The Scriptorium

Boundaries and Witnesses

The practicality and wisdom of God's Law. Deuteronomy 19.14-21

A Holy Nation (2): Deuteronomy 19-21 (2)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 105.1, 2
Oh, give thanks to the LORD!
Call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples!
Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;
Talk of all His wondrous works!

Psalm 105.1, 2

(Warrington: Give to Our God Immortal Praise)
Give thanks unto the Lord Most High; call on His Name, before Him cry!
Make known His deeds in every land; sing praise for all the works of His hand.

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 19.14-21

Preparation

1. What “rights” are indicated in these verses?

2. What did justice require in treating false witnesses?

Mediation
We continue reflecting on matters that are of personal, local, and national concern. In these statutes, rules, and testimonies, Moses elaborated on one or another of the Ten Commandments, giving us examples – illustrative, but not exhaustive – of how to apply the Commandments in particular situations.

Once the land was conquered, it would be divided among the tribes, as we see in the book of Joshua. Each tribe and family would be assigned a particular parcel of land, which would belong to them and their descendants in perpetuity. It could be sold, but it must be returned at the 50-year Jubilee. Everyone was expected to honor the property rights of their neighbors. This is a clear application, in a specific instance, of the eighth commandment.

This application could be extended into many other areas by implication, for example, in areas of copyright, identity theft, and more.

Similarly, the law regarding witnesses, and the judgment against false witnesses, illustrate how the ninth commandment guided legal proceedings between neighbors. It’s not hard to see also how this statute could be applied to things like contracts and loans, where witnesses are typically required.

Justice could be severe for those who tried to manipulate the Law, or tried to use it to their own advantage. The lex talionis provisions ‘ “eye for eye”, etc. – would make one think twice about giving false testimony about anything.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set…” (v. 14). The book of Proverbs also speaks to this issue: “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set” (Prov. 22.26). Robert Frost wrote of the joys of boundary setting in “Mending Wall”:

And on a day we meet to walk the line       
and set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.

The poem culminates with the line, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Even more important than boundary lines that keep neighbors as good neighbors, we are given the Law of God to keep us walking on and within His good path. Fenced in by His love and care. Laws that make us good citizens in the Kingdom of God. Pleasing to our King. Jude guides us in his book: “Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and bless you” (Jude 1.21, TLB). Blessings are on those who stay within God’s Law. It is the only way to assuredly receive God’s love, and to show our love for God and for our neighbors (Matt. 22.37-40).

Reflection
1. The examples in these verses show us the great adaptability of the Law of God. How should knowing this affect the ways we use God’s Law in our day?

2. Why does God forbid us to trespass against, covet, intrude on, or otherwise steal the property that He has entrusted to others?

3. The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights were written during a time when the influence of the Law of God was still very strong in this country. How can you see that influence in other American laws?

And since we have taken an example drawn from agriculture, enjoin them to keep the laws about borders intact and to guard the ancestral boundaries which the law protects. The good will of a neighbor is often more important than the love of a brother. For a brother is often far away, but a neighbor, close at hand, is a witness to the whole of one’s life and a judge of one’s dealings. Ambrose of Milan (333-397), Letter 36 (2).30

Lord, help me always to respect properties and prerogatives of others, so that I…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 105.3-11, 44, 45
The land of promise is a type and symbol of all the promises that are ours in Jesus Christ. Thank God for them all, and pray that He will allow you to stretch out to the full extent of His great salvation.

Psalm 105.3-11, 44, 45
(Warrington: Give to Our God Immortal Praise)
Glory in God, rejoice in heart, all you who seek His holy part.
Him and His strength and Presence seek; His works proclaim, His judgments speak.

You holy children of Abraham, you chosen ones of Jacob, stand!
He is our Lord, of wondrous worth; His judgments are in all the earth.

He will His covenant faithfully guard – His oath, the promise of His Word.
That which He to our fathers swore, He will perform forevermore!

To them He granted the promised land, the portion of His gracious hand.
Though they were few, and wandered far, He kept them close within His heart.

T. M. and Susie Moore

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by clicking here. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore