Scripture: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16 ESV
Observation: The thrust of the ninth commandment pertains to purgery in a legal setting. Three chapters later, Moses provides further details regarding false testimony (ʿed šeqer) that would pervert justice (23:1-2, 6-8). Thus, understanding the gravity of this crime, any person found guilty of perjury would bear the punishment of the accused.
So why did false testimony make the top ten of Yahweh’s laws? To do so would threaten the stability of this burgeoning nation. As Peter Enns contends, “God is preparing his people not just to be nice to each other. He is training them to be his people in Canaan, to be order amid chaos, to be a holy people and a kingdom of priests so that by looking at them, the nations will come to know the true God” (NIV Application Commentary). As with the other nine commandments, the Lord expected his chosen people to separate themselves from the corrupt ways of their godless neighbors, that these pagan nations might take notice of the blessings evoked by obedience to God’s laws and turn toward him.
Takeaway: While the primary focus is on false testimony, Israel understood lying in everyday life carried much the same gravity of disfavor with God. As one example, speaking on behalf of the Lord, the prophet Hosea confronted Israel about their unfaithfulness marked by “swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery” (Hosea 4:2). And Paul argued that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV).
So how are we to respond to this ninth commandment? God calls his children to be truth-tellers. Our Father sent his Son into the world full of truth and grace (John 1:14) to provide us the means to an eternal relationship with him (John 14:6). And the Father and Son sent the Helper, who is the Spirit of truth, to dwell in us (John 14:17, 15:26) and sanctify us (as the law intended for Israel) by guiding us in all truth (John 16:13).
Indeed, the Father and Son are Truth; it’s their very nature. And we, made in the image of God, are to appropriate their truth into our lives through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Easier said than done? Yes, but as we grow in our love for our Lord and Savior, we learn to trust him with the outcome of truth-telling. And along the way, we realize that the consequences of lying far outweigh any fallout of telling the hard truths.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you and your Son are Truth, that there is no falsehood or deception in your character. Would you please help us as your children grow in our faith and trust in your grace and loving care that we might mature into truth-tellers who garner the attention of those who do not know you? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling