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Moving the Boundaries

Before the ancient nation of Israel entered their promised land, God required them to formally denounce conduct that He despised. One of the specifics was, “Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark” (Deuteronomy 27:17).

A boundary marker might be a large stone or a pile of stones. By moving the stone(s), one could enlarge his land and thus his economic opportunity—doing so, of course, at his neighbor’s expense. Moving the boundary thus reflected a selfishness that was opposite the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. People with limited means were particularly victimized by this practice (Proverbs 15:25; 23:10-11).

Another factor was involved. Israel’s land was divided by tribal and family allotment, under God’s direction. The portion of land a family received was their inheritance from God (Deuteronomy 19:14; Joshua 24:1-2). Strict laws governed land sales, and in the jubilee year all land reverted to its original family (Leviticus 25, 27). Therefore, to move a boundary was to alter a divine ordinance.

How do you suppose the boundary movers operated? Those who thought they could get by with it may well have been openly defiant, rearranging things however they pleased and daring anyone to try and stop them. I suspect others were more subtle. Moving a boundary marker just a little at a time would be almost imperceptible in the short term. Even if noticed, it might be dismissed as a small infraction not worth the hassle of addressing. Using the bit-by-bit approach , one might be able to make a significant change over time with little stir at all.

God said the boundary-moving spirit was alive and well among Judah’s leaders in Hosea’s day (Hosea 5:10). It still is.

Some, like those described in Psalm 73, are openly defiant, parading their sin, acting as if God does not exist; or if He does exist, He does not know or care what they are doing. Others follow the bit-by-bit approach. One departure (always viewed as a minor matter) from God’s standard leads to another, and that to another, until “the perfect law of liberty” is all liberty and no law. Truth becomes whatever we want it to be instead of what God says it is (John 17:17).

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13, NKJV).

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