Rev. Smit is pastor of the Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.
You may have seen a man alongside a highway or on some land nearby, perhaps with his baseball cap on backwards, peering into the scope of a survey instrument set atop a tripod. At some significant distance away, there would have been another man, holding up a long stick and moving from place to place on a piece of land according to the hand signals or two-way radio commands of the man behind the survey instrument.
One of the uses of surveying is to obtain a legal description of a particular parcel of land. Surveying will provide the exact dimensions of the piece of property. Once obtained, the dimensions of the property are recorded with the land department of the local county or municipal office. In addition to that, surveyors will pound into the ground long metal stakes at the corners of the property or at a predetermined distance (an offset) from the corner of the property or the property lines. These metal stakes assist surveyors in future work to find and know the property lines and corners so that buildings, which may be constructed on the property or on an adjacent property, will not crowd or even straddle illegally the property lines.
Those metal stakes today are protected by law. It is an offence to remove them. We must honour them and maintain them.
This commonplace illustration is what Proverbs 22:28 holds before our hearts and minds with spiritual application. In that passage, Jehovah instructs us to fear Him and be wise by the faithful maintenance of our spiritual landmarks. Because of the real and constant threat to tamper with the landmarks, Jehovah puts this duty negatively and sharply, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set!”
This was originally a command given to Israel inDeuteronomy 19:14. Moses instructed Israel, prior to her entrance into the land of Canaan, not to move the landmarks of the land that would be set. When the landmarks were erected, they were made of large stones, or piles of stones, perhaps even with an inscription engraved upon them, to indicate the specific boundaries of all the portions of land distributed among the Israelites in the land for an inheritance. These landmarks would show exactly what piece of ground in the land belonged to which family.
Once these landmarks were in place, Israel was forbidden, for any reason, to move them. Moving them was equivalent to stealing from the neighbor his land. Moving them was rebellion against Jehovah, who sovereignly and wisely guided the distribution of the land of Canaan to the Israelites and to their seed after them in their generations. To move the landmarks was to deny God’s counsel, which determined what a particular family in Israel would possess. Because it was so determined by God, it made those landmarks truly ancient, i.e., those that were decreed and determined from eternity. Therefore, to tamper with the divinely placed landmarks was a grievous sin of rebellion against God’s authority and a grievous rejection of the spiritual significance of the inheritance in Canaan.
Moses taught Israel to honor the landmark with utmost reverence and thanksgiving. For the believer, the landmark was a clear type of God’s grace and blessing to mark out for them their undeserved and unmerited portion in the land of Canaan. As a result, they understood that the earthly landmark was a sign of God’s grace, which marked out for them their place in the heavenly land of Canaan.
This understanding of God’s people was reflected by the psalmist in Psalm 16. In verses 4 and 5 we read,
The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places: yea, I have a goodly heritage.
The ancient landmark, which was a visible marker of the divine distribution of the earthly land of Canaan to Israel, was a picture of the divine and gracious distribution of the heavenly land of Canaan to God’s true Israel in Christ Jesus according to election. The landmark spoke to them of God’s covenant promises, His faithfulness to His covenant and His people, and the blessedness of their place in God’s covenant. The landmark spoke to them of the coming Messiah and His death, through which God reveals that gracious, merciful, and sovereign distribution of the heavenly land of Canaan unto His people in Christ.
Similarly today, God has given us an ancient landmark, established and determined as ours from eternity and given now to us in time by the Spirit of Christ. That landmark is the Holy Scriptures, which mark out for us the proper boundaries for our doctrinal confession and our daily walk in life. The Scriptures have at their focal point Christ crucified. That is really the ancient, historical landmark that reveals to us the basis of God’s covenant of grace, the sovereignly set boundaries of that covenant, and our life within God’s covenant of grace. The ancient landmarks reveal to us God’s gracious distribution to us of our inherited places in the heavenly Canaan, and those landmarks reveal unto us the fences that mark the boundaries of our daily confession and walk of life. The Scriptures demand that our confession be true to the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ and that our walk of life be holy as our God is holy.
The ancient landmarks include other things, like our Reformed confessions. The landmarks include the distinctives of the Reformed faith in worship, liturgy, doctrine, and daily living. Within the boundaries of those God-given distinctives, we enjoy true spiritual peace and prosperity in our hearts, our homes, and our congregations.
The text refers to these landmarks as ancient because they are given to us from the Lord. They have their origin in the Spirit of Christ, who led our forefathers to demarcate the straight lines of what our doctrinal confession or what our daily walk of life ought to be in light of the Scriptures. As a result, the ancient landmarks are not merely nice monuments of church history, but they remain in their subordinate relationship to Scripture, sacred and authoritative for us. That underscores the reason for the prohibition inProverbs 22:28 that we may not remove the ancient landmarks that God has given to us as Reformed believers today.
What kind of threats does the Lord address with this prohibition to tamper with our ancient landmarks?
First, there is the threat from the world to obliterate the ancient landmarks. There is always present the deliberate attacks of the Devil to destroy the ancient landmarks. One example is the Devil’s attempt to obliterate from modern society the very ancient landmark of the truth of holy marriage. This landmark is very ancient: it has existed since the sixth day of history. Nevertheless, there is the attack on marriage to overthrow God’s institution of marriage as the lifelong bond between one man and one woman and allow marriage to be the union of any combination of men and women. Besides that present-day attack, there are many more bold attacks against ancient landmarks by the workers of iniquity because they hate and rage against God, His creation ordinances, His Word, and His exalted, only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
In addition to the bold threats, there are the subtle threats to move the landmarks a little to the left or a little to the right. The threat is not to destroy the landmark altogether, but initially to move it a little bit.
A man might sinfully want to move his landmark in order to make his lot bigger. He may not like how narrow his lot is and try deceitfully to move the boundaries in order to create more room on his lot. This widening of the lot might provide better opportunities for more buildings on the lot and more room for a larger garden.
Similarly, we might be tempted to do so spiritually. In covetous- ness and unbelief, we may regard the placement of the ancient landmarks as making our life much too narrow and lonely. We judge that by moving the landmarks a little bit, we might gain more room. As a result, we will not feel so constrained or pressured.
Or, perhaps, instead of moving the ancient landmarks, there is the temptation to make the ancient landmarks less prominent in our life and confession. We might neglect them by letting the weeds of our sin and spiritual carelessness cover the landmarks or by simply ignoring them. Though the landmarks have not been altered, yet the same effect is achieved. In unbelief, we think now we are free of the constraints and narrowness of the landmarks. For example, in dealing with one who is living in a public sin, we might ignore the ancient landmark that judges them outside the boundaries of obedience and faith. Our goal in doing so might be to get along with that wayward one and avoid spiritual and uncomfortable (to our pride) conflict.
An example of this threat against the ancient landmarks is found in the life of King Jehoshaphat. He ignored and covered up in his heart and mind the ancient landmark regarding proper friendships. Jehoshaphat covered up the landmark that marked friendship with Ahab as out-of-bounds and spiritually perilous.
Rather than making it clear that our lives and confession are governed by our ancient landmarks, we might try to soften their appearance in our confession and walk of life in order to get along with others. We might be tempted to minimize the particularity of God’s grace, the unconditionality of God’s covenant, the lifelong state of marriage, the headship of the man over the woman in all spheres of life, justification by faith alone and without our works, the sin of drama, an understanding of our antithetical life in the midst of the world and ungodliness, or other doctrinal aspects of our ancient landmarks, arguing that then more possibilities and opportunities for personal or ecclesiastical relationships and partnerships might develop.
We are tempted to allow the ancient landmarks to be eroded for the sake of avoiding persecution or reproach. Rather than be mocked by classmates, work colleagues, or other Christians for trying to show utmost reverence in prayer to our heavenly Father by using the unique pronouns of “Thee,” “Thou,” and “Thine,” we might give in to the trend to use the common pronouns of “you” and “your” when speaking to our Holy Father.
Perhaps while working on the job, rather than rebuke a wicked co-worker for his lewd joke, we might offer an approving chuckle. In so doing, we have ignored the ancient landmarks of holiness and godliness in order to avoid the narrowness of persecution and to satisfy the lusts of our sinful flesh.
We are tempted to ignore the landmarks for selfish desires. For example, rather than insist, on our summer vacation, that church attendance on the Lord’s Day under the chief means of grace is mandatory, so that it will often determine what the vacation destination will be, we might ignore the landmark of the necessity to assemble with God’s saints for worship in order to make room in our life for a greater variety of vacation possibilities or for carnal activities.
Failures to maintain the ancient landmarks, as God and His Word require, will receive God’s judgment. God will show us that any attempt to broaden the boundaries beyond what God has set will only bring misery and future perils. Proof for that is found in God’s judgment upon Jehoshaphat’s sinful friendship with Ahab. Jehoshaphat’s friendship with Ahab almost cost him his own life. And that friendship with Ahab bore the fruit of the spiritually undesirable marriage of his son Jehoram and Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel. That in turn bore the terrible fruit of wicked Athaliah’s extermination of the seed royal, except for the baby Joash by God’s grace and faithfulness. Similarly, the Lord will chastise His people who move the landmarks or permit them to be ignored.
Over against those temptations to destroy the landmarks, or even to move the landmarks slightly, the Lord calls us to maintain the ancient landmarks that our forefathers set.
Love them because they speak of our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Honor them.
Be content with them.
Study them thoroughly.
Cherish them because they are the blood-bought inheritance that God has given to you by faith alone.
Guard them because they are constantly attacked.
Defend them from the gainsayers.
Teach them to your covenant youth daily.
Desire that they be distinctively and soundly preached from sacred Scripture.
Speak of them in humility and godly fear to those who ask you about them.
Delight in the boundaries that God has set for your life and doctrinal confession in order that you might enjoy the blessedness of His covenant with you and your seed after you.
Be faithful to them and so to Jehovah, our covenant God.
For faithfulness to Him and to His ancient landmarks, seek daily for wisdom and the strength of Christ and His Spirit to live holily in your inheritance, marked out with His gracious care.