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The Law of Witnesses--Part 2

Feb 06, 2008

The Ninth Commandment reads, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" (Ex. 20:16). This is normally understood to be a prohibition against lying in daily life. Certainly, that is the most common application. Lying is as much a sin today as it was in Moses' day. However, this law was also applicable in the arena of government and its judicial system.

Deut. 19:16-19 tells us God's judgment upon a false witness--that is, one who intentionally bears false witness:

(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.

In other words, if a man maliciously accuses his neighboring of stealing $1,000 and asks the court to rule that the accused should pay restitution--but the accusation is false--it is really a case of attempted theft. The malicious witness, then, owes his intended victim $2,000. It is as if the malicious witness had actually stolen $1,000 from his intended victim.

Of course, if the false witness were to accuse someone of a capital crime, then the penalty for such false witness would again equal what he intended to put upon the innocent victim. The law would enforce this with absolute justice, if the victim insisted upon it, because the law is about measuring justice to all equally and impartially. Yet keep in mind that the victim would retain the right to forgive the crime, if he chose to do so. The judge has no right to forgive a crime against someone else, but the victim always retains the right of forgiveness in part or in full. The victim, then, should be led by the Holy Spirit to determine what is best according to the mind of God.

One of the fundamental laws underlying a biblical society and nation is that of impartiality. When the court of law is pictured by a scale of justice held by a blindfolded woman, it is meant to portray impartial justice. Impartiality is difficult to maintain, because there is often pressure placed upon people and judges to be partial. Partiality breeds false witnesses, for if carnal men think they can make money by bearing false witness, knowing that the courts are unjust, they will find a way to do so.

Exodus 23:1-9 deals with these laws against inequality of justice. The passage specifically mentions giving preference to a poor man (23:3), as well treating a poor man unjustly (23:6). One's wealth or position must never be a factor in matters of justice. At the end of this passage, God insists that foreigners be treated impartially as well. Verse 9 says,

"And you shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt."

It is difficult to obtain justice in a foreign land when the courts are administered by carnally minded men. God understood this, and so He put Israel in Egypt for many years and even subjected them to slavery and injustice. His motive is seen here--it was to show them how it felt to be treated unjustly as an alien in a foreign land. So Israel was to learn how NOT to be.

It is unfortunate, of course, that by the time of Jesus the Judean people treated the Samaritans, Phoenicians, and Canaanites with such partiality, even referring to them as dogs and beasts. The people had allowed their personal feelings, racial and religious pride to make hatred a righteous act and even a duty. Such attitudes have spawned some of the most malicious false accusations.

It makes me wonder sometimes how God may judge such partiality at the Great White Throne. If a man thinks that someone of another race is incapable of salvation, will he be judged as a false accuser (Deut. 19:19)? If there is a malicious intent to pass judgment upon another by denying him access to Jesus Christ, the Source of Life, will the false witness himself be judged accordingly in the lake of fire? Only God knows the motives of the heart and can judge if the intent was malicious or caused by mere blindness (ignorance).

I share many laughs with a black preacher friend of mine. He told me not long ago that in the denomination where he was raised, he did not think that white people could be saved. I have walked among many who did not believe that black people could be saved. The problem is that many have no experience with those true believers of other racial groups. They form opinions that claim to be based on Scripture, but which do not know the mind of its Author. Because of this, some come to the same conclusions as the Jews did when dealing with foreigners.

Another problem is that power in the hands of carnally-minded men sets them on the path toward the idea that it is no sin for a government official to lie to the people. Yet they prosecute anyone who lies to a government official. The crime of perjury is limited to the time when one is "under oath." That is why presidents and other government officials resist giving testimony under oath. As long as they are not under oath, they may lie with immunity from prosecution.

But the law of God offers no exemptions for government officials of any kind. It loudly proclaims that there is one law for the whole land. Leviticus 24:22 says,

"There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God."

Again, we read in Num. 15:16,

"There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you."

In fact, we read in Numbers 15 that whenever the people in general failed to observe the laws of God, the priest was to make atonement for the whole congregation. Verse 26 then says that the congregation would be forgiven, along with "the alien who sojourns among them, for it happened to ALL the people through error."

This shows that the aliens in Israel were both liable for the violation of the law, and were also forgiven along with the Israelites when the priest made atonement for their sin. This idea that non-Israelites were somehow not responsible to observe the law of God is entirely foreign to Scripture. If any alien broke the law of the land, he was  EQUALLY liable with any Israelite for prosecution. The only mitigating factor would be according to genuine ignorance of the law (Luke 12:47, 48).

In the Kingdom of God, theft is theft, regardless of whether the thief is an Israelite or not. Murder is murder, regardless of a person's racial background. To say that "only Israel was given the law" misses the whole intent of God, which was to establish Israel as a priestly nation to mediate between God and all other nations (Ex. 19:6) and to be a light to other nations (Isaiah 49:6). A priest was called to teach the law to others and to administer equal justice for all. A priestly kingdom was to function internationally even as the individual priests functioned within the nation.

How foolish it is to think that a nation would elect judges for the land, only to tell people that the law was given only for the judges--as if to imply that the law was their sole possession, and that no citizen was to be responsible to keep it! Such an idea is totally absurd. So let us not bear false witness of God and His law.


This is the second 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

Dr. Stephen Jones


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