God’s Word for You
Proverbs 23:10-11 an ancient boundary stone
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 26, 2019
10 Do not move an ancient boundary stone
or encroach on the fields of orphans,
11 for their Redeemer is strong;
he will plead their case against you.
The word gebūl is translated “boundary stone” six times in the NIV (Deuteronomy 19:14, 22:17; Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28, 23:10 and Hosea 5:10). Other translations like the ESV say “landmark” (KJV just said “the bound”). The idea is a marker, certainly a stone of some kind, which marked the edge or the corner or an established parcel of land. Markers like this served for the borders of fields and estates (Deuteronomy 19:14), pastureland (Job 24:2), tribes (Genesis 31:46), nations (Joshua 4:20), and the location of historical events (Genesis 28:18-19).
Why would this passage find its way into Proverbs? The law is clear: “Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess” (Deuteronomy 19:14). The law forbids rogues from stealing the property of people who own the land by right. In a culture where fields and pastureland were premium, this law enabled the tribes to establish themselves in the Promised Land.
Solomon’s purpose is to present the true warning. It is not the government that a thief needs to fear; sometimes the thief turns out to be the government. In fact, in ancient times, Medieval times, and even in modern times, governments are often at fault (who possesses the Crimea today?). Everyone knows about the danger of Eminent Domain, the compulsory acquisition of private land for public use (usually for roads but sometimes for other purposes). But businessmen find many ways to use laws to get what they want from the helpless.
Luther warns: “If anyone desire[s] to have a castle, city, duchy, or any other great thing, he practises so much financiering through relationships, and by any means he can, that the other is judicially [legally] deprived of it, and it is adjudicated to him, and confirmed with deed and seal and declared to have been acquired by princely title and honestly” (Large Catechism, par. 302). He means that a businessman can find all sorts of ways to get whatever he wants by bending the rules of law and by getting lots of investors on his side, and then he makes it seem like it was his “right” to have whatever it was all along, even though he really only crushed the meager fortunes of poor people to make himself be wealthier or more prestigious.
So: Back to Solomon’s warning. It is the true Redeemer that such white-collar criminals and government officials need to fear. This is the Redeemer who is the Lord, the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 41:14). This is the Redeemer who says, “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6), and also, “I am the one… who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers; who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be built,’ and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them’” (Isaiah 44:26). Such thieves might think they are beyond the reach of human laws, but they are not beyond the finger of God. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
James says: “Religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: To look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Perhaps Christians might make a difference in the world in a democracy when our votes and petitions sometimes have an effect on our leaders. But each of us needs to look to our own lives first and especially. We need to repent of our own covetousness and any sinful attitude that tempts us to think, “I would put that to better use than he would,” and to confess, “That is his and not mine.” In the end we must be willing and happy to say: “I am content with what I have; I do not want what I haven’t got.” What I have and cherish forever is the forgiveness of my sins, and a place with my Redeemer forever in heaven.
Pastor Timothy Smith