Remove Not the Ancient Landmark
1. This is the fourth of the thirty wise sayings in this section.
2. The topic of the proverb is mentioned six other times in the Old Testament, and twice in the book of Proverbs – here and 23:10.
3. This is a very simple proverb in the form of a command: don’t remove the ancient landmark.
The ancient landmark
a. Defined: Border barrier; a wall or a stone that marked off a geographical region and served as a boundary line.
b. Josh. 18:20 – The term is used in this passage and speaks of the Jordan River as the border or boundary line.
c. Ex. 19:12, 23 – The term is used twice here, speaking of boundary lines that were SET by men. They were to mark off an area beyond which the people were not to go.
d. Within the tribes, the land was further divided among the families and stone walls and sometimes single stones were used to mark the boundary lines on their land.
e. These stones separated one man’s property from his neighbors.
a. The fact that these landmarks were old (ancient) means that they had been set in place many years ago.
b. They had been honored and respected for many generations.
c. They had for many generations served their purpose of separating one man’s property from his neighbor’s property.
3. Which thy fathers have set in place.
a. This expression indicates that the ancient landmarks were the work of their forefathers… since the first generation entered the Promised Land and began the process of dividing the land.
b. Deut. 19:14 – Moses speaks of boundary lines that were to be set on the land when the Jews went into the Promised Land and divided it among the tribes. The boundary lines were drawn up and stones were set in place to mark those borders.
c. These had been the agreed upon boundary lines set by Joshua and others.
d. You recall the story of Ahab depressed because he wanted to buy his neighbor Naboth’s land and Naboth would not sell. Naboth understood that the land was part of his inheritance and was not to change hands or leave the family.
e. These boundary lines were considered sacred because they were connected to the Palestinian Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant which promised the land to Israel.
f. In Israel, the boundary set up by their fathers were not disputed borders, like the boundary lines in Israel today… or the disputed regions of Afghanistan.
g. This was not a question of where the boundary line ought to be.
h. These lines were not drawn up by foreign invaders their land and divided it up some war room in a distant city.
i. No, these boundary lines were indisputable borders, drawn up and set in place by their own forefathers, and accepted as legitimate for many, many generations.
j. These were the ancient landmarks in Israel.
k. They were in some cases walls and in other cases large stones set in place to mark the boundary line between brother Saul’s orchard and the pastures of brother Joash.
l. They were respected by all honest men.
i. Without this respect shown to the landmarks, there might be chaos and even war in the land.
ii. In a sense, the stability of the society depended upon people respecting the ancient landmarks.
1. Remove: To remove; carry away; to be driven back; be moved back.
a. The command is simple to understand: don’t move those landmarks!
b. They are in place for a purpose… they were clean, crisp, objective markers and dividing lines between pieces of property.
c. The landmarks were all they had to distinguish which land belonged to whom.
d. If it was moved, you wouldn’t know whose territory you were standing on. You wouldn’t know where you stood.
e. Thus, they were NOT to be removed… or pushed back.
2. And there is only ONE reason for moving them – to lie, steal, and cheat.
a. A dishonest man in those days who moved the landmarks would accomplish two things:
i. He would diminish the size of his neighbor’s property
ii. He would increase the size of his own property
3. A dishonest man could not move a landmark a long distance all at once.
a. That would be instantly noticed and he would be caught.
b. However, you could move a landmark gradually… inch by inch… little by little. That way it would go unnoticed.
c. If the landmark stone was way out in the woods, far away from the owner’s home, a dishonest man could move it a little bit every time he rode by that way.
d. By moving the stone a little every day or even every month, you could over time move it quite a distance.
e. And even if you move it only 20 feet, that is 20 feet TIMES the entire length of the border.
4. This was a real problem in ancient days.
a. Job 24:2 – This practice of moving landmarks existed even prior to the days of Joshua in the land. Job was one of the earliest books of the Bible. (near the time of Abraham)
b. It was a common way for dishonest men to add to their own wealth by stealing from a neighbor… and often without getting caught.
c. It was so common that it is mentioned quite often in the Old Testament.
d. Deut. 27:17 – A curse was placed on the one who removed his brother’s landmark in Israel. (You don’t have three prohibitions and a curse pronounced on an issue that never occurred.)
A Common Application of the Principle
1. The expression “remove not the ancient landmark” evidently became a proverbial saying that was applied in lots of different situations.
2. Hosea 5:10 – God likened a departure from established standards of truth and righteousness set in the Scriptures to the removing of ancient landmarks.
a. A rash disregard and lack of respect for the laws of morality or the laws of the land was like removing ancient landmarks.
b. God’s law was like a boundary line that was not to be moved, changed, or ignored. It separated right from wrong.
c. When a time honored standard has been moved, it throws everything else off.
d. For example, King Ahaz (“the princes of Judah”), set aside the ancient ordinances of God by removing the borders of the bases and the laver and the sea and introduced an idolatrous altar from Damascus.
e. That threw the worship system into chaos.
3. We live in a generation that seems bent on removing the ancient landmarks.
a. God’s Word is a revelation of the TRUTH.
b. For 2000 years it has stood as the standard of right and wrong for most of Western civilization… at least nominally.
c. The Bible was (figuratively speaking) the ancient landmark that defined for us what marriage was; what the roles of husband and wife are.
d. The Bible revealed that certain lifestyles were right and others were wrong.
e. The Bible drew a clear line between good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness… between truth and error.
f. But now the Bible (that ancient landmark that divided two territories – light and darkness) is being removed from our society.
i. All references to Biblical themes have become taboo in our land today.
ii. Even the Ten Commandments (an ancient landmark of moral behavior) is being rejected from our courtrooms as “unconstitutional.”
iii. Even our history and heritage as a nation founded on Christian principles is being re-written to expunge from the record, all links to God, prayer, and the Bible.
iv. Now we have a post modern world where the younger generation no longer thinks in terms of right and wrong… truth and error. Everything is relative.
v. The landmark has been removed and that has affected absolutely everything.
vi. Once the landmark is removed, the dividing line between one field and the next… or between right and wrong is blurred.
vii. And now we are even afraid to say in public that something is right or wrong—or (God forbid!) sinful or evil.
viii. Try calling homosexuality wickedness around the bubbler at work tomorrow. See what kind of reaction you get.
ix. Dare to mention that wives are to submit to their husbands to the ladies in the office.
x. At the next totally generic “Holiday” party, try to mention to your pluralistic friends that Jesus Christ is the ONLY truth and the ONLY way to the Father. (John 14:6)
xi. You could lose your job for voicing such beliefs today. You could certainly lose your friends at work.
xii. You would be considered a Neanderthal.
xiii. However, that’s exactly what the Bible (our landmark) says – and it is what it has said for the last 2000 years.
xiv. It has been the time tested, accepted truth for the last 2000 years in most of the Western world too, but not today.
g. But once the landmark is removed, society has lost its way.
i. Sometimes landmarks (at the corner of a property) also served as turning points in the road.
ii. The road would follow the boundary line of Joel’s farm property and turn to the left at the end of his property.
iii. If the landmark was moved, travelers could lose their way.
iv. Our country has lost its way, morally and spiritually.
v. And when the landmarks are removed, its’ every man for himself.
vi. Humanist psychologists tell us that there is no sin and that men are basically good.
vii. Sociologists tell us that new forms of family might better suit the modern world.
viii. Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
ix. God help us—but we are coming to that.
h. Young people (even from Christian homes) are looking for a “new” kind of church and a new kind of worship… something not bound by the ancient, outdated landmarks.
4. But the most remarkable characteristic of an ancient landmark, that which gave it its intrinsic VALUE was the fact that it DIDN’T change. It didn’t move.
a. It just stood there… in the same spot year after year, marking the line between one territory and another.
b. Time and history rushed on by it, but the landmark just stood its ground, serving its purpose.
c. Fad and fancies came in with a splash and then disappeared from the landscape, but the landmark remained.
d. Generation after generation, the ancient landmark accomplished its purpose by REFUSING to move.
e. They never needed to be updated.
f. While the world of business, science, medicine, and technology thrives on discovering, designing, or inventing NEW things. Their battle is to stay on top of the latest new discovery.
g. But the battle of the church is STAND STILL while the world is changing all around us. Our struggle is remain faithful to the ancient Book… and to remain on the OLD path… while the world seems to be pulling us in the opposite direction.