28 Do not remove the ancient landmark
Which your fathers have set.
25 The Lord will destroy the house of the proud,
But He will establish the boundary of the widow.
At exactly High Noon on April, 22 1889, a U.S. Army howitzer sounded and approximately 50,000 people set out on horseback and on wagons from the windswept army post of Fort Reno on the plains of Oklahoma Territory. The Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 had begun, and at the end of the day, thousands of new homesteaders were setting up their farms on newly acquired land.
The newly re-designated “unassigned land” in the Oklahoma Territory had been made available on a first-come-first-served basis and every new homesteader wanted to obtain one of the 160-acre parcels that had been staked out by the Army Corps of Engineers. Overnight towns sprang up on the plains:
At twelve o'clock on Monday, April 22d, the resident population of Guthrie was nothing; before sundown it was at least ten thousand. In that time streets had been laid out, town lots staked off, and steps taken toward the formation of a municipal government.–Harper’s Weekly, “The Rush To Oklahoma,” (1889)
A striking monument in modern-day Oklahoma City commemorates the day, and the spirit of the early-arriving “Sooners” and late-coming “Boomers.” 45 life sized bronze sculptures of heroic figures of land run participants. The 1992 movie “Far and Away” captures this wild moment in American history in this exciting clip HERE.
The Oklahoma Historical Society does even better in chronicling the lives of the people, and even the oral history of those who had family memories of relatives who had participated in the Run. One of these is Catherine Kingsley.
A WWII codebreaker and linguist, Catherine grew up near Stillwater and remembers stories of her grandfather who participated in the April 22, 1889 Land Run. In an oral history she described how the
“…land had stakes on them. And when you came to a piece of land you thought was going to be yours you had to go and pull up all the stakes. Well maybe there was somebody else on the other corner and you would have to fight it out. My grandfather had the stakes he needed.”
It did not work out so easily for everyone. Mrs. Kingsley describes how one family, in a rush to cross the territory, lost their little girl from the wagon they were driving. “She fell off and they just left her there on the land because they knew the better land was further on.” When the family got to their parcel, they discovered that someone had gotten there first and had already claimed it. “So they had to go back.”
When the family got back they found their little girl waiting for them. They claimed that land for their own and settled down.
Now, I have attended some uncomfortable family gatherings, but something tells me Thanksgiving meals in that family were pretty awkward in the years that followed. I am certain that little girl grew up reminding her parents of the time they abandoned her on the prairie and only came back when they found their parcel claimed!
Solomon has much to say in the book of Proverbs about land claims and the welfare of children. Chapter 22 in particular is rich in instruction as verses 22 through 23:11 are recorded as “Thirty Sayings of the Wise.”
Most scholars believe that this section is adapted by Solomon from the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope (1186-1069 B.C.). Verses 2-11 are a “decalogue of sayings about wealth,” and verse 28 specifically addresses boundary markers:
28 Do not remove the ancient landmark
Which your fathers have set.–Proverbs 22:28
Just as Oklahoma has a rich history as a part of the wild American West, so this passage speaks of the history of God’s people claiming the Promised Land. In Joshua’s parceling out of the Land of Canaan to the 12 Tribes of Israel, God makes special provision for each of His people–and a law to protect the land gives them.
The phrase in verset 1, to not remove the ancient landmark, has been cited in recent years by those who have been frustrated by the toppling of monuments to Generals of the American Civil War, and even some Founding Fathers of the United States. In opposition to the “woke” or Marxist activism that has sought to violently destroy historic sites or statues, a passage such as verse 28 can seem to provide a biblical response.
As understandably frustrated as some may be, this passage––and others like it––are not references to historic monuments, but property lines. This passage refers to the time of the conquest of Canaan when Joshua distributed the land according to lot:
3 Then Joshua said to the children of Israel: “How long will you neglect to go and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers has given you?–Joshua 18:3
As God is sovereign over rolls of the dice and the flipping of a coin, so His allowing the land to be given to the 12 tribes by lot was shown to be His righteous order. As the tribal lands were “set in stone,” so too was personal family land considered to be held as established by God. Any violation of this was to be a violation of His law:
14 “You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in your inheritance which you will inherit in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.–Deuteronomy 19:14
Why is God so concerned about property boundaries? Is this something that Solomon would truly wish to be a concern of the young people of Israel? Solomon knows that boundary disputes between neighbors can destroy the peace of God’s people and even destroy lives.
In ancient times the crime of tampering with a property line or corner marker was both simple and easy to do. A savvy thief could patiently move a marker by an undetectable amount each time, adding to his land over a period of years, undetected by his neighbor.
Has this actually happened to you? Perhaps you have experienced the theft of something valuable over time. Trusted employees will take a little cash from the till until vast sums are missing, and crooked bookkeepers will “cook the books” to hide errors or embezzlement. Property line disputes and claims of ownership are a common legal problem, and title insurance is needed to make certain that the new home you are buying is actually free to be claimed.
In the weeks and years that followed the 1889 Oklahoma Land Run, thousands of claims of fraud, “claim jumping,” and cheating were processed through the courts. These added a bitter chapter to a region that already knew sorrow from the displacement of Native American tribes during the “Trail of Tears.”
If you have ever been sued or challenged in court over a property line dispute by a neighbor, or have had to battle the city over an unfair easement, then you already understand some of the pain of what Solomon is teaching.
Tampering with private property or seeking to claim land that is not yours through fraud is not only illegal and unethical, it is rejecting what God has established. Solomon speaks of this in verset 2 when he describes the boundary which your fathers have set.
What’s more, the taking of private property or the surreptitious altering of boundary lines can take advantage of widows and orphans. This was not only a real issue in ancient times, it is also a scandal today. The care and welfare of widows and orphans is close to God’s heart and elsewhere in Proverbs He reveals the destiny of those who do so:
25 The Lord will destroy the house of the proud,
But He will establish the boundary of the widow.–Proverbs 15:25
Do you know any widows or orphans? Of course you do. They represent the most vulnerable of our society. They are victims of tragedy and loss, and are often the specific target of scammers that range from email fraud to legal bullying to obtain their rightful property.
In our modern age of no-fault divorce and broken families, many of those who suffer from abandonment or betrayal by a spouse or parent fall into this category. The church must have compassion on these struggling ones. Are there ways that you can encourage widows or the lonely in your congregation? Are there outreach opportunities for you and your church to those trying to raise children alone, or are shuffled between foster homes or uncaring adults?
In this regard, James offers you instruction as a follower of Christ:
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.–James 1:27
If you are a pastor or church leader, are you conscience of the particular needs of widows and orphans in your church? Are they a forgotten mission field in your community as you seek robust young families? The poor and needy, widows and orphans are dear to Christ as He continually shows compassion to them in the Gospels. The disciples and the early church sought to do this too:
1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.–Acts 6:1
They even establish special roles within the church for their care, such as the first deacons:
3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business–Acts 6:3
Finally, this proverb does more than simply reveal God’s provision for the weakest members of the community, or anticipate the headache of zoning boards, property rights and land encroachment. It reveals to you the underlying command to love your neighbor.
When God gives a specific warning or prohibition in scripture, there is nearly always an implied command to do the opposite. God’s condemnation of adultery in the Seventh Commandment is accompanied by His demand for fidelity and love between a husband and wife.
In other words, you must do more than simply “not mess with your neighbor’s property line,” you are to love them as Christ loves you. When the Scribes challenge Jesus, He reveals to them the law of love:
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’–Matthew 22:37-39
Jesus has fulfills the law of God (Matthew 5:17-20), and you fulfill the law of love in your obedience to His command. How can you love your neighbor more? Do you even know your neighbor?
As land given by God is meant to be a blessing to generations to come, so robbing a neighbor of his property is to rob his children and grandchildren. Instead, how can you be a blessing to future generations by showing Christ to those you know? By being Christ to people in your community? In doing this you receive His blessing as you provide a blessing to others, for God cares for those who are most in need.
Remember the little girl who fell off the wagon? Mrs. Kingsley goes on to share more of her family history concerning the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. Can you image her terror and fear in watching her family ride off into the endless horizon? On the plains the wind continuously blows and soon her ears were filled with silence.
The little girl’s family returned to find her on this undesirable plot of land. They recovered their daughter and claimed the land, thinking it worthless and themselves cursed. Mrs. Kingsley reveals that in time that land was found to be rich in oil! That little lost girl and her own children would enjoy generations of prosperity.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.