To move the boundary marker or not to move the boundary marker? To change or not to change? It is interesting that one verse in Deuteronomy on landmarks provides both order and discord, focus and fracture on organizational change!
“You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.” Deuteronomy 19:14.
It seems like God intentionally assigned and placed this emotive hand grenade in His word to create discussion among His people. Has not God, in fact, by writing this decree as He did, not only initiated the discussion, but also framed the parameters for this discussion?
God’s Word frames the question; God’s Word answers the question; and God’s Word provides the language by which the question ought to be discussed.
Now, there are organizational iconoclasts that want to change everything. Nothing that has existed before that generation is right. Then, there are organizational conservationists who want to preserve everything. Nothing from the past can be changed. It must be maintained at all cost.
Younger generations tend toward innovation and change. Older generations are inclined towards stability, regularity, and permanence. And so, they clash—and they clash in the church!
As each generation cycles through its life-span, they will slowly progress from one extreme to the other. It is inevitable. This movement toward stability and constancy is the natural process of time.
God therefore enters, by His omnipotent Word, into this generational dissonance with one short verse on landmarks. And He states His point-of-view. He drops the divine gavel and says, “Stop your bickering. You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark.”
It is at this point that the wordsmiths and the exegetes get excited. What does “shall” really mean? Does “not” really mean “not”? What about in the original language—and for the original audience? How did they understand the negation “not”?
But God’s inerrant Word is eternal. It is above human history. It is above individual human cultural norms and forms. While having perspicuity, it is also supra-temporal. And God has made His immutable point.
“You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set.”
By way of synthetic Hebraic parallelism, the concept of “your neighbor’s landmark” is explained with another phrase, “which the men of old have set.” In other words, do not move boundary markers which were set by earlier generations, be they your forefathers or not.
Was God referring only to former land survey markers in this dictum? Or may He want this decree to also be applied to the spiritual realm? And if so how might it be applied?
Several comments may provide some interpretive markers for applying this volatile verse.
- God pivots the argument in favor of the conservationists by how He stated it.
- The argument lays on what the reader considers is implied by the word “landmark” or “boundary marker.”
- The use of the possessive “neighbor’s landmark” is also interesting. It implies that the landmark is not that of the reader, but rather that of his neighbor. Therefore, the reader has no authority over the landmark, because it is not his to move. In fact, even the neighbor does not have authority over his own landmark, since its placement came from preexisting “men of old.”
Therefore, God seems to be implying that there are boundaries in existence, established long before we are born, that provide necessary delimiters to best viewing and navigating the issues of life.
Further, we get the idea, from the way that God has framed this one verse, that He foreknew that each successive generation would desire to push against former boundaries that had been established. Built into the human condition is the illusion that each generation thinks itself better than the generation before. Yet, God dis not use a comparative, pitting one generation against the other. He merely stated, “Do not move the boundary marker.”
Several tangible items immediately come to mind when considering possible contestants for preexisting divine boundary markers:
- The words of Christ (Matthew 7:24, 26), specifically all the commands of Christ directed to His disciples (Matthew 28:20), being described by Paul as “wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:3); and
- The Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21).
These two unshakable rocks provide doctrinal and practical boundaries which the winds and waves of culture and time can never move. Nor should the obedient reader of Deuteronomy 19:14 attempt to move these boundaries.
In many ways, the real issue is this: Will we be driven away from a focus on diligently obeying the Word of God by the winds and waves of time and culture? Or will we humbly be driven to attentively investigating the pages of the Word of God—lest we inadvertently move any boundary that God has established.
The task of each generation is to grapple against the winds and waves of culture that will incessantly bombard them. They must determine to steadfastly maintain the boundaries that God has set forth in His Word, not being moved to the left or the right. Culture and generational issues ought never to set the pace for the Christian or the Church. The words of Christ are the only rock that will never move!