For some time now, we have been looking at two books – both of which come from the pen of Solomon. It wasn’t intentional on my part, and we were into Ecclesiastes for a few weeks before I realized it. We must remember the penman is not important, because the true author is God, the Holy Spirit. But it is also true that the Spirit used the personalities of each of His amanuenses – His secretaries. The upbringing of Paul, or Daniel, or Moses are a part of the ingredients in our study of their writings. Problems arise when we focus on the penmen, forgetting what the inspiration of the scriptures entailed. “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
So the writer of this book was Solomon. His wisdom and general intellect are as proverbial as his Proverbs. From other scriptures we see that he had a scientific mind. Sometimes he used that mind in the search for meaning of life. He had the money, time and other connections to explore philosophy. He also was proven to be an intelligent scientist of the more physical sort. We are told that Solomon created a royal zoo, bringing animals from various corners of the world. This importation of plants and animals was as much for scientific reasons as it was for their beauty and Solomon’s pleasure. With these things in mind, once again, I note that Solomon knew whereof he spoke. He had at times sown to his flesh and from his flesh reaped varieties of corruption. He had put his hand into virtual cracks in virtual walls and been bitten by virtual snakes.
And it is in that second part of verse 8 that I am primarily interested this evening. Our theme is very common and trite one, but our text is several miles off the Interstate. Perhaps I should have reversed the messages for today, preaching this as an introduction to this morning’s sermon on justification. “Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.” The words are easy enough for most any child to understand. Solomon’s serpent might have been a rattlesnake, cobra, coral snake, or a black mamba. A hedge, in this case, refers to any kind of fence, from a wall of rocks to a hedge of thorny shrubs. The point is, “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.”
Once we understand the words in any text of Bible we can proceed to the Holy Spirit’s intention. And by the way that intention might be different for different hearers, so it’s our job to listen to Him. Whatever Solomon might be saying, or the preacher is saying, what does the Spirit of God have for me? Some lazy person might think God is advocating that we don’t dig pits or clean fence rows. God has permitted that wall to deteriorate and to let trees and bushes to tear the fence down. If God wanted a pit to be dug in that spot he could do it Himself. Foolishness. David’s son hated laziness and indolence. The freight train of disaster often rides on the tracks of laziness. Or, someone says, this could mean that when we need to tear down a wall we simply must be careful. There could be a viper living in that hole in the wall. Or as I found years ago, while cleaning a fence row in Missouri, there are chiggers living in those bushes. Obviously there is danger in many things that we do. Therefore look before you leap; drive away the snakes before you sit in the shade of the hedge. For majority of Christendom – those who look at Bible as collection of wise words, that is meaning. But the Bible is not simply the world’s greatest piece of literature. The Bible is the book of Scripture, the Holy Writings; the Word of God. Yes, the Bible is practical and life saving; but it’s also soul saving.
Is there a spiritual application to this obvious wisdom? As we saw last week, I believe verse 1 gives us authority to look for things beyond the surface here. Each of these proverbs are little illustrations of more important, eternal truths. Look at the first part of verse 8. Does it say: “When you dig a hole in the ground be very careful?” Call 811 before you dig because there could be an underground electrical cable or something. Actually, this proverb is a common Jewish expression with a deeper, well-understood, meaning. And other scriptures help us to see what those people saw. Proverbs 22:14 says “The mouth of a strange woman is a deep pit” – it is a trap. In Psalm 35:7 David complains, “For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they digged for my soul.” To dig a pit, to the Jewish mind, was to try to ensnare someone or something. The point is, don’t even think about digging a pit to entrap others. Sooner or later, the Lord will push you into that trap. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
But what about breaking down the hedge? Is this just a warning to be careful? No. The meaning is, “Don’t break down walls, or you WILL be bitten.” It’s not a warning about snakes, but about wall-demolition. Someone built that wall for a reason; does the reason still exist? This is speaking about something more than just your ordinary, everyday hedge. What sort of lessons might we gather from the text and it’s implications?
First, life is filled with lots of fences and hedges.
By that I mean that we are surrounded with rules, regulations and laws. We have the laws of man, the laws of nature and the laws of God – not necessarily in that order. And they act as hedges and fences.
What is the purpose of a fence? Some fences are built with the obvious purpose of keeping things out – lions, tigers and bears. Other fences are to keep other things in – sheep, children and pets. Some fences are meant to ensure some sort of privacy. And a fourth purpose might be to decorate, but usually that is a corollary to one of others.
We are surrounded by those three things, inclusion, exclusion and seclusion. We might, at this point, talk about private hedges, or we could talk about governmental hedges. But let’s think about the spiritual. The Bible is, among many other things, a fence builder’s manual. It says, here is a place to which God’s people should not travel. It says, if we build a good wall on this point, evil men will be deterred. The Ten Commandments for example make up a part of God’s wall. The lawless man and the natural rebel, loath the fact that God’s Book is filled with rules. But there they are, and God’s churches must maintain God’s walls.
Have you ever heard of Bargood Fie? He was the spokesman for a society nicknamed “L.L.L.L.” Was an acronym for the organization named “Less Lawlessness through Less Laws.” Fie once said: “If we’re ever going to have genuine improvement in our society, we’ve got to attack the root cause of crime – laws.” What a fitting name – “Fie.” It’s a word which expresses disgust or outrage. I think the poor man had only one oar in the water. And that probably came about because his parents gave him a name like “Bargood.”
Like it or not, there are very simply multitudes of “thou shalt not’s” in God’s Word. And there are an equal number of “you had better do this and that.” We have negative commands and positive commands, all demanding our obedience. And I thank the Lord for every one of them. Not only am I very cautious about snakes, but I’m afraid of lions and bears who may be lurking on other side that hedge. The existence of the moats, glass walls and a few bars at the zoo, tell me that something dangerous lives inside that compound. It must be remembered that the river of God’s laws, flow from two springs – His holiness and His love. Everything that He requires of us, not only pleases Him, but is also profitable for us. And all the things which He forbids are harmful to us in more ways than one.
When a road construction crew builds a bridge across a chasm, we say, “Thank you!” When same crew puts up metal guard-rail on outside edge of road with a canyon down below, again we are grateful. But at the same time, you and I don’t need that guardrail – we don’t drive on the edge. Why can’t we give God the same praise when He orders a fence to be built, even though in our foolishness we can’t see any immediate danger? When God says, “Thou shalt not steal,” be sure there is danger in living a life of crime. When the Lord says, “Forsake not assembling of yourselves together,” be sure there is danger in isolation. When the Bible says, “Upon the first day of week, let everyone of you lay in store as God hath prospered him,” then it is a good idea to render unto God the things that are God’s.
There are hundreds of square miles for us to enjoy between God’s hedges and fences. Why must some of us think that we’ve being robbed because off in the distance there is a fence? Eve lived in the world’s greatest garden. She had a perfect husband and potentially enjoyed wonderful fellowship with both him and her Creator. But she wanted more, and so she stuck her hand into the hedge.
The second thing we see here is that any attempt to tear down God’s hedges means our hurt.
There are hundreds of natural laws and automatic punishments for assaulting them? If you choose to throw rocks straight into the air, gravity demands that they come down – and maybe one will land on your own head. If you reject the physical laws of wind and speed, deciding to spit into the breeze, you’ll regret it. If you forget your jacket when you leave for work some January morning, you will probably get cold. Just as there are natural consequences to fracturing the laws of nature, there are natural consequences to fracturing the laws of the spiritual world. To be more specific, “Try to break down one of God’s hedges, and you shall be bitten.”
There are three basic kinds of snake-bite. I must have been about 7 or 8 years old. I caught a common garter snake, and we became the best of friends for a while – or so I thought. I gave him a bucket in which to live; I fed him insects and lettuce. Whenever I could, I’d take him out and carry him across my arms, scaring the girls and impressing boys. Until after several days, he bit me on my arm. Garter snakes have teeth but not venom.
Some other snakes, like the cobra, inject a hemotoxin. These poisons, inflict local damage and then seep into the blood where they can cause death. Their venom destroys the cells of the blood and then spread to some of the more susceptible organs. Without antitoxin or the quick removal of the poison, the victim will die. And then there are snakes like the rattlesnake which inject neurotoxins. These leave little local damage, but the venom immediately attacks the victim’s nervous system. This poison can quickly end a man’s ability to breathe. The bite of these snakes can stop the beating of a person’s heart.
I can’t be sure which snake will bite you if you try tearing down God’s walls. I won’t tell you that it will be a physical serpent of any kind, but you will eventually be struck down. Some sinners have been bitten so many times, that their souls become numb and their eyes blinded. Some have been stung and been warned, but have forgotten the warning. Yet others, have died instantly, or had some aspect of their lives die within them.
The grown daughter of dear friend of the Oldfields went out to her garden to pick vegetables. Usually she delegated this job to her children, but on this day she chose to do it herself. There in southern B.C. there was big rattlesnake awaiting her, and she was struck on the foot. This lady suffers from M.S. and the combination of her disease and the neurotoxin of the snake nearly took her life. She was rushed from one hospital to another, and they pumped her with anti-toxins. Only with prayer and the influence of several chemicals to fight the serpents’ chemical, did she live. This lady was not looking for a fence to break or a crack into which she could put her hand. The curse was already upon her.
There is only one cure for the sin that floats throughout our systems. It is the righteousness of the Son of God; transfused through His perfect blood, exuded at Calvary. Reform your ways, and stop tearing down God’s hedges??? Absolutely and immediately But that means nothing without combating the poison that already floats within us. We must look unto Christ, and be saved through Him.