Moses' fifth speech, Part 20, Law of witnesses
Feb 08, 2013
Moses emphasized the seriousness of premeditated murder by solemnly warning judges not to reduce the sentence of the law. However, he then balanced his admonition with the law of witnesses, showing the seriousness of executing an innocent man accused of murder. Deuteronomy 19:15 says,
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 law of the double witness applies to all sin with which men are accused in a court of law. In fact, this law applies to all truth that men may believe on earth. The Apostle Paul appealed to this law in 2 Corinthians 13:1, writing,
1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 2 I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again, I will not spare anyone.
Later, in verse 5, he tells us what he was coming to judge, for he advises the believers,
5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?
As an apostle, he was acting as judge, searching for evidence of their faith. Again, he tells Timothy not to accept an accusation against an elder except by the mouth of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19). In each case he appeals to Deuteronomy 19:15, showing that he had not put away that law but was adhering to it in his apostolic calling.
The Amen Principle
This law has its roots in the creative process itself, as seen in the Amen principle. When God gave the law to Israel at Horeb, the people were required to bear witness in order to confirm the Old Covenant (Exodus 19:8). Could God not have imposed His will upon the nation? Certainly He had such a right, for He had bought them as slaves from Egypt. He had redeemed them from bondage to Pharaoh, and by the laws of redemption, He had the right to be served by them (Leviticus 25:53).
Yes, He had such a right by the laws of redemption, but in His wisdom He chose from the beginning to do all things according to two or three witnesses. While this appears to be a law that limits His power, it is really a law that establishes His wisdom. He is wise enough to win in the end, in spite of His self-imposed limitations. In other words, He has determined that His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven—but only in a prescribed manner set forth by rules, or laws.
This limitation created Time, for it took Time to accomplish His will.
When Israel entered the land of Canaan, God required a second witness of Israel’s agreement to be obedient. Moses told them in Deuteronomy 27 that the people were to be divided into two groups, one standing on Mount Gerazim and the other on Mount Ebal. The Levites were to read the curses of the law for disobedience, and the people were say “Amen.” Thus, we see that God required a double witness to establish the Exodus covenant, and then He required another double witness at Mount Gerazim and Ebal. Likewise, the two occasions themselves, forty years apart, can be paired as a double witness to the Old Covenant. No one could complain later that God’s will was imposed upon them in an unlawful manner.
Amen Expresses Faith and Confirms Truth
For those who think that the Old Covenant was devoid of faith, let us take note that the Hebrew word for faith, faithfulness, and truth is amun (אמון). Its root word is amen (אמן). The term amen is a Hebrew word in itself, which means “truly.” When used to confirm something, it means “so be it” and signifies that someone has born witness to the truth of that which he has heard. It is this very expression of assent that is the basis of faith in Scripture. When men hear the gospel of Christ and believe that it is true, they confess with their mouth for salvation. Romans 10:9 and 10 says,
9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Hence, the faith that God requires from man is an amen, a double witness establishing that a man believes (has faith in) the truth of God’s word.
Amen as a Creative Principle
This Amen principle is seen again in Isaiah 65:16-19, where, if we read it from the literal Hebrew, we see that God’s servants “shall be blessed by the God of Amen.” Then Isaiah tells us about this “God of Amen,” saying in verse 17, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.” The next verse says, “behold, I create Jerusalem,” which, in this context, refers to the new Jerusalem.
John refers to this “God of Amen” in Revelation 3:14,
14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea, write: “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this.”
Christ, then, claims to be the Amen of God, for it is Christ who is giving this message to the churches. As the Amen, He is “the faithful and true Witness.” He was a true witness in that He spoke only what He heard His Father say, and did only what He saw His Father do. He was a faithful witness in that He was faithful to speak and do those things and not withhold anything that He had seen or heard.
He also affirms Isaiah’s prophecy, saying that this Amen is “the Beginning of the creation of God.” Isaiah affirms that the Amen creates the new heavens, the new earth, and the new Jerusalem, but Christ affirms that this was also the principle by which the original heaven and earth were created in Genesis 1:1. How? John 1:3 says,
3 All things came into being by [dia, “through”] Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
In other words, the Father spoke “Light,” and the Son provided the double witness recorded in Genesis 1:3: “Let there be light.” Another way to put it is, “so let it be—Light.” This was essentially the Amen principle, the double witness by which all things were created “through” Christ. The same principle is required in the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. The only difference is that in this new creation Christ is now functioning as a body and not merely as Christ the Head. When the Head is joined with the body, it provides a double witness in itself that establishes all truth and is endowed with creative power to restore all things.
In the end, the witness of heaven combines with the witness on earth to bring about the fulness of the Kingdom of God. These two witnesses are mentioned by Moses in Deuteronomy 4:26, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today.” In those days, the rebellious nation was being convicted of sin by two witnesses. But under Jesus Christ, the Kingdom is reconstructed by the same law and by the same witnesses, for He taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6:10,
10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The basic purpose of creation was to create a double witness of God, His power, and His glory. The entire universe was created to say Amen to the truth and glory of God and to bear witness that there is no other god but Him. With the advent of sin, this double witness was withheld, causing His sovereignty to be questioned, for it was no longer “established” or “confirmed” by the law of witnesses. History, however, has but one goal, and that is to restore all things and to establish His will on earth as it is in heaven. When this is complete, then God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28), and all of creation will be reconciled to Him (Colossians 1:16-20). That is, there will be full agreement between heaven and earth.
There is consensus among Christians that God is powerful enough to do anything He wishes, and that His love desires all men to be saved. What is uncertain among many is whether God actually has the wisdom to accomplish that which His love desires, in view of the legal restrictions that He has imposed upon Himself according to His justice.
In my view, God is indeed able to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21). In fact, starting with the first yod (י) in Genesis 1:1, if we were to count every 521st letter, the text would spell in Hebrew, “Yeshua is able.”
Hence, the importance of the law of witnesses can hardly be overstressed. It is the law by which all of creation came into being, and it is the law by which the new creation is being formed even now. This law was not put away, but is continually being utilized in the divine plan in all things great and small.
Establishing Truth in Court
With such a law built into the very foundations of the universe, it comes as no surprise that it would form the basis of establishing all truth in a court of law, where judges must determine guilt or innocence for any sin. Men have often criticized this restriction, on the grounds that many guilty people will get away with sin and thereby perpetrate injustice. However, that is only true when the legal system refuses to recognize the existence of the Divine Court and the great Judge who presides over it.
As we have shown earlier, any time that justice is not possible, due to the lack of witnesses, or corrupt judges, or for any other reason, men have the right to appeal to the Divine Court. The law of witnesses puts limits upon the earthly courts in the interest of not convicting innocent people of crimes, but Divine Court has a way of bringing all of the facts to light, even if this may take time. Yet even God will judge a man apart from the double witness.
The Story of Achan
We see this in the story of Achan, who stole some gold, silver, and a Babylonian garment during the battle of Jericho (Joshua 7:21). At first, no one knew who had sinned. Divine revelation exposed the problem later (Joshua 7:11), but evidence was lacking. And so by using Urim and Thummim, they cast lots, and the tribe of Judah was “taken,” and specifically the family of the Zerahites (Joshua 7:17). Then they cast lots for each head of the households and finally pinpointed Achan.
19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I implore you, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.” 20 So Achan answered Joshua and said, “Truly, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and this is what I did.”
Even Achan’s confession was insufficient to conclude his trial. When he confessed his sin and told them where the stolen items were located, men went to his tent and dug up the evidence and brought it to court (Joshua 7:21-23). The evidence provided the double witness, revealing an important point of law: one’s own confession provides only one witness in a court of law. It still requires corroborating evidence to convict anyone of sin.
The Law of Confession
This is shown also in the law of confession in cases of theft. Normally, if a man is caught and convicted of theft, he must pay his victim at least double restitution (Exodus 22:4). If what he stole cannot be returned, he must restore fourfold—or even fivefold (Exodus 22:1), if it involves the tools of a man’s trade (i.e., an “ox,” his tractor.) But if the thief gets away with his crime but later confesses his sin to clear his conscience, his penalty is only one-fifth, or twenty percent. Confession reduces liability. Numbers 5:6 and 7 says,
6 Speak to the sons of Israel, “When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the Lord, and that person is guilty, 7 then he shall confess his sins which he has committed, and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong, and add to it one-fifth of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged.”
The fifth chapter of Numbers is paired with the law of jealousy that must be settled in the Divine Court due to a lack of evidence. Thus it is clear that both of these laws are cases where there is a lack of evidence. In the case of theft, the one confessing his sin is to return the stolen items in full and add one-fifth of its value. In the case of a jealous husband, where his wife denies guilt, she is to be brought to the priest, where an oath of innocence is administered and the case left to God’s judgment.
In both cases, we see the law of witnesses upheld, for in neither case could one be convicted of sin apart from two or three witnesses. Two witnesses are the minimum requirement, but sometimes three witnesses may be necessary, because not all evidence is undisputed proof. Clarity may be required by a third witness.
This is the twentieth part of a series titled "Moses' Fifth Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones