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The Law of Witnesses--Part 1

Feb 05, 2008

One of the most important features of justice in a court of law centers around the witnesses in a case. If a society has a tendency to produce false witnesses, injustice will most certainly occur, and many will be convicted unjustly. For this reason, the law must take active steps to deter false witnesses in order to maintain a peaceful and equitable social order.

A few of the most basic laws of witnesses are found in Deut. 19. Verse 15 says,

"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."

Of course, this law is not only applicable in a court of law, but also in daily life. People constantly accuse others of various sins with insufficient evidence. As Christians, we ought to develop the lawful habit of refraining from such accusations. Much accusation is mere gossip, and we often destroy other people and their reputations on the flimsiest of information.

As children, we used to play the game of "telephone." We sat in a circle, and one person whispered something to the person on his right. That person in turn whispered what he heard to the next person, and so on. By the time the message returned to the original person, it was nearly always so garbled that it was unrecognizable. It was a good lesson in gossip.

The law of dung is God's way of pronouncing gossip to be a sin. It is found in Deut. 23:12-14,

" (12) You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, (13) and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement. (14) Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent among you lest He turn away from you."

When people gossip--that is, bear false witness--they are spiritually defecating around the camp where many people might inadvertently defile their feet. The proper course of action would be to bury it, because then it becomes useful fertilizer, allowing other people ("trees") to bear fruit. It is not possible to keep from hearing gossip or false accusations, but it is possible to bury it rather than to pass it on to others.

Jesus taught this to His disciples in Matthew 15. It seems that the Pharisees had accused the disciples of not ceremonially washing (baptizing) their hands before they ate. There was no biblical law mandating such washing, of course, for this was one of the traditions of men that had developed over the years, probably based upon Elisha, who poured water over the hands of Elijah (2 Kings 3:11). The legalists of the day were concerned about eating something after their hands had touched an unclean fly or bug. They knew nothing of germs. It was a mere ceremony to them.

Jesus used this to teach the disciples an important principle of biblical law. Matt. 15:17-20 says,

" (17) Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? (18) But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. (19) For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. (20) These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."

Bad food may poison the body, but not the soul. What we eat has to do with physical health, and it has its place in life. But food is processed and is eliminated as dung. The problem comes when the mouth becomes the dung gate for the heart. Dung should be reserved for its proper organ of elimination. When dung comes out of the mouth, it is gossip and bearing false witness.

The implication is that the Pharisees had borne false witness against the disciples by accusing them of breaking their traditions. Jesus, in turn, showed that by their traditions the Pharisees were violating the law of God, as prophesied in Isaiah 29:13. (See Matt. 15:7-9.)

One of the big traditions of the day was the Jewish idea that they were better than everyone else and that all non-Jews were on the level of mere cattle and beasts--not really "men" at all. This was a major false accusation and slander against the rest of humanity, and as such it represented "dung" coming from the mouths of the Pharisees. So in connection with this lesson about dung, Jesus took the disciples on a field trip to the district of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21).

There they were met by a Canaanite woman, who began to cry out to Jesus for mercy. Now keep in mind that Jesus took the disciples on this lengthy trip for just one reason. It was to help this Canaanite woman. After that mission was accomplished, they all returned to Capernaum. There was no other reason for this trip.

But when the woman began appealing for mercy, Jesus did a strange thing. He ignored her at first (15:23), telling His disciples, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." No doubt the disciples agreed with much gusto and wanted to send her away. They had no compassion for Canaanite women.

But the woman persisted. Jesus then told her in verse 26, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." Again, we can hear the disciples nodding their heads in full agreement, for it reflected the common view of the day. Non-Jews were often called "dogs," not in the sense of man's best friend, but as an insult.

The woman, however, was not to be deterred, for she had great faith in Jesus. She responded in verse 27, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."

By this time, it was obvious that this Canaanite woman's faith was much greater than the faith of Jesus' own disciples! She was willing to endure insults in order to obtain Jesus' blessing. Verses 28 and 29 say,

" (28) Then Jesus answered and said to her, 'O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed at once. (29) And departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee. . ."

The point of this story is usually missed. It has often been used to prove that Jesus came exclusively to the house of Israel and that He only grudgingly healed a Canaanite woman just to stop her from pestering Him. But that misses the whole point. Jesus went to that place specifically for the woman's benefit--and to teach His disciples something about the traditions of men and how they were mere DUNG.

Jesus insulted the Canaanite woman in order to give expression to the attitude that the disciples had harbored in their hearts from their youth. They were the ones who thought that the Word of God and His blessings were exclusively for them and certainly not for Canaanites. They were the ones who called non-Jews "dogs." This was not Jesus' attitude. Jesus was teaching the disciples the very opposite lesson. He showed them that a Canaanite woman was capable of great faith--something that Jews simply did not believe possible.

The woman proved that the disciples had been slandering Canaanites. When the point was clear, Jesus blessed her and rewarded her faith! Then He turned around and went back to the Sea of Galilee. The lesson would be vital later when the Gospel went out beyond the borders of Judea to the uttermost parts of the earth.

This is the first part of a series titled "The Law of Witnesses." To view all parts, click the link below.

The Law of Witnesses

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Category: God's Law
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones