Hoisted on one’s own petard. Whatever that means.

I bought three cheap little rubber snakes at Walmart to drop into the tall grass in my front yard to give my grandson a start as he goes by with the mower.

The only one they scared was me.

Son Neil was videoing it as Grant pushed the mower ever closer to the serpents.  Then, at the magic moment, when he saw the snakes, he never batted an eye—but started to push the mower over them, until Neil stopped him.

Later, after I’d taken the snakes into the house, Neil returned them to the front yard and laid them in the flower garden as decorations.  So, next morning when I went to bring in the newspaper, my eye spots the snakes and my nerves jerk before my mind has time to signal that “it’s okay; they’re just rubber.”

I bought them to scare Grant, but the only person they startle is me.

I have told here previously how I considered playing a little trick on my pastor, Dr. Mike Miller.  Since we live on the same block and sometimes walk together at night, we decided to go into a tavern that adjoins our neighborhood).  I would sketch people and Mike would engage them in conversation, and we’d see what the Lord did.

What if I went into the tavern earlier, I thought, and worked it out so that when we entered the bartender would look up and say, “Pastor Mike! Great to see you. Want your usual?”

That would be funny, I decided. But I never got around to doing it.

Imagine my surprise when we entered and the bartender, a woman, said, “Brother Joe! It’s good to see you!”

She was the widow of an evangelist, and they used to attend my church.  Her sister owned the bar and she was helping out.

The joke is on you.

We remember how in the book of Esther, Haman, a court official with murder in his heart, turned his cruel focus on the Jews.  He built a gallows 75 feet high–now that is high!–on which he intended to hang Mordecai, the uncle of Queen Esther.  That is not how things played out.

“They hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai” (Esther 7:10).

The expression is “to hoist one on his own petard.”

The book says a “petard” is a small explosive device which was placed under castle walls or even attached to a wall to blow a hole through it.  Sometimes, as we see with suicide bombers in the Middle East today, one went off prematurely and the bomber was “hoisted,” thrown upward.

Shakespeare gives us the phrase “hoist on one’s own petard” in Hamlet. He and some old friends are carrying letters to the King of England, one of which contains his own death warrant.

That brings to mind Uriah, the honorable (but ill-fated) husband of Bathsheba.  King David beds Mrs. Uriah while her husband is off fighting the king’s wars.  Then, when she informs the king that she is with child, David orders the general to “send Uriah home with a message for me.”  Upon delivering the message, David orders his warrior to spend the night at home, in the hope that later they can claim the baby arrived early.  (My mama would say, “Even then, they knew how to count.”)  The story is found in 2 Samuel 11.

To make sure things went as planned, David got Uriah drunk.

Is there no end to the shame of David?

But he had not counted on Uriah’s honor.  The next morning Uriah informed his king that he had slept on a cot among David’s servants.  He had not gone home. “How can I enter my home and sleep with my wife when my colleagues are sleeping in tents in the open field?”

Exasperated at his futile attempts to get Uriah to go home and act like a soldier on leave (!), David finally sent him back to the battle front.  With him went a courier’s pouch containing a message for the general.  “Put Uriah at the front of the fighting, then withdraw from him so he is struck down and dies.”

A less honorable man might have opened the pouch and read the message and taken steps to save his own life. But again, Uriah had more honor and integrity in his little finger than David did in his entire body.

One must be careful about the dastardly plans he makes for others. Those things have a way of biting the hand that created them.

We never go wrong in blessing people.  And sometimes we find that in doing so, we have blessed ourselves.

I heard of a construction company owner who asked his foreman to build a great house and spare no expense.  Cut no corners.  Then, when he finished and reported in, the owner handed the keys to the foreman.  “It’s yours.  Thanks for your faithful service.”

There are variations of this story out there. In some, he cut corners and built a shoddy structure, only to discover it was to be his house. But if it’s all the same to you, I think I like the version better where he does it right, builds it strong, and lives happily ever after.

Hey, if we’re going to pick and choose our stories, why not select one where everything turns out well?





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