You shall not remove your neighbor's landmark, which they of old time have set in your inheritance, which you shall inherit in the land that the LORD your God gives you to possess it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark.—Another law manifestly appropriate here, where it appears for the first time, like the “field” in the tenth commandment (Deuteronomy 5:21). But the immediate connection is not obvious. Perhaps the idea is to caution the people to avoid a most certain incentive to hatred and murder. Ancient landmarks are also important and almost sacred witnesses.
They of old time.—The first dividers of the land. There is no idea of antiquity about the expression.Deuteronomy 19:14. Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s land-mark — Having provided for the preservation of the lives of innocent persons against such as might be disposed to take them away, he proceeds to give a charge for securing every man’s right and property in other matters; and especially forbids all encroachments upon boundaries of lands and estates. Josephus considers this as a prohibition, not only against removing any land-mark of an Israelite, but also any that might distinguish their territories from those of any of the neighbouring nations, with whom they might be at peace, the breaking in upon these bounds being generally the occasion of wars and insurrections, which arise from the covetousness of men, who would thus fraudulently enlarge their possessions.
14. Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old have set in thine inheritance—The state of Palestine in regard to enclosures is very much the same now as it has always been. Though gardens and vineyards are surrounded by dry-stone walls or hedges of prickly pear, the boundaries of arable fields are marked by nothing but by a little trench, a small cairn, or a single erect stone, placed at certain intervals. It is manifest that a dishonest person could easily fill the gutter with earth, or remove these stones a few feet without much risk of detection and so enlarge his own field by a stealthy encroachment on his neighbor's. This law, then, was made to prevent such trespasses.Thy neighbour’s land-mark; by which the several portions of land distributed to several families were distinguished one from another. See Job 24:2 Proverbs 22:28 Hosea 5:10. Deuteronomy 27:17.
which they of old have set in thine inheritance, which thou shall inherit in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it; the land of Canaan: this is thought to refer to the bounds and limits set in the land by Eleazar and Joshua, and those concerned with them at the division of it; when not only the tribes were bounded; and distinguished by certain marks, but every man's estate, and the possession of every family in every tribe which though not as yet done when this law was made, yet, as it respects future times, might be said to be done of old, whenever there was any transgression of it, which it cannot be supposed would be very quickly done; and it is a law not only binding on the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, but all others, it being agreeably to the light and law of nature, and which was regarded among the Heathens, Proverbs 22:28.Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
In the Sg. address, but as in Deuteronomy 19:4 f., 11 and Deuteronomy 15:2, q.v., with neighbour instead of brother, usual in Sg. passages; and followed by a deuteronomic formula. It is significant that the formula is not only separable from the law proper (as in the previous law) but contradicts it. For while the law betrays its date as subsequent to Israel’s settlement in the land—and with this agree the facts that there is no parallel in the earlier codes and that protests against removing boundary-stones appear in the prophets and later books (Isaiah 5:8, Hosea 5:10, Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10, Job 24:2)—the closing formula adopts the standpoint of Moses, the land which the Lord is to give thee. Clearly, therefore, the law has been adopted from some other source into D’s Code—cp. the Decalogue—but there is nothing to show whether this incorporation was due to the authors of the Code or to editors.
It is difficult to explain the position of the law just here. Steuern. and Berth, attribute this to its use of the term gebul, boundary, used also in the previous law (Deuteronomy 19:3 a, yet with a different meaning from here); the former thinking that in its original form the law was entered on the margin and thence taken into the text by the compiler of the Code, the latter that it may have formed part of the original Code. Notice rather that both laws besides being in the Sg. address use the term neighbour, and were therefore probably from the same source. Dillm. points out that in this ch. murder, theft and false-witness appear in the same order as in the Decalogue, and Dri. compares Deuteronomy 27:17 ff.
Other nations expressed the same reverence for the sacredness of boundaries, in similar laws, or protests, against their removal. For the Greeks see Plato, Legg. viii. 842 e, for the Romans Dion. Hal. ii. 74, Plutarch, Numa 16. For the settled Semites cp. the border-stones of fields which are among the oldest Babyl. monuments; bearing dedications to the gods ‘they were regarded as sacred and great importance was attached to their preservation. The Kings taxed their powers of cursing [cp. Deuteronomy 27:17] in order to terrify men from removing their neighbours’ landmarks’ (Johns, Babyl. and Assyr. Laws, etc., 191 f.). For other Semites cp. Clay Trumbull, Threshold Covenant 166, Musil, Ethn. Ber. 87, Doughty i. 163. No such Israelite stones have been found, but M. Clermont-Ganneau discovered the boundary inscriptions of the town of Gezer (‘at or near the 1st Cent. b.c.’) bearing the term teḥum, the later Heb. for gebul (Arch. Res. ii. 26 ff., 270 ff.). For modern Palestine see Baldensperger, PEFQ 1906, 194.
14. remove] Lit. so: re-move, move back, so as to make one’s own field larger.
landmark] Heb. gebul, applied both to the border-line whether of private fields (here, and in E, Joshua 24:30, cp. texts cited above) or of urban (Isaiah 54:12) or tribal (Deuteronomy 2:18, Deuteronomy 3:16) territories: as well as to the area enclosed by the border (Deuteronomy 19:3; Deuteronomy 19:8, Deuteronomy 2:4, Deuteronomy 28:40).
they of old time] Heb. rîshônîm, the former generations, the forefathers: LXX B etc., πατέρες σου; A etc., πρότεροί σου.
in thine inheritance which thou inheritest] Part of the law proper: the portion of ground (LXX κληρονομία) that passes from one generation of a family to another.
in the land which the Lord thy God is to give thee, etc.] the frequent deuteronomic formula, Deuteronomy 4:40, Deuteronomy 5:31, Deuteronomy 12:1, Deuteronomy 17:14, Deuteronomy 21:1, Deuteronomy 25:19; and in shorter form, Deuteronomy 15:7, Deuteronomy 18:9, Deuteronomy 25:15, Deuteronomy 27:2, Deuteronomy 28:8.Verse 14. - To the ordinance concerning cities of refuge Moses appends one prohibiting the removing of landmarks; if these had been placed by a man's ancestors to mark the boundaries of possessions, they were not to be surreptitiously altered. Landmarks were held sacred, and a curse is pronounced against those who remove them (Deuteronomy 27:7; cf. Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10; Hosea 5:10). Among other nations also landmarks were regarded as sacred (cf. Plato, 'De Legibus,' 8. p. 842; Dionys. Halic. 2:17; Plutarch, 'Numa,' 16; Ovid, 'Fast.,' 2:639). Verse 14. - They of old time; i.e. those of a former age (רִאשֹׁנִים, earlier ones, ancestors, predecessors). The word does not necessarily imply that the age described as "former" was removed at a great distance in the past; it might designate men of the immediately preceding age. The LXX. have here οἱ πατέρες, and the Vulgate priores. That the law here given was uttered whilst Israel was yet outside of Canaan, is evident from what follows in this verse. Deuteronomy 4:41.), he is speaking here simply of the land on the west, which Israel was to take possession of before long; and supplements the instructions in Numbers 35:14, with directions to maintain the roads to the cities of refuge which were to be set apart in Canaan itself, and to divide the land into three parts, viz., for the purpose of setting apart these cities, so that one city might be chosen for the purpose in every third of the land. For further remarks on this point, as well as with regard to the use of these cities (Deuteronomy 19:4-7), see at Numbers 35:11. - In Deuteronomy 19:8-10 there follow the fresh instructions, that if the Lord should extend the borders of Israel, according to His promise given to the patriarchs, and should give them the whole land from the Nile to the Euphrates, according to Genesis 15:18, they were to add three other cities of refuge to these three, for the purpose of preventing the shedding of innocent blood. The three new cities of refuge cannot be the three appointed in Numbers 35:14 for the land on this side of the Jordan, nor the three mentioned in Numbers 35:7 on the other side of Jordan, as Knobel and others suppose. Nor can we adopt Hengstenberg's view, that the three new ones are the same as the three mentioned in Deuteronomy 19:2 and Deuteronomy 19:7, since they are expressly distinguished from "these three." The meaning is altogether a different one. The circumstances supposed by Moses never existed, since the Israelites did not fulfil the conditions laid down in Deuteronomy 19:9, viz., that they should keep the law faithfully, and love the Lord their God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:6; Deuteronomy 6:5, etc.). The extension of the power of Israel to the Euphrates under David and Solomon, did not bring the land as far as this river into their actual possession, since the conquered kingdoms of Aram were still inhabited by the Aramaeans, who, though conquered, were only rendered tributary. And the Tyrians and Phoenicians, who belonged to the Canaanitish population, were not even attacked by David.
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