Leaving the Landmarks Alone

Okay, this is one of those musings which, at least with the set of online commentaries available to me, I find no backup or corroboration. Nothing that indicates my apparent observation and possible application are at least within some a range of possible implication. But the verse popped this morning. The question came to mind. An answer seems to fit. So, we’ll go with it. Might be out to lunch, but it makes for a tasty morning meal.

Here’s the verse that has me thinking:

“You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.”

(Deuteronomy 19:14 ESV)

The command to obey is pretty clear. Don’t mess with property lines. Whatever was put in place to distinguish one man’s land from another’s — whether it be a rock wall or bush hedge, or just a periodic stone here and there, or intervals of small trenching in the ground — don’t move it.

The reason is also pretty clear. A family’s land was a family’s livelihood. Their property was largely responsible for putting food on their table. So, the potential motivations are also pretty clear, covetousness and greed. Wanting more, or wanting something better, might tempt one to move the markers, even if it meant somebody else was going to end up with less.

So, it seems pretty intuitive why bumping a brother’s border lines was a big deal.

But that’s not what caused me to pause. What’s got me thinking is where the landmarks came from in the first place. Who were “the men of old” who set them?

With less literal translations the question is answered. NLT says “your ancestors.” NIV is a little less definitive, “your predecessors.” NASB too, as they render it “the ancestors.” There’s commentary support for the idea as well — that Moses is writing for generations after this first generation entering the land. That this initial generation will mark out not only the major borders of each tribe of Israel, but also the individual inheritances given to each family in each tribe. That the first generation, the ancestors, are the men of old who will set the landmarks to be left alone.

But could “the men of old” be referring to the original inhabitants of the land? After all, Moses spoke earlier of the land, which God was gifting to His people, as a land “with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant” (Deut. 6:10-11). They were displacing a people and then inhabiting their space pre-furnished with cities, houses, fields, vineyards, and, I’m thinking, landmarks.

I also think about what it would take to survey and mark plots of land for 600,000+ men (along with their wives and children), and it opens the door for me to think they might have gone with pre-existing landmarks when they moved in.

Like I said, I’m probably not even in the ballpark on this one. But in asking the “who” question, it comes with a big “why” possible implication. That in leaving the landmarks alone it indicates our satisfaction is found in the Land Giver alone.

What do you have that you did not receive?

(1Corinthians 4:7b ESV)

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

(Philippians 4:11b ESV)

When Peter saw [John], he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is My will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

(John 21:21-22 ESV)

We’ve all been gifted an inheritance. All brought into the kingdom. Our portion allotted apart from any merit of our own. Our gifting given as the Spirit determines. Our earthly landmarks, as it were, set of old, before the foundation of the earth. But how we can be tempted to want more. Or want a piece of someone else’s. Rather than settling into the grace God has provided, we covet someone else’s grace, perhaps even someone else’s goods. Not satisfied with the landscape provided, tempted to move the markers a bit to satiate our discontentment or satisfy our greed.

But what if we just thanked God for the landmarks that have been set? Faithfully serve with what we’ve been given? Follow Jesus down the path He’s laid out for us without regard for the path He’s determined for others? Content with what we have because it’s been gifted by Him?

Seems to be there’s something to be said for leaving the landmarks alone.

All because of grace. Only for His glory.

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