Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’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 (Deuteronomy 19:14).
The first principle of a Biblical covenant is transcendence. God is the Creator. How does this apply to man in his relation to the creation? Man is made in God’s image. Therefore, man is a ruler over creation, too.
In the Old Testament, the guardians of God’s holy sanctuary were the priests. This is why the Old Testament occasionally refers to the religious leaders as gods. “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked?” (Psalm 82:1-2). Men are rulers, or judges, over the creation. “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes” (Psalm 82:6-7). God’s judgment was to tall on the religious leaders just as it was about to fall on princes. They all judged unrighteously.
Thus, men are to exercise their rulership over the creation, which is similar to the absolute rulership which God exercises over His creation. This is what the first principle of the covenant, the Creator-creature distinction between a transcendent God and dependent men, points to. Man is God’s image and God’s lawful representative on earth.
The landmark is what established the boundary lines of a particular family’s property. We use a similar technique today: surveying. When we apply this biblical law today, we make it illegal to tamper with court records that identity particular plots and their owners. We even have title insurance, so that if some irregularity in the history of the ownership of the property is discovered, and someone else can prove that he owns it, the initial buyer is paid for his loss by the insurance company.
The person who owns a piece of land has the right to exclude most people most of the time. There are a few exceptions to this rule. In emergencies, the police, as officers of the court who have been issued court orders or warrants, have the legal right to intrude on otherwise protected private property. But the owner has the legal right to keep people from coming onto his property most of the time.
The fence is a sign of this right, or the locked gate. The locked door on a home is another example. The idea is that “a man’s home is his castle”–a legal fortress which must be respected. When some property owner sticks a “No Trespassing” sign at his gate, or somewhere inside the boundaries of his property, his wishes are legally enforceable. He has the legal right to keep people off his property. The legal right to exclude someone from using your property is the essence of all ownership.
There are limits on this right of exclusion. For example, Biblical law says that a traveler who walks along the highway has the right to pick food from privately owned farms. He does not have the right to place the food in baskets or in the folds of his garment, but he has the right to whatever he can carry away (Deuteronomy 23:25). Jesus and His disciples picked corn on the sabbath, but the Pharisees didn’t criticize them for stealing, only for taking corn and rubbing it together on the sabbath (Luke 6:1-5).
Nevertheless, there are only a few cases of such exceptions to exclusion. Property ownership is supposed to be widely dispersed in a Bible-based society, and this means that many people are to have near-exclusive use of their property.
Obviously, the principle of boundaries and the right of exclusion applies to other forms of property besides land. Therefore, we need to consider the concept of the boundary.
The Original Boundary
God set Adam and Eve in the garden. “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). What does “to keep” mean? It means to keep something away from someone else. To keep the garden away from whom? From the intruder, Satan. They were to maintain it under God’s authority as His appointed agents.
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