Question: "Why does Proverbs 23:10 tell us not to remove the ancient landmark?"
Answer: Maintaining honesty in every area of life is the focus of many proverbs of Solomon, including this saying in Proverbs 23:10: “Do not remove the ancient landmark” (NKJV).
One way a person could cheat his neighbor was to move or remove the ancient landmarks. These landmarks were etched stones usually heaped in a pillar with an inscription indicating a boundary line between fields, districts, or nations (Genesis 31:51–52). According to most ancient law codes, including the Law of Moses, removing a boundary marker was a serious violation.
Preserving age-old customs, laws of justice, and traditional land allotments was essential to safeguarding Israel’s national integrity and identity (Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17). “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set,” commands Solomon again in Proverbs 22:28 (ESV).
In Job 24:2, the moving of historical landmarks was equivalent to theft. If a corrupt landowner wanted to expand his assets, he could confiscate a portion of a neighbor’s land for his own use by moving the landmark. This practice would be similar to repositioning an official survey marker to steal a slice of someone else’s real estate. Also, by moving an ancient landmark, one could steal the flocks out of a neighboring pasture. In Hosea 5:10, the Lord condemned Judah’s cruel and callous rulers, comparing them to “those who move boundary stones,” that is, those who have no regard for justice or the traditions of the law. For their crimes, God promised to pour out His wrath on them.
Deceitfulness and lying are traits of the wicked and ought not to be found in God’s people (Proverbs 12:20; Colossians 3:9). “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house,” warns the psalmist (Psalm 101:7).
The Lord delights in our truthfulness with Him and others (Psalm 51:6). God sees what we do in secret (Jeremiah 23:24; 2 Samuel 12:7–12; Job 13:10; Psalm 44:20–21; 90:8; 101:5; 139:1–15). He considers all forms of dishonesty sinful, including removals of ancient landmarks (1 Timothy 1:9–11; Malachi 3:7–12; Psalm 5:4–6). There are consequences for such sins, including God’s judgment (Leviticus 6:1–7; Hosea 4:1–2; Isaiah 29:20–21; Acts 5:1–10).
The significance of Solomon’s mandate “do not remove the ancient landmark” is developed through the earliest laws of holiness: “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Do not defraud or rob your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:11–13).
In the New Living Translation, Proverbs 23:10 says, “Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers; don’t take the land of defenseless orphans.” Perhaps nothing is more detestable to God than pilfering land and flocks from orphans and widows, or, in other words, stealing from the neediest and most vulnerable members of society. God’s loyalties are firmly established on the side of widows, orphans, and those who need our help (Exodus 22:22–24; Jeremiah 22:3; Psalm 146:9; Proverbs 15:24). The Lord will come to their aid and expects His followers to do so as well (Deuteronomy 24:19–21; Isaiah 1:17; Psalm 82:3).
The message of Proverbs 23:10, not to remove the ancient landmark, is the akin to the point made by James: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). The Lord is a God of truth and integrity, who always deals honestly and fairly with others, and His people are to be like Him. God desires us to pursue honesty in our inner being and in our dealings with others (2 Corinthians 8:21; Hebrews 13:18). For this reason, Paul urged, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9).
Proverbs 23:10 is also used by some independent Baptist churches to support Landmarkism, the idea that we should not remove the theological “landmarks” or “guideposts” that separate the church from the world. Landmark Baptists, also called Landmarkers or Baptist Briders, see themselves as safeguarding the purity of the church, as originally established. Unfortunately, Landmarkism also teaches that Baptist churches are the only true churches and that the kingdom of God is equivalent to Landmark Baptist churches in toto. Landmarkism, with its aberrant ecclesiology, is to be avoided.