God’s Ancient Boundaries
God established boundaries that define the world we live in and provide structure to our lives. They keep us living in the real world, not an imaginary world of our own making. God’s commands are ancient boundaries that keep us on safe paths and provide blessing in our lives. But those who cross them or ignore them do so at their own peril. God set spiritual and moral boundary stones as monuments that, even today we can get our bearings on to keep us on the right paths.
Israel’s land boundaries
After the Israelites entered the promised land, God instructed them to establish boundaries for the land given to each of the 12 tribes. As families grew, the land was further divided into smaller parcels. The boundaries were marked by large stones, sometimes with engraving to identify the parcels. God told them not to move these boundaries, since the land belonged to those families and their children as their inheritance.
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)
“Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:17)
God commanded the people to respect these boundaries, for their neighbors’ sake, and for their own. When everyone respected them, then the people’s rights were preserved.
Moving the ancient boundary stone
Encroachment is when someone crosses a property line and uses someone else’s land for their own purpose. This could be building, cutting wood, or clearing. Sometimes it’s done by mistake—just not being aware of where the property lines are. In 2021 a Belgian farmer, annoyed by a large stone that was in the way of his tractor, moved it out of the way. Unknown to him, that stone was set in 1819 and marked a portion of the boundary between Belgium and France. If someone hadn’t noticed, the boundary between the two countries would have been moved seven feet.
But people also encroach on others’ land intentionally. Willingly moving boundary markers amounts to stealing land. Today professional surveyors use advanced GPS technology, which makes it very difficult to take someone’s land. But in the ancient world it was quite easy to move a marker. Stones were sometimes moved slowly, a little at a time, to avoid detection. King Solomon repeated the command given in the Law of Moses:
Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless… (Proverbs 23:10)
Those who stole land by moving boundary stones were stealing from those who owned the land and from those who were to inherit it. They were depriving people of their inheritance, in many cases children who lost their parents.
God’s Ancient Boundaries
The land boundaries in Israel were the physical boundaries set for the twelve tribes and the families. In the same way that humans establish land boundaries, God also established boundaries in the created world.
These boundaries define the world he made, giving definition to reality and providing structure to our lives. They help us navigate through life, reminding us what’s important and what’s real. God’s spiritual and moral boundaries show us the right way in dark and uncertain times, what to affirm and what to avoid. And they keep us from invading the rights of other people.
And God set stone monuments to define these ancient boundaries. These include the Law of Moses, the Book of Proverbs, and of course the Bible as a whole. We can refer to and get our bearings on these monuments whenever we need to.
The following are some of the main timeless boundaries set by God:
Light and darkness
God is the source of all light. He created it.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4)
Without God’s light we are lost—pervasive darkness is difficult to live in. But God provides his light to all so we can move toward it, accept it, embrace it, and be delivered from the darkness. It illuminates our path and gives us hope.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves… (Colossians 1:13)
Truth and falsehood
God is also the source of truth. But as people reject God, they hold to absolute truth less and less. The distinction between truth and falsehood is becoming blurred in people’s minds. But we are warned that those who reject the truth of God will perish:
They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:10)
Wisdom and foolishness
God is the source of all wisdom and knowledge.
To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his. (Job 12:13)
He provided one whole book in the Bible devoted to wisdom. The book of Proverbs is a gold mine of wisdom dealing with life, relationships, work, pleasure, marriage, and more. The main contrast presented in Proverbs is that of wisdom and foolishness. A consistent theme is that it’s foolish to ignore God’s timeless wisdom. Those who do suffer needlessly.
Male and female
The boundary between male and female was given by God himself. Jesus himself affirmed this in the clearest terms:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5)
But people are intentionally blurring this boundary more and more. Although there are recognized genetically determined sexual anomalies, these are statistically rare. The intentional blurring of God’s boundary between male and female is a sin against the Creator and his created order.
Life and death
The boundary between life and death is the ultimate boundary set for us by God. It’s one that we must all cross. The knowledge that we’re all going to die forces us to grapple with life’s most pressing issues. King Solomon exhorted his listeners to consider the Creator before they die:
Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7)
Unfortunately, most people postpone thinking about death as much as possible. Sometimes, they don’t think about it until it’s right upon them. I pray this isn’t true of you. May you have the foresight and courage to reconcile with God well before that time.
Good and evil
God is good and the source of all good. We are blessed by his goodness when we stay close to him. But there is real evil in the world. It’s origin is Satan, the one who rebelled against God. Those who don’t resist evil are following in his rebellion. We see evil expressed every day in the actions of people and how they treat others.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. (Isaiah 5:20)
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14)
Right and wrong, God’s moral boundaries
God’s commands are the moral boundaries that show us right from wrong. He gave them to us for our protection, guidance, and blessing. We are blessed emotionally, socially, and physically when we live within them. But there is real danger in crossing them. God also gave us his law to show us our sin. We are sinners, and we need to be reminded of that, lest we start thinking too much of ourselves.
The Ten Commandments summarize the moral commands of the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 5:6-21).
There is only one Creator God: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Idolatry: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”
Blasphemy and cursing: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. “
Day of rest: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, … Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.”
Honoring parents: “Honor your father and your mother … so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
Murder: “You shall not murder.”
Sexual sin: “You shall not commit adultery.”
Theft: “You shall not steal.”
Lying: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
Coveting and envy: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
The failure of leadership to preserve the boundaries
The human heart is deceitful. People devise clever ways of getting around God’s commands. To give the appearance of obeying God, people can give priority to their religious traditions over God’s commands. Jesus regularly confronted the religious leaders over this. Where God’s Word is not highly respected, the boundaries between God’s commands and human traditions, human philosophies and even popular culture are blurred.
Hosea prophesied against the people of both Israel and Judah in the eighth century B.C. Their leaders had left the Lord God entirely. They ignored the first and greatest command: to love God. They no longer guided the people toward the Lord. God denounced these leaders and promised judgment on them:
Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord. Israel’s arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them…. Judah’s leaders are like those who move boundary stones. I will pour out my wrath on them like a flood of water. (Hosea 5:4-5, 10)
Judah had previously seized Israel’s territory, moving the boundary between the two nations. In the same way, their leaders also moved the ancient moral boundary stones set by God. They set a bad example for the people to follow and allowed the people to sin against each other and against God. God assured them they would suffer his judgment.
God’s boundaries today
After thousands of years, God’s timeless and ancient boundaries still remain. His moral boundary stones are still set in place and his command against moving them still holds. God’s laws are recorded in heaven for all time as his moral standards.
But the scene is different on earth. Humans are notorious for moving boundaries, and even ignoring them altogether. Every so often people tire of God’s moral boundaries and establish their own. Today the ancient boundaries are being moved again, in almost every sphere: private and public life, politics, religion, and government.
Many people reason that because you can’t see moral boundaries, they don’t really exist. Or they must be completely human in origin. The fact that there are no immediate consequences to crossing a moral boundary encourages shallow and careless souls to cross it again and again.
Although some of our civil laws still reflect elements of God’s law, most people no longer think moral standards come strictly from God. They see them as moveable. But when people move God’s boundaries, they end up hurting and stealing from others:
There are those who move boundary stones—they pasture flocks they have stolen. They drive away the orphan’s donkey and take the widow’s ox in pledge. They thrust the needy from the path and force all the poor of the land into hiding. (Job 24:2-4)
Freedom within God’s boundaries
God in his sovereignty gives us lots of freedom to make our own decisions. But his laws and decrees act as shepherds to our freedom. He gave them for our good, and there is freedom living within them. By staying within them we avoid needless pain and suffering and live a much more blessed life.
This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)
We all seem to know the importance—and the blessings—of having children stay within the boundaries set by loving parents. A child is safe and free to enjoy life when they stay within their parents’ guidelines. And everyone else is much happier to be with well-behaved children! But why do we adults so easily ignore the ancient boundaries set by God, our heavenly Father? Why would we choose darkness and pain over his blessings, danger over safety? Are we excused because we’re adults?
Judgment outside God’s boundaries
No, when we consistently cross God’s boundaries, we receive God’s anger and judgment. It’s not because God is by nature an angry God that judgment comes. It’s because he set these boundaries long before we came to be, and they’re immovable—in reality they don’t budge. He has warned us that when they are crossed, there are real consequences. God loves us and doesn’t want us to get hurt. He wants to spare us the pain.
When a human society consistently encroaches on the ancient boundaries, then God’s judgment comes to that society. And only God can decide when that point occurs. History is full of the wreckage from those who consistently crossed them. As Moses instructed the Israelites in his last speech to them:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you…. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. (Deuteronomy 30:15-18)
Restoring the ancient boundaries
How do we get back to what is right before God? By restoring the ancient boundaries. For each spiritual or moral boundary, we need to identify its wrong location, and then restore it to its original location. The original monuments are our guide: the words of God as recorded in Scripture.
God’s people must cherish and respect the moral boundaries and avoid groups that encourage encroachment. We must inspire others to come back to God’s standards: in our lives, in the Church, and to the degree possible in society at large.
The ancient boundaries were set in place by our Creator, who knows what’s best for us. They hold true for all people: unbelievers as well as believers. They are for our good, as they offer protection and security from evil. For those who love God, they guide us in our walk with him.
The ancient boundary of salvation and condemnation
There’s one more boundary that we should consider before we close. It’s the boundary between salvation and condemnation, spiritual life and death. It may surprise many people that this is a clear boundary. Some think there is really no spiritual boundary at all, that we are all on the same path, that we’re all moving toward God.
But the Bible clearly teaches that most people are not moving toward God, but away from him. Proof of this is how people live their lives. But God has provided a way to cross from spiritual death to life, from darkness to light. Crossing this boundary is easy, and countless millions have done so throughout history. Jesus Christ the Son of God told us how:
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (John 11:25-26)
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
If you haven’t already believed in Jesus the Savior, I pray you’ll do so soon. It’s the most significant decision you will ever make.
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