You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)
The primary understanding of this commandment, is a prohibition of perjury, testifying against a neighbor falsely before a Judge. However, as in the rest of the commandments, the stated prohibition is only chief of a whole category of Sins.
Our God is a God of Truth and commands us to Love truth, and to speak the Truth in Love. God doesn’t lie, neither should his holy people.
Exodus 23 expands on this commandment:
Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment: Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause…. Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked. And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.( Exodus 23:1-3, 7-8)
First of all, false witness is giving a false report about a person. Saying something about another that isn’t true, or perhaps holding out information about them, that is true, in order to put that person in a bad light. It can be done by innuendo, inflection, body language, ommission, in order to give an impression that is less than favorable of another.
False witness is often done in concert with others. In a court of law, or in the media, in family disputes or general arguments, people take sides, and are tempted to ‘pile on’ the person out of favor, to add their ‘two bits’ to the general testimony. I have seen people bear false witness against leaders, pastors, even whole churches, to the point of rounding up other discontented people to bolster their arguments and complaints.
This is called “putting thine hand with the wicked“, and it is very (fallen) human thing to do in conflict with others. We want to justify our actions or our rejection of a person, so it is tempting to be ready to hear the evil reports of others. This is a serious sin, and in fact, as we will see, it is literally the Devil’s work.
I have found this to be especially true of those whom God has placed ‘above’ us. Parents, ministers, bosses and employers, supervisors… these are the ones God has placed above us in some areas. People often get to a point where they just want to see them bought down. They are ‘open’ to evil reports of them.
There are enough valid complaints which could be made about anyone, without piling on dubious innuendos, since we are all fallen sinners.
Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil … What is this fallen, perverse psychology of us sinners, that the Word of God perfectly describes? God knows the hearts of men, and that there is a “crowd Psychology” at play in some situations, wherein, once a person comes under criticism, whether just or unjust, there is a temptation for others around to be swept into the strife, and as I stated earlier, to “pile on”, to someone once respected and reverenced, like a parent, or a Pastor or high official.
False witness is contagious and can have a certain twisted deliciousness to it. Fallen man would “Bring down the High and mighty”. What is the Media but an orgy of false witness?
“… neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment” Some are more eloquent than others, and by a few slight turns of phrasing, can completely destroy the name and esteem of a person in the minds of those who once respected him. We must give the Devil his due, this is his business and He is not only good at it, but inspires many to be just as good.
They can completely twist other’s judgment, that is their skill.
Our society has been completely torn asunder by the constant and skillful use of false witness. There are many who have biases which are unfair and unfounded, just based on what they have been taught. Some have a bias toward the rich and powerful, and that is bad, an some have biases towards the poor, which is just as bad.
Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause… This is what we call “Social Justice”, but it is an illusion and a form of false witness. Demagogues would divide the world up into identity groups, and harvest their resentments and fears. Simplistic teachings which can be distilled down to “Rich people are bad and Poor people are good”, or they do the same with racial categories.
This is false and dehumanizing. God deals with us as individuals, and will judge us accordingly, not as ‘groups’.
False witness has been born in the teaching of history and of Western civilization, the founding Fathers, and a whole host of great men and women of the past. It is very easy to wrest a person out of his own historical context, and write about him using our modern standards of Judgement.
Thus very small and unaccomplished people can ‘bring down’ great people like George Washington, Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln” , by bearing false witness against them.
False witness is one of the distinguishing marks of our age.
Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.
God says have nothing to do with false witness. Do not partake of the slaying of the innocent and righteous. I have seen completely innocent and righteous people falsely represented, and cut down on many levels, some of them even destroyed by false witness. I have seen churches torn asunder, families separated, by the malicious tongues of careless people.
God warns us that he won’t justify those involved.
Why do some join in after it has started? It has to do with the next verse in Exodus ….
And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.
When people think there is something to be gained by playing up to others, they often join in the sin of false witness. Why did the same people who praised Jesus on Palm Sunday, call for him to be crucified within a week?
Not all bribes come in the form of money; some people sell out others for affection, being part of an “in group” or just attention.
When a report about another person comes to you, it represents a special type of temptation. Particularly if it is a person you have ever had a problem with, or just don’t like. How do we respond to an evil report? It determines whether you will overcome or be overcome by this Satanic sin.
Satan bore false witness against God, and that brought about the fall of the whole human race. He told Adam and Eve that God was withholding something he knew would be good and fulfilling from them. They actually believed the report, and every bitter and remorseful tear ever shed since, has come about because of that lie.
Satan is called “The accuser of the bretheren” who accuses us before God and to each other, day and night. False witness is what Satan is and does. His demons are called “Lying Spirits” and he himself is the “Father of Lies” and “the murderer from the beginning”. There is a definite connection between false witness and murder.
Jesus calls himself “The Faithful Witness”. We all need the truth; about God and about each other, about heaven, hell and about ourselves.
You can always count on Jesus to give you Truth and Reality. He alone is the completely the faithful witness to us, the sure guide to the afterlife, this life and on how to get to heaven.