For the two summers before and after my final year of high school, I worked for a uranium company. It was my job of lay out mining claims in central Wyoming so that drillers could come in and pull out core samples to see what was under the surface of the ground. For those of you who know Wyoming this was between Muddy Gap and Lander; primarily between Highway 287 and the continental divide a few miles to the south. Our crew would go out in search of a specific benchmark, a government landmark, and from there we’d lay out our 1200′ by 600′ claims. Those benchmarks had planted at exact geographic locations, sometime with other data – like elevation. My job, as a young fit, 16-year-old, was to carry 4, large posts which we’d set in the corners of each claim. This was wild country – sometimes desert and sometimes on the sides or tops of those short “mountains” which mark the continental divide in that region. It often looked like no man had ever been on this land before, but with work we’d find that benchmark. I have no idea when they were driven into the ground, but someone HAD preceded us. They were “old” and perhaps even the word “ancient” might apply.
I doubt that Israel had government surveyors who planted brass benchmarks all over the country. But there were probably agreements made between residents, whereby property lines were identified. And when two grandfathers agreed that their properties were divided by a straight line between two posts or cairns of rocks that arrangement was to be considered permanent. Our text says, “Remove not the old landmark” – those dividing lines between fields. Also at the end of chapter 22 we read, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.” To the best of my knowledge, this is the source for J. M. Pendleton’s sermon which developed into “Baptist Landmarkism.” But I don’t think Solomon had any metaphorical or special doctrinal intention in these words. He was speaking entirely practically.
Remove not the old landmark.
The Hebrew word in this verse is translated “landmark” five times, and we will come back to most of those. But that word is more often translated “border” and “coast” – 40 times more often – in 200 verses. In other words, this verse isn’t talking so much about the post, the cairn, or the benchmark, as it is the entire property line. Solomon’s command – the law of the land – was that no one had the right to unilaterally move a property line or to take over the property of another. That makes perfect sense; that is natural jurisprudence. That is something which wouldn’t surprise us even in a godless society – like that of the United States.
But it has a little more character – a little more spirituality – here in the pages of God’s Word. Let me try to explain. Deuteronomy 19:14 is the first time the Hebrew word is rendered “landmark.” It is a single paragraph in the midst of a chapter giving instructions about the Cities of Refuge. It expands on Solomon’s words and lays a foundation for them. “Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.” What makes the landmark particularly significant is that the land being marked out actually belongs to God. Jehovah has given to us HIS property to be managed for His glory. And no one has the right to come along and mess with the gift of God. We could make an application in this regard to everything worthwhile in our lives. “Every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from Heaven” – they are gifts from God. And we are only stewards of our wealth, our time, our cars, our homes, our families, even our lives. BUT these verses are talking specifically about property.
Deuteronomy 27 contains the second time this word “landmark” comes up in God’s Word. And this chapter is significant because it contains a list of things which God despises and curses. In the next chapter come a long list of God’s blessings. To each of these things Israel was to say, “Amen.” Together, these blessings and curses provide a great many important lessons. Deuteronomy 27:17 says, “Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.” To be “cursed” in this context is not the same as to be found guilty of land fraud in an American court. To be “cursed” is to be found guilty in the sight of God, and that condemnation has eternal ramifications. Going back to Proverbs – after we read, “Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless.” The next verse adds, “For their redeemer is mighty; he shall plead their cause with thee.” And the implication is, the extortioner, the thief is not going to win his case before the Lord, and he will pay the court costs – which will be considerable.
Why might someone want to enter the field of the fatherless? It might be nothing more than as a short-cut to get from point “A” to point “B.” Usually the property owner would have no problem with a periodic trespassing of this sort. But if it was too often, it might create a path or even a road, and then the owner might refuse access – it would be within his rights.
But Solomon is referring to someone who has noticed that this property is now owned by a widow and her orphaned children. This wicked man is trespassing in order to steal that property and claim it for himself. He is moving the property line, the boundary between properties, because he thinks he has sufficient power to succeed. But he is forgetting one thing – this property was lent to this family by the Lord. The thief – the oppressor, extortioner – thinks he can get away with this plot. But what he is doing is cursed by God, and the rightful stewards have the Almighty to defend them.
“For their redeemer is mighty; he shall plead their cause with thee.” Are you familiar with the word “redeemer?” It is “ga’al” (gaw-al) and is rendered “redeem,” “redeemer” and “kinsman redeemer.” But it is also “revenger” and “avenger.” Psalm 8:1-2 – “O LORD our lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the AVENGER.” Numbers 35:19 – “The REVENGER of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.” “Remove not the ancient landmarks, which thy fathers have set.” Because the family you are trying to defraud has a mighty revenger who shall defend them.
Sometimes these words are applied to things beyond the lines of personal property.
Some say the landmarks can be applied to laws – some use these verses to defend the U. S. Constitution. Others say that this refers to the ancient laws of God – laws by which we are all judged. I can see and understand these applications. I have also heard and read messages applying these verses to Bible doctrine. There are Bible truths which have been benchmarked by God, and they cannot be successfully moved. Mess with the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, and you will be judged with eternal fire. Touch not the Lord’s anointed doctrine or face the wrath of God.
In that light perhaps the word “old” should be considered a bit more deeply. It is the same Hebrew word in Proverbs 22:28 where it is translated “ancient” – “Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.” It is the same word in both verses. But how old is “old,” and how old is “ancient”? The Hebrew is translated into these two words 27 times. But more than twice as often it is rendered “everlasting” – 63 times. And it is translated “ever” more than 260 times.
In other words, we could read and apply this verse to say, “Remove not the eternal benchmarks. Because there is a God who judges such misbehavior.” “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but (the Lord’s landmarks) shall stand for ever.” “Remove not the ancient landmarks.” Why? How about Revelation 20:12 . “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”
Those things which belong to the Lord are sacred – “sacrosanct” – untouchable. That includes His Word, His will, and His people. And it also includes all those things which God has given to His people to manage for His glory. And woe to the man who tries to take what belongs to God.