Ironic Justice

“The one who digs a pit, into it he will fall. The one who breaches a wall, a serpent will bite.”

(Ecclesiastes 10:8)

Solomon enters into a series of proverbs at this point in his book, which signals that he is preparing to make his closing arguments. Many of these statements will parallel other pieces of advice or counsel found in Solomon’s other writings, in particular, the book of Proverbs. In some way you might see these, in the mind of Solomon, as a kind of addendum (maybe even all of Ecclesiastes can be thought of in this way) to the proverbial writings of this king. And, as Solomon often does, he teaches principles of wisdom with some ironic twists and turns of a phrase. 

In the case of this verse, there is a parallel that can be drawn with Proverbs 26:27, which speaks of those seeking to do evil having that evil turned back against them — presenting a form of ironic judgment. Those who dig a pit — the word גּוּמָּץ (gummats) referring to a pit that is a trap to catch another, not just a hole in the ground — will fall into it. Further, those who breach a wall — noting again that פָרַץ (parats) implies that you are breaching a wall for the purpose of harming those or taking from those protected by said wall — will find themselves bitten by the snakes dwelling within it. 

I am reminded of my very first regular job, back in my high school days, one which began by tearing out an old stone retaining wall that had collapsed and digging it straight again so the stones could be relaid. In the process of doing so, I found several nests of snakes that had taken up residence amidst the cool of the stones. That summer, I would kill over 30 snakes (the owner’s wife was afraid of snakes) as I moved the rocks and shoveled the dirt. Gratefully, the snakes were not poisonous and I was not bitten, but my project was not aimed to bring harm to another. 

In God’s economy, where one seeks to bring harm to another, they are often met with detrimental obstacles. Such is the tone of Solomon’s proverb here. How often have we known of people who have sought to bring harm, but seemingly random events have hindered them? YouTube is filled with videos and stories of “stupid” criminals who are thwarted by their own “dumb luck” … but is it really dumb luck? Solomon’s words here is that “luck” has nothing to do with it — they are thwarted by God’s own sense of ironic judgment, worked out in his providence. And for that, we are should be grateful.

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