Continuing in our study of the book of Deuteronomy, we look into the last half of chapter 19.
Boundaries and Witnesses
Landmarks, both physically and metaphorically, serve an important purpose in society.
The physical landmarks serve to establish the points from which property surveys take place. Such an act defines what area is under the jurisdiction of a particular authority, be it individual or societal. Boundaries and borders define responsibilities and encourage friendly relationships.
In the ancient Hebrew context, the boundaries of property were set for tribes and the clans within the tribes. This was done so that families could establish themselves and accrue wealth for themselves and future generations. So, for someone to move a boundary marker was an attempt to steal from his neighbors.
Likewise, metaphorical boundary markers are not to be moved on a whim. They exist for a reason: to define the values and duties of people in relationship to one another. When a culture decides to ignore the long established boundaries they eventually wind up in chaos until they self-destruct.
RJ Rushdoony, in his commentary on this passage notes,
When men and nations, rulers and peoples, alter God’s law, or, by reinterpretation, weaken or alter its meaning, they have then falsified God’s boundaries. They have made His righteous law into an instrument of injustice. Certainly this judgment applies especially to churchmen who by their antinomianism dispose of God’s landmarks, His law. God’s law establishes boundaries which men and nations are not to transgress. Serious as it is to rob a neighbor by falsifying the boundary lines, it is far more serious to set aside or falsify God’s law. But this is precisely what both church and state, as well as school, are now busily doing. God’s landmarks are being triumphantly set aside as a sign of great enlightenment. By removing God’s landmarks, men plan to initiate a golden age of freedom. But, as it approaches, the golden age looks more and more like the fires of hell.
—Rousas John Rushdoony. Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Deuteronomy. Chalcedon Press. Vallecito, CA. 2008. p 287.
Our present popular culture, with its seemingly unquestioned embrace of identity politics is trying to move the meaningful boundaries. No longer is ones humanity and dignity intrinsic to their being image bearers of God, it’s asserted that it’s found in behavior and predilection. The pecking order constantly shifts so that it becomes impossible to satisfy any claim. There simply aren’t enough multiethnic, genderqueer, lesbian, transsexual, Chrislamic pagans to go around.
Any hope of returning to any sense of normalcy, any sense of unity, will only be achieved by recognizing the boundaries that were established by God in creating and gifting his creatures with talents for his glory.
The standard of evidence in disputes are established here. A minimum of two corroborating witnesses are required under the law. This establishes a concept of due process which gives the accused access to his accusers in open court. Brueggemann notes,
It is important to notice that the horizon of this law is any offense. The point … is the simple recognition that adjudication of the truth in court cases is problematic, and the best test of truth is the corroboration of several witnesses. Both the Torah of Moses (Deut 5:20) and the prophets (Amos 5:7, 10) understood that truth-telling in judicial procedures is the most elemental guarantee of a viable community, the last resort of the aggrieved. Where there is convergence of testimony, the community may be satisfied that the court has approximated the truth, and therefore justice, as closely as possible.
—Walter Brueggemann. Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Deuteronomy. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN. 2001. p 205.
Moreover, the law deals in greater detail with the issue of perjury. Rushdoony notes here,
The false witness has done more than attempt to destroy a personal enemy: he has attacked by his perjury the justice system, and he has in effect declared the God of justice to be irrelevant or nonexistent for him (p 289).
He further cites 3 reasons why a person would attempt such an act.
- To destroy an enemy by testifying falsely against him.
- For personal gain.
- To deflect personal guilt.
In each of these, a contempt for truth is demonstrated. Brueggemann notes,
[Truth] is linked to neighborly justice; the court is not in pursuit of truth as may be controlled by excessive punctilious rules of evidence, it is concerned about the well-being of the community. Such a measure of truth or perjury gives focus to the work of the court and gives it great latitude in deciding what is malicious (p 206).
To such an end, the court deciding the case has the right “…to do to [the perjurer] as he meant to do to his brother (Deuteronomy 19:20, ESV).” Even to impose the most severe of penalties.
In both of these instances, truth is paramount. The boundary markers define the rights and responsibilities of a person literally, in regards to his own property, and figuratively, in regard to his self and his neighbor. God has established limits and man has to right to go over them. All transactions are to be handled in regard to what God has made known. Similarly, a person accused of a wrongdoing is subject to due process as well as the presumption of innocence. It is only upon the preponderance of evidence that a person”s guilt is to be declared. Furthermore, a dishonest witness taints justice, making any decisions reached inherently unjust. In God’s economy, those who would attempt to move the boundaries that he has established and subvert his justice deserve the harshest of penalties.