Moses' second speech, Part 12
Aug 01, 2012
Deut. 5:20 gives us the Ninth Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
The purpose of this commandment is to promote justice by the revelation of truth. The basic law is given in Deut. 19:15,
(15) A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
The fact that a single witness cannot convict anyone of sin is designed as a safeguard against false accusation. More than one piece of evidence must be found, or more than one person must witness an act in order to convict a sinner. This law was foundational to the entire system of biblical law under both covenants.
Jesus mentioned it in His brief listing in Matt. 19:18. Paul used it in 2 Cor. 13:1 and applied it again in 1 Tim. 5:19 in his instruction to Church leaders:
(19) Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
In other words, a Church leader was forbidden to believe an accusation without corroborating evidence as a double witness. This is a good example where Paul upholds the law's standard of behavior, even though he denied the law's ability to save or perfect any man. Paul agreed with the law that no man could be convicted of sin apart from two or three witnesses.
The Ninth Commandment forbids false accusation and enforces penalties for such acts in Deut. 19:16-21,
(16) If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, (17) then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. (18) And the judges shall investigate thoroughly; and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, (19) then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. (20) And the rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. (21) Thus you shall not show pity; life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
In other words, if someone falsely accuses his neighbor of stealing a sheep, the penalty is that the false accuser owes his intended victim a sheep. If a false witness deliberately testifies that his neighbor committed murder, which would result in the death penalty imposed on an innocent man, then the false witness must be sentenced to death (unless the victim forgives the crime).
This law is often closely related to the Third Commandment, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (Deut. 5:11). When two disputing parties go to a biblical court, they are said to be standing before God, because the judges represent God. For this reason, Deut. 19:17 (quoted earlier) says, "then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges."
The priests and judges were God's representatives in the earth (as long as they truly represented Him, of course). Those who took oaths were actually presenting a formal statement of truth to the Highest Court. They were calling upon God to bear witness to the truth of their statement. Thus, they subjected themselves to God for judgment for any falsehood in their statement or any malice in their hearts.
Such false statements profaned the name of God, as Lev. 19:12 says, because it presumed that God Himself would confirm a lie. But even Balaam prophesied truthfully that "God is not a man that He should lie" (Num. 23:19). Coming from him, this prophecy is especially significant, because he had hoped that God would bear witness to the Moabite king's curse upon Israel.
The Ninth Commandment also condemns false prophets who present God in a false light or presume to speak His words when they are really only the carnal thoughts of men. It condemns priests and preachers who present God's character in an inaccurate or false manner. However, the judgment for such false witness must usually be left in the hands of God Himself, because men are so often incapable of judging on that level. In fact, judging prophets should normally be left to other prophets, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:29,
(29) And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others [prophets] judge.
It is only when a genuine biblical court is established that one can hope to judge prophets correctly. In Scripture most of the examples are of the true prophets of God being falsely accused in the earthly courts. That is why the true prophets were stoned, sawn asunder, or imprisoned as false prophets. Israel's priests and judges seldom had the spiritual discernment or the knowledge of God's character to maintain righteous courts.
The situation has changed little even today. For this reason God brought judgment upon Israel and Judah, putting them under the authority of other nations and the laws of men (and false gods). God destroyed the nation that He formed, the courts that He established, and the temple that He authorized Solomon to build. When those divine institutions ceased to bear witness to the truth of God's character, He did not hesitate to condemn them and to destroy them.
Prophets represent God to men, but they also represent men to God. This is their intercessory role. Perhaps the foremost problem that prophets face is that God often uses them to bring judgment upon the people for the sin of the people. In such times God uses prophets who have made some kind of decision to represent the people, the king, or the church leaders, rather than to represent God Himself.
While there are certainly false prophets in every generation, the Bible usually refers to prophets who use their genuine gifting for false purposes. In other words, a prophet is false in that he is false to God, rather than someone who simply predicts things that do not come to pass. The king's prophets are those who are loyal to the king, rather than to God. A church prophet is one who is loyal to the church, rather than to God. A prophet of Baal is one who is loyal to Baal, rather than to God. Any of these may actually be genuinely gifted, but they misuse their gift, often because they receive payment which has bought their loyalty.
Such prophets find themselves prophesying that which the people, king, or church wants to hear. Each of these desire to be surrounded by prophets who bear witness to their own particular doctrines or viewpoints, rather than to hear directly from God and speak His words. This is the common tendency of all flesh, and when it comes to fruition, God then accommodates them with a lying spirit, as in the case of King Ahab (2 Chron. 18:18-22).
The people believe that lying spirit to be from God, so they believe its deception. Such a spirit can indeed come from God, but one must understand that such a spirit represents divine judgment upon those who prefer deception to the truth. Ezekiel 14:1-11 tells us that when men inquire of the Lord with preconceived ideas, intending to obey God only if He agrees with them, God will indeed give them the word that they desire. But the purpose is to bring them into judgment and turn them over to the consequences of their own depraved mind (Rom. 1:28).
Recall that the purpose of the Ninth Commandment is to bring justice. When truth only serves to bring injustice, truth may be withheld. Hence, God does not violate His own will and character by sending a lying spirit or by giving men a word according to the idols of their own heart.
This is the twelfth part of a series titled "Moses' Second Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones