Why Conserve?

Why Conserve? January 21, 2015

“Do not move an ancient landmark,” Solomon says in Proverbs 23:10. Just what a king would say: Kings want to keep things just as they are, and convince everyone that they have always been so, so long as they can sit on top of the heap.

But the sequel of the Proverb doesn’t fit that skepto-Marxist reading. Preserve the ancient landmarks, and do not “enter the fields of the fatherless.” In Israel, every clan within every tribe received a portion  of the land, and those ancestral lands were to be restored every fifty years during Jubilee. 

“Preserving the ancient landmarks” didn’t mean preserving the status of the powerful; Israel was to be “conservative” in order to protect the rights of the poor. They were to preserve the landmarks to keep people from trampling and taking land from the poor.

The following verse reinforces the point. The “Redeemer” (properly capitalized translation of go’el, the kinsman who restores property to destitute relatives) of the fatherless “is strong; he will plead their cause against you.” Yahweh defends the ancient boundary markers because in defending them He takes up the case of the poor against their abusers.

Israel’s original land settlement was unique, and so, in detail, was the Jubilee. But the truth of Proverbs 23:10-11 is permanent: We conserve in order to care for the vulnerable. We defend tradition because, and insofar as, tradition is an instrument to defend the rights of the weak.


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