And between these two extremities of life we are always making attempts to treat the world as an open common, on which we may wander at our will. And before we have gone many steps some sort of keeper or other meets us and says to us, "Trespassers I back again to the road!" Life is rigidly hedged in and limited. There are the obligations which we owe, and the relations in which we stand, to the outer world, the laws of physical life, and all that touches the external and the material. There are the relations in which we stand, and the obligations which we owe to ourselves. And God has so made us as that obviously large tracts of every man's nature are given to him on purpose to be restrained, curbed, coerced, and sometimes utterly crushed and extirpated. God gives us our impulses under lock and key. All our animal desires, all our natural tendencies, are held on condition that we exercise control over them, and keep them well within the rigidly marked limits which He has laid down, and which we can easily find out. We sometimes foolishly feel that a life thus hedged up, limited by these high boundaries on either side, must be uninteresting, monotonous, or unfree. It is not so. The walls are blessings, like the parapet on a mountain road that keeps the traveller from toppling over the face of the cliff. They are training-walls, as our hydrographical engineers talk about, which, built in the bed of a river, wholesomely confine its waters and make a good scour which gives life, instead of letting them vaguely wander and stagnate across great fields of mud. Freedom consists in keeping willingly within the limits which God has traced, and anything except that is not freedom, but is licence and rebellion, and at bottom servitude of the most abject type.
II. EVERY ATTEMPT TO BREAK DOWN THE LIMITATIONS BRINGS POISON INTO THE LIFE. We live in a great automatic system which, by its own operation, largely avenges every breach of law. I need not remind you, except in a word, of the way in which the transgression of the plain physical laws stamped upon our constitutions avenges itself; but the certainty with which disease dogs all breaches of the laws of health is but a type in the lower and material universe of the far higher and more solemn certainty with which "the soul that sinneth, it shall die." The grossest form of transgression of the plain laws of temperance, abstinence, purity, brings with itself, in like manner, a visible and palpable punishment in the majority of cases. Some serpents' bites inflame, some paralyze; and one or other of these two things — either an inflamed conscience or a palsied conscience — is the result of all wrongdoing. I do not know which is the worst.
III. ALL THE POISON MAY BE GOT OUT OF YOUR VEINS IF YOU LIKE. Christ has received into His own inmost life and self the whole gathered consequences of a world's sin; and by the mystery of His sympathy, and the reality of His mysterious union with us men, He, the sinless Son of God, has been made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. For sin and death launched their last dart at Him, and, like some venomous insect that can sting once and then must die, they left their sting in His wounded heart, and have none for them that put their trust in Him.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.