Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.
Here is a quaint proverb with a sober warning – never cheat or compromise in any business dealings, especially not in a sneaky or subtle way, which would defraud another person of their property. The lesson is taken from the old custom of leaving landmarks to distinguish property lines and boundaries. It is also condemned elsewhere (Pr 23:10).
In open fields where property lines met, the ancient custom called for an upright stone, a pile of stones, or some other semi-permanent marker to identify the boundaries of adjoining fields. These markers would be used for identifying property, valuing an inheritance, settling an estate, and so forth. Profane men could easily move such markers at night to increase their field incrementally by stealing property from their neighbors.
Consider a small square field of only 40 acres that is divided equally by four farmers into smaller square fields of 10 acres. If one of these farmers is a son of Belial and moves the center marker only ten feet, a very small movement, he increases his land by over ¼ acre by stealing subtly through encroachment from all three neighbors. No man’s natural eye could discern such a movement, and only very careful measuring could prove it.
Your property is not so easily taken. You likely have iron stakes buried in the ground to mark property bounds, and they have been surveyed and recorded in carefully maintained maps in county offices. But such was not the case in ancient Israel, so you should appreciate the care for their markers provided by the law of God and Solomon’s wisdom.
God gave property to men, and He protects it. Here is one of the great laws of God’s wisdom in governing a people. The commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” protects the property of others and includes this proverb’s warning. In fact, the LORD condemned even desiring the property of others with His commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.”
The Law of Moses stated clearly the purpose and protection of landmarks (Deut 19:14), and a curse was pronounced in public worship against anyone tampering with them (Deut 27:17). Job listed this as one of the heinous crimes of the wicked (Job 24:2), and God compared evil princes of Judah to those who would move a property bound (Hos 5:10).
You have encountered the wise man’s warning about business fraud before, for it is a sure temptation of life (Pr 11:1; 16:11; 20:10,23). The love of money is the root of all evil, and covetousness leads men to compromise business dealings in order to steal from others (I Tim 6:10; Ex 18:21; I Sam 8:3; Micah 2:2). Godly men are wise to learn contentment, lest they be tempted to be less than honest in transactions (I Tim 6:6-9).
Now, dear reader, should you merely smile at the quaint real estate practices of the past, or should you seek God’s wisdom in these words? You should seek to learn; providing things honest is also a rule of the New Testament (Rom 12:17; II Cor 8:21; I Pet 3:16).
The chief aim of the lesson is to reject any secret fraud or clandestine encroachment on the property of another, even if you have not used force. Though men do not see your actions, God sees them, and you violate the just property rights of your fellow man.
If you see the breadth of the lesson, it condemns transactions without established terms. Before entering a business deal or commitment, the details of the arrangement should be defined, so that neither party suffers unjust loss nor do disputes arise in the future.
It condemns altering covenants or commitments, whether oral or written, in which a party would suffer loss. You must fulfill contractual details and provide things honest in the sight of all men. If you gave your word, you should match or exceed others’ expectations.
It condemns all fraudulent arts, forgeries, concealments, altering, or compromise in business transactions. Every business owner knows shortcuts that can enhance profits at the expense of the customer. Such base thoughts should never occur in a child of God.
It condemns foolish and unnecessary squabbles with neighbors that should have been avoided by maintaining better communication. It is better to be defrauded than fight, especially when the cause can be traced to your neglect or slothfulness.
It condemns the breaking of settled customs, even if not in writing. He is not a godly man who excuses himself because a contract was not in writing, if the performance was understood. Neither do noble men quote the Constitution or other dusty relics as the basis for their actions; men of principle fulfill the accepted expectations of society in the discharge of their transactions, regardless of any obsolete provision or idea that could excuse them. They know that de facto standards can be more binding than de jure ones.
If you have taken the name of Christ, then let your conduct in all economic transactions and dealings with others be completely honest and openly fair (Matt 5:16; I Thess 4:11-12; I Tim 6:1; Titus 2:9-10; I Pet 2:12; 3:16-17). It would be better to suffer loss, then to compromise the property rights of others or offend the great King (I Cor 6:6-8).
And when it comes to worshipping God, you are bound to observe the ancient landmarks of Scripture and apostolic tradition (Deut 5:32; 12:32; Ps 119:128; Is 8:20; Rom 16:17-18; II Cor 11:3-4; Gal 1:6-9; II Thess 2:15; 3:6; I Tim 6:3-5; II Tim 3:1-5,16-17; 4:3-4; Titus 3:10-11; I John 4:1-6). You have no right to accept new doctrines, neglect old doctrines, invent new forms of worship, modify existing ones, or compromise discipline.
You must ask for the old paths and walk in them. Have you soberly examined your church by the word of God and found it in the old paths? “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein” (Jer 6:16).
Most churches today are moving the landmarks of true doctrine and practice at an unprecedented rate of change and degree of movement, even though the Bible clearly commands that God’s rules are not to be added to or taken away from, nor are men to turn to the left or the right from them (Deut 12:32; 5:32-33; Matt 28:20; I Cor 3:10-17).
A church today following the scriptures appears very different and strange, for most others have modified the message to increase the crowd and added inventions to make the unregenerate and carnal happy. But this manipulative movement of ancient apostolic landmarks governing churches is severely condemned in the Bible, as shown above.
Reader, in light of scripture, where does your church stand on a burning hell, decisional regeneration, divorce and remarriage, baptism by immersion of believers, sodomy, pagan holidays whitewashed by Rome, election and predestination, fornication before marriage, self-love and self-esteem, television, submission to civil government, strong Bible preaching, silence of women in assemblies, moderate use of alcohol, musical instruments in worship, submission of wives, labor unions, same-sex marriages, fake healings, preeminence of Jesus Christ, apostolic origin of the church, failed prophecies, Masonic Lodge, steeples on top and flags inside, fulfillment of much Bible prophecy, church discipline, female modesty, reverent worship, marriage only in the Lord, hair length, virginity, cremation, transgenders, capital and corporal punishment, tongues, etc., etc.?
Paul described this situation, when Christians turn from sound doctrine and truth to fables and inventions, as perilous times and warned Timothy about them (II Tim 3:1 – 4:4). Forget famine, tsunamis, AIDS, economic collapse, or World War III. Here is real danger – moving the Bible’s landmarks to invent new doctrines and ways of doing things, which keep worshippers from pleasing God and obtaining practical salvation by the gospel.
The great God of heaven and His Son Jesus Christ have laid out the fields of His kingdom with clearly defined borders and boundaries. The New Testament provides all the instruction necessary for perfection (II Tim 3:16-17). Those who move the ordained landmarks to alter the doctrine, service, or worship of God are to be marked, avoided, and cursed (Rom 16:17-18; Gal 1:6-9; etc.). Do not let a single landmark be moved!
Are you a defender of the ancient landmarks? You should earnestly fight for the faith, which was once delivered to the saints by the apostles of the Lord Jesus. Jude warned in his short but severe epistle, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).