"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" has very far-reaching spiritual applications. Bear means "to spread, carry, render, or give." At first glance, the commandment appears to involve only lying in a court of law, and this might be true if the words in the commandment were to be taken only at face value. Jesus clearly shows that there is a "spirit," an intent, to God's laws in addition to the letter that carries their application far beyond mere face-value judgments.
Many scriptures show that the commandment covers lying under any circumstance, including hypocrisy and self-deception. That is, it covers any wrongful word or example that would tend to injure. The ninth commandment is in a similar position in man's relationship to other men as the third commandment is in man's relationship to God. This commandment directly involves faithfulness and loyalty in our speech and in our witness for God before men.
Proverbs 22:1 says, "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold." The Soncino Commentary remarks that a person's good reputation, his name, is his most valuable asset. Indeed, the Bible shows that God guards and protects His name very jealously. This is because His name represents what He is.
So it is with us. But why do so many lie, sowing the seeds for the destruction of their reputation? It is the desire for the approval of others that leads them to twist a story or to deliberately exaggerate or diminish their parts in it in the retelling.
When we hear a name, images of that person and what he or she is immediately spring to mind. What we are and how others perceive us has everything to do with what we believe and practice. So, is what we believe and practice true? If we want to have a good name (reputation) in the eyes of both God and man, we, too, have to recognize truth—wherever and whenever it arises in daily life—understand it, and submit to it. This process produces faithfulness.
This is where truth in a person's witness begins. If truth does not form the foundation of a person's life, he is already behind the eight-ball to some extent. The urge to lie must be met and overcome. At the base of this problem is a deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) that continually lays traps to make lying an appealing course to follow. Besides lying before men, some of us keep lying to ourselves, and thus our name before God is not good. Faithlessness is the result. In order to have a good name, we, as God's children, must face up to our vanities and quit deceiving ourselves that God will just have to take us as we are.
We need to stop blaming our failures, problems, and shortcomings on others, which tendency provides us with justifications for what we are and what we do. Within the family, Mom and Dad are frequent targets of this. They are usually guilty to some extent, but God puts the pressure on us to change. Change will not occur in this way of life until we face up to the truth that we are responsible for what we are. We also bear much of the responsibility of becoming what we hope to be. Nobody can do this for us.
This is the day-to-day "stuff" on which trustworthiness and righteous reputations are formed. They are built on the witness of what we do before others. God wants our reputation before men to be built, first, on His truth and then on truth in general. Are we honestly doing this as well as we could be?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Ninth Commandment
Speech is arguably man's greatest gift and at the same time his most dangerous ability. It is impossible to estimate the good it has done when great men and women have truthfully instructed and inspired others. By contrast, we cannot measure how much evil the tongue has perpetrated, for falsehoods disguised as truth have destroyed reputations and even nations.
God devotes two of the Ten Commandments to the evils of false witnessing, the third and the ninth. These seem to be broken with impunity—sometimes even by those who are aware of their application—because the drives that motivate people to break them are so powerful.
God commands, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," but liars and lying abound. Everybody knows that marketers lie about what products can do. Books, magazines, and movies feature liars of many different stripes. The media and the public have caught prominent government figures from presidents on down lying about important issues.
According to an article by Jan Mendenhall in the June/July 1997 issue of Aspire, college kids lie to their moms in 50% of conversations. Dating couples lie to each other a third of the time, and spouses deceive each other in about 10% of major conversations. Twelve percent of four million Americans lost their jobs for "misrepresentation." A November 1997 survey conducted by the publishers of Who's Who Among American High Schools Students reveals that 76% of the students listed in their publication (supposedly the elite achievers) admit having cheated. Two-thirds of these believe it is "no big deal" to cheat to get a good test grade—and 65% of their parents agree!
We use a large number of euphemisms to soften the act of lying. Some are: duplicity, fabrication, evasion, stringing someone along, inaccuracy, exaggeration, fudging, rationalization, falsehood, "whopper," deception, misrepresentation, dishonesty, putting someone on, putting up a front, and fibbing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Ninth Commandment (1997)
A question that frequently arises regards the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, KJV). Yet, a short time later, God commands Israel to kill the inhabitants of Canaan, including children. That God would both prohibit and command violence appears to be incongruous. Such an apparent contradiction provokes the conclusion that Old Testament instructions are untrustworthy and that the God of those times was unpredictable.
The truth, though, is that the God who gave these commands is the same One who died for the sins of mankind (cf. I Corinthians 10:1-4). The problem is not with God, but with man's understanding of His nature and intentions.
Notice that this same apparent contradiction is also found in the New Testament. On the one hand, Jesus teaches that murder begins in the heart—that harboring malice or enmity breaks the spirit of the law (Matthew 5:21-22). On the other hand, when Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate, He says plainly that if His Kingdom were a worldly one, His servants would fight (John 18:36). They would go to war on His behalf!
It was Israel's responsibility to marshal an army to subjugate the people of the land. This is seen in Numbers 1, which takes place while Israel is still at Sinai about one year later. Numbers 1 records God telling Moses to take a census and determine the number of men who were able to go to war. Fourteen times in that one chapter God repeats the instruction to number the men who were able to “go to war”—even though He had just recently confirmed His promise to fight on their behalf. God would be driving out the inhabitants, but He was also preparing the Israelites to engage the enemy. Clearly, it was still God's intent that Israel do its part within the fight.
In God's view—the only view that matters—the land belonged to Israel. The Canaanites and others were essentially squatters. Because of their right of possession, Israel had the authority—and actually, the duty—to enforce God's laws within the realm that now belonged to them.
Israel was the “governing authority” of the land God gave to them. He intended that the leadership of Israel be a “terror to evil works” (including those of the inhabitants of the land), and He fully intended that Israel “bear the sword” (c.f. Romans 13:1-4). God requires that the civil authority “execute wrath” on those practicing evil—which certainly applied to the pagan peoples of the Promised Land.
In every place and circumstance where God gives Israel the duty to destroy the people of the land, He also mentions the idolatry of the peoples, along with demonism, sorcery, witchcraft, and child sacrifice. God was greatly concerned about the influence these things would have on His people, so He was particular in admonishing them to carry out the penalty of His law thoroughly.
David C. Grabbe
Why Did God Command Israel to Go to War?
To make a bad witness through ignorance or weakness is one thing, but to know better and deliberately mislead surely compounds the transgression! Why do we lie? We lie to cover up; we fear that something we wish to hide will be exposed. We also lie to rise above our feelings of inadequacy or inferiority or to lower a third party in the eyes of others. This latter reason tends to elevate ourselves in our own eyes and, we hope, in the eyes of others.
Consider the use of cosmetics in this regard. Makeup is frequently used to hide, to cover up what we consider to be inadequacies of beauty. But by whose standard are we inadequate? Are we really being a true witness of ourselves?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Ninth Commandment (1997)
The ninth commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20), protects our relationship with God because by seeking and bearing true witness to the truth, we can have a relationship with God. God is truth (John 14:6), and he who speaks truth from the heart abides with God (Psalm 15:1-2). Speaking the truth also shows love toward our fellow man (Ephesians 4:15). Lies of any kind—bald-faced, white, or anywhere in between—cause separation and distrust, while truth, though sometimes hard to bear at first, produces unity and trust in the end.
Martin G. Collins
The Ninth Commandment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Exodus 20:16: