by Michael E. Brooks
“Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set” (Proverbs 22:28).
We have added land to our Khulna Bible College property in Bangladesh on two separate occasions. In both cases we brought in official government surveyors to set corners and mark lines so as to ensure that our neighbors’ borders were honored, and also that we actually received the land for which we were paying.
A major part of the process of surveying was to seek out the older men of the community and question them about the historically established and accepted boundary marks. Several current residents have been here in this village for many years, some for several generations, and knowledge of land ownership and boundaries is an important part of their village identity.
This reminds me of the Biblical stories of setting up heaps of stone to mark one’s inheritance, and of the penalties for moving or tampering with such markers. Moses gave instructions to the people to invoke a curse upon all who might do this when they entered the land of Canaan and it was divided to them as an inheritance (Deuteronomy 27:17).
An ancient landmark is nothing more or less than a type of tradition. It is the record of where one’s property begins and ends, as set in the past. In our world of constant and sudden change traditions have become scorned by many. Yet tradition may be simply a synonym for history, and history serves, among other things, to establish what has been agreed upon and made valid. Without the authority of historical record society cannot function.
The symbolic value of the proverb cited at the beginning of this article is obvious. It is not just property markers that are important. Standards of conduct, historical records, and articles of faith all depend upon (or are themselves) “ancient landmarks”. We remove them at our own risk, and any careless removal brings with it great and negative consequences.
Speaking of Christian faith and practice, based upon the “ancient landmarks” of Biblical teaching, there are reasons why we live as we do and why we believe what we believe. It is easy, and popular, to question those values and beliefs and to reject them as obsolete and irrelevant to our modern age. Yet they have stood the test of time, weathered the changes of many generations and have proven strong.
Obviously, the age of a landmark alone does not prove its accuracy. Fraud and deception were practiced hundreds and thousands of years ago, just as today. There must be other criteria of proof besides mere longevity. Yet the burden of proof is always upon the one who would move the marker. It does not have to prove its right to remain unless challenged by sufficient evidence to bring legitimate suspicion. A marker that has stood for generations is presumed to be established and authentic.
This is a logical and Biblical standard by which to treat doctrinal and moral markers as well. If they have been believed and practiced since ancient times, and if they are shown to be effective and to work, one needs sufficient reason before questioning them.
Unfortunately there are those to whom innovation is, or seems to be, everything. That which is new is exciting. That which is old is boring and commonplace. Markers are moved for no reason other than to provide variety, stimulate controversy, and add excitement. Yet when a marker is moved one’s inheritance may be reduced, or it may vanish altogether. This is as true of spiritual and moral boundaries and eternal inheritance as it is of real estate. Let us respect ancient landmarks.
Speaking of Christian faith and practice, based upon the “ancient landmarks” of Biblical teaching, there are reasons why we live as we do and why we believe what we believe.