You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Exodus 20:1, 21). Our subject is the law of the ten commandments, and -
I. The NAMES of the code, for names are oft the keys to things. There are five chief names; four in the Old Testament and one in the New.
1. "The ten words." ["The ten commandments" is an unscriptural phrase.] (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4 See Hebrews) This name implies that the code was in a very special sense the distinct utterance of God. The utterance touched that which was central in human life, viz., duty.
2. "The law," i.e., the heart and core of the Mosaic legislation. All the rest was as the fringe to the robe of righteousness.
3. "The testimony." God's attestation of his mind as to our moral carriage through life.
4. "The covenant." But care should be exercised as to the putting of this. Israel was not to keep the ten words in order to salvation, but because Israel had been saved. Spiritual obedience springs from gratitude - cannot be given as the price of salvation.
5. "The commandments(Matthew 18:17). The names of the code stamp it as unique. The Mosaic legislation stands out like a mountain range from all other codes historic in the world; but the ten words" are the ten peaks of that mighty range.
II. THE MOMENT when God gave the "ten" was critical and significant.
1. Subsequent to salvation (Exodus 20:1). Trace the evangelical parallel, show that this is the order of the divine love, first deliverance, and then direction for life.
2. Before ritual. Hence the subordination, even for the Jew, of ritual to morals. For us the symbolic ritual is no more. Our prerogative is that of unveiled gaze upon the spiritual.
III. THE DELIVERY of the "ten words." [The object here should be so to describe the incidents of the delivery, on the basis of the sacred narrative, aided by topographical illustration, as to exhibit the unique character of this code. The following hints may be of service]: - The great plain north of Sinai; Sinai to the south; the barren character of this huge natural temple [Stanley's "J. C." 1:128]; on the third day every eye turned to the mountain; mists rising like smoke; lightning; thunder like ten thousand trumpets; reverberation; earth-trembling. The people would have drawn away, but Moses led them near the base. He ascended; but returned, that he, as one of the people, and with them, might hear the code. God alone. Then the very voice of very God, possibly pronouncing the "ten" in their shortest form. [Ewald: "Israel," 2:163, Eng. tr.] The cry of the people for a mediator. If we had to-day a phonogram even of that awful voice, some would still say, "It is the voice of a man, and not of a god."
IV. THE PRESERVATION. The "ten" were -
1. Graven by God. The record supernatural, like the delivery. On granite; not too large for a man to carry; graven on both sides; symbol of the completeness, inviolability, and perpetuity of the Divine law. Note the seven or eight weeks' delay ere the tables were given, and the intervening incidents.
2. Kept in the ark. In that which was a memorial of the desert life; the wood, acacia of the wilderness. In that which was central to the life of Israel. In Israel a sanctuary, a holiest of all, the ark, and in the deep recesses of that the idea of duty enshrined. The tables last seen at Solomon's dedication. Are they now lying with the wreck of Babylon in the valley of the Euphrates?
V. THE ORDER AND THE ARRANGEMENT.
1. There were five words on each table. So we think. Great diversity of opinion as to the division and the throwing of the "ten words" on the two tables. According to the division we adopt, the first table concerned itself with God - his existence, worship, name, day, and representative. But if the parent is the representative of God, then there are suggestions for the character and the administration of the parent; as well as for the intelligent obedience of the child.
2. The five words concerning duty to God come first. Religion ever comes before morality, and morality without that foundation must be partial and imperfect. Man must first be in right relation with the Father in heaven, then he will come to be right with all the children.
1. Glance at the "ten." We have seen how comprehensive are the first five. [See above, 5:1.] Note the comprehensiveness of the second. We are not to assault the life, the family, the property, the reputation, the peace (by coveting and threatening what they have), of our fellow-men.
2. Pierce into the spirit of the "ten," and note! -
(1) The negative must include the positive; e.g., we are bound to conserve life, lest by neglect we kill.
(2) The absolute form covers all cases; e.g., the sixth commandment stands absolute, unless dispensed with by the supervention of a higher law. There may be things more sacred even than life.
(3) The external includes the internal. (Matthew 5:27, 25.) Given the lust, its gratification does not depend upon the man, but upon circumstances out of his control; therefore he is guilty. Besides, what we are is of more moment than what we do.
(4) The principle of obedience in all is love.
VIII. THE PRESENT USE AND OFFICE OF "THE TEN." [For detailed exposition of each of "the ten," in relation to our own time and circumstances, see "The Ten Commandments," by R. W. Dale, M.A.] On the use and office the following positions may be firmly laid down: -
1. The law of the ten words was, and is, something absolutely unique. Of the unique character all that has been previously said is illustration. It may, then, be reasonably inferred that "the ten" will have some special bearing on our moral life.
2. It implies that God claims authority over the moral life of man. [On this see valuable observations on the decay of the sense of authority, its evil effects, etc., Dale's "Ten Commandments," pp. 6-13.]
3. It was not intended to afford man an opportunity for winning salvation. That is God's free gift.
4. Salvation given, God means the law to be obeyed. [On this see also Dale, pp. 13-16.]
5. The effort to obey will deepen man's sense of the need of God's delivering mercy. The effort brings a deeper acquaintance with the law, and so we come to know more of -
(1) the righteousness of God -
(2) the depravity of man.
6. A growing conformity is, however, blessedly possible.
7. There comes with growing conformity freedom from law, Love dispenses with the literal precept. This is the ideal of the New Testament. Still." the ten words" have ever their use for those on the low planes of spiritual life.
8. And even with those free from the law, it will still have the following offices: -
(1) To keep the Christian under grace as the source of all his serenity and bliss.
(2) To restrain from sin in the presence of temptation.
(3) To keep before the aspiring saint the fair ideal of righteousness. - R.
1. There is no engine by which we help or harm one another more than by our speech. In one aspect words are mere counters, but he who supposes them to be only that is greatly mistaken; more often they are very children of our inner selves, out-growing quickly the control of their parents, and entering upon an independent career which may be full as sunshine is of blessing, or more destructive than a prairie-fire.
Thou shalt not hear false witness.I. This Commandment is A RECOGNITION OF THOSE TRIBUNALS WHICH ARE NECESSARY TO THE PEACE AND TO THE VERY EXISTENCE OF THE STATE.
II. In this Commandment there is A DIVINE RECOGNITION OF THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MORAL JUDGMENTS WHICH MEN PRONOUNCE ON EACH OTHER: the judgments which individual men form of other men as the result of the testimony to which they have listened, whether it was true or false; the judgments which large classes of men or whole communities form of individuals, and which constitute what we call the opinion of society concerning them.
III. MANY WAYS MIGHT BE MENTIONED IN WHICH WE MAY AVOID BEARING FALSE WITNESS AGAINST OUR NEIGHBOUR.
1. We should try to form a true and just judgment of other people before we say anything against them.
2. We have no right to give our mere inferences from what we know about the conduct and principles of others as though they were facts.
3. We have no right to spread an injurious report merely because somebody brought it to us.
(R. W. Dale, D. D.)
2. What is truth? It stands for the relation which God has established between things, the relation in which their harmony consists. It expresses conformity to fact — what really is seen as it is. It accords with, and is, the constitution of all things. It is of the essential substance of God; for if God were not true He would not be God. The more we think about this sublime theme, the more we see its ineffable dignity, and that the law which guards truth must be of supreme importance.
I. Consider this law IN RELATION TO COURTS OF JUSTICE.
1. The literal form of the precept implies the existence of a court of justice. Here is a definite acknowledgment, at least by implication, of the principle of state tribunals; and if of tribunals, then also of governments, and of the necessary machinery of government.
2. Courts of justice exist, as their name implies, in order that justice may be done; and justice can only be done in proportion as truth prevails. The supreme business of every member of the court, from the judge to the humblest official, is with truth.
II. Consider this law IN RELATION TO PUBLIC OPINION.
1. It is not by any means an ideal bar, this of public opinion: inconsistent in much, inconsequent in more; not patient in sifting evidence, nor impartial in hearing both sides, nor cautious in coming to conclusions; liable also to bursts of impulse, when, as in a wind-swept cornfield, all heads are bowed one way only to bend back again at the next breath: often its judgments are hasty, not seldom warped, sometimes cruelly unjust. Nevertheless, public opinion is a great natural assize, where every one of us passes judgment upon others, and where others pass judgment upon every one of us — a court with wider jurisdiction than any other in the world, a court always sitting, a court everywhere present. The special moment and consequence of its decisions lies in the fact that they affect our reputation. This being so, every man has a right to demand of every other man, and every man is bound to accord to every other man, a true and righteous witness.
2. In glancing at the more conspicuous forms of false witness in the court of public opinion, one dark and monstrous shape demands immediate notice. I mean slander, the deliberate invention of a lie to injure a neighbour. All forms of wilful misrepresentation, base insinuation, wanton detraction, damning with faint praise, and guilty silence that does the work of open defamation, belong to this category. Next to slander, I must mention tale-bearing, which signifies the spreading of evil reports. We ought not to carry stories to our neighbours' discredit, even if they are true (Leviticus 19:16).
III. Consider this law IN RELATION TO THE PERSONAL CONSCIENCE.
1. When the Commandment says, "Thy neighbour must not be wronged by untruthful words," it manifestly says also, "Thou shalt not be a liar." Unless we are true, how can our witness be true? And if we are true, how can our witness be other than true? Three elements enter into a falsehood. It is a statement of what is not true; it is intended to deceive, and it violates a promise or obligation to speak the truth.
2. In this view of the obligation of every man to "put away lying and speak truth with his neighbour," the paramount importance of the law of truth stands forth conspicuous. Equivocation is seen to be nothing but a lie complicated with the meanness of evasion. Mental reservations are detected as lies blackened by breach of contract. Exaggerations and extenuations, fibs and white lies, are shown to be inexcusable. Pious frauds are branded as fraudulent piety. And the one only course open to a Christian man in his dealings with his neighbour is to speak truth. "Dare to be true; nothing can need a lie!"
(W. J. Woods, B. A.)
1. The prohibitory part of the Commandment, or, what it forbids in general. It forbids anything which may tend to the disparagement or prejudice of our neighbour. More particularly, two things are forbidden in this Commandment.(1) Slandering our neighbour. The scorpion carries his poison in his tail; the slanderer carries his poison in his tongue. Slandering is to report things of others unjustly; "they laid things to my charge which I knew not." Eminency is commonly blasted by slander. Holiness itself is no shield from slander. The lamb's innocency will not preserve it from the wolf. We must not only not raise a false report, but not take it up. He that raiseth a slander, carries the devil in his tongue: and he that receives it, carries the devil in his ear.(2) The second thing forbidden in this Commandment is false witness. Here three sins are condemned:(a) Speaking that which is false; "lying lips are an abomination to the Lord." There is nothing more contrary to God than a lie. Imitate God who is the pattern of truth. Pythagoras being asked what made men like God answered, "When they speak truth." It is made the character of a man that shall go to heaven; "he speaketh the truth in his heart."(b) That which is condemned in the Commandment is witnessing that which is false; "thou shalt not bear false witness." There is a bearing of false witness for another, and a bearing false witness against another.(c) That which is condemned in the Commandment is swearing that which is false. When men take a false oath, and by that, take away the life of another. The Scythians made a law, when a man did bind two sins together, a lie with an oath, he was to lose his head, because this sin did take away all truth and faith from among men. The devil hath taken great possession of such who dare swear to a lie.
2. The mandatory part of this Commandment: that is, "that we stand up for others and vindicate them, when they are injured by lying lips." A man may wrong another as well by silence as by slander when he knows him to be wrongfully accused, yet doth not speak in his behalf. If others cast false aspersions on any, we should wipe them off. When the primitive Christians were falsely accused for incest, and killing their children, made a famous apology in their vindication. This is to act the part both of a friend and of a Christian, to be an advocate for another, when he is wronged in his good name.
( T. Watson.)
(F. S. Schenck.)I. This command prohibits LYING.
1. What a lie is.(1) A lie, according to St. Austin's definition of it, is a voluntary speaking of an untruth, with an intent to deceive.(2) Lies are usually distinguished into three kinds.(a) There is a jocular lie: a lie, framed to excite mirth and laughter; not to deceive the hearer, only to please and divert him.(b) There is an officious lie: which is told for another's benefit and advantage; and seems to make an abundant compensation for its falsehood, by its use and profit.(c) There is a malicious and pernicious lie: a lie, devised on purpose for the hurt and damage of my neighbour.
2. Now, for the aggravations of this sin, consider —(1) It is a sin, that makes you most like unto the devil.(2) Consider, that it is a sin most contrary to the nature of God, who is truth itself.(3) Consider, that it is a sin, that gives in fearful evidence against us, that we belong to the devil, and are his children.(4) Consider, how dreadfully God hath threatened it with eternal death (Revelation 22:15).(5) A lie showeth a most degenerous and cowardly fear of men, and a most daring contempt of the great God.(6) Mankind generally account it the most infamous and reproachful sin of all others.(7) It is a sin that God will detect; and exposeth those who are guilty of it to shame and contempt (Proverbs 12:19).
II. There remain two other violations of this Commandment: the one is, by SLANDER AND DETRACTION; the other, by base flattery and soothing. And both these may respect either ourselves or others.
1. Indeed slander and detraction seem somewhat to differ. For slander, properly, is a false imputation of vice; but detraction is a causeless, diminishing report of virtue.(1) If thou wouldst keep thyself from being a slanderer of others, addict not thyself violently to any one party or persuasion of men.(2) If thou wouldst not be guilty of slander, be not busy in other men's affairs.(3) If thou wouldst not be guilty of slander, be frequent in reflecting upon thine own miscarriages; or thy proneness to fall into the same, or greater faults.(4) If you would not be guilty of slander, listen not unto those who are slanderers and detractors.(5) If you would not be slanderers of others be not self-lovers. For self-love always causeth envy; and envy detraction.(6) Be not too easy and facile to entertain suspicious and evil surmises against others.
III. The third sin against this Commandment is BASE FLATTERY and SOOTHING; which is a quite opposite extreme to the other, as both are opposite to truth. Now this is, either self-flattery, or the flattering of others.
1. There is a self-flattery. Learn, therefore, O Christian, to take the just measure of thyself.
2. There is a sinful flattering of others: and that, either by an immoderate extolling of their virtues; or, what is worse, by a wicked commendation even of their very vices. This is a sin most odious unto God, who hath threatened to cut off all flattering lips (Psalm 12:3).
(Bp. E. Hopkins.)A man of overweening curiosity who looked down his neighbour's chimney to see what he was cooking for supper, not only failed to find out what he desired to know, but was nearly blinded by the smoke. Somebody has conveyed a well-deserved rebuke to such unamiable people, who said, "If we would sit down by our neighbour's fire occasionally, instead of looking down his chimney, we would see many good points in his character that smoke will certainly obscure." There are so many ways of kindling a flame by the poisonous breath of slander, that only a few of them can now be referred to.
I. PERVERTING ONE'S WORDS OR ACTIONS IS AN EVERY-DAY OCCURRENCE.
II. Another way by which flames are often kindled to the damage of one's good name, is THE HABIT OF JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS WITHOUT SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO SUSTAIN THEM. While Wilberforce occupied his prominent place in the British parliament he was exceedingly annoyed by finding himself chronicled in opposition papers as "St. Wilberforce." "He was lately seen," said the slanderous print, "walking up and down in the pump-room at Bath, reading his prayers, like his predecessors of old, who prayed at the corners of the streets to be seen of men!" Mr. Wilberforce, who was not more distinguished for his brilliant mental gifts than for his unobtrusive goodness, remarked upon this wanton falsehood: "As there is generally some slight circumstance which perverse-ness turns into a charge or reproach, I began to reflect, and I soon found the occasion of the calumny. I was walking in the pump-room, in conversation with a friend; a passage from Horace was quoted, the accuracy of which was questioned, and as I had a copy of the Latin poet in my pocket, I took it out and read the words. This was the plain "bit of wire" which factious malignity sharpened into a pin to pierce my reputation." It is pitiful to think how many ugly pins have been fashioned out of smaller bits of wire than that l
III. THE CRUEL PURPOSES OF SLANDER MAY ALSO BE ACCOMPLISHED BY SLY INSINUATIONS AND CRAFTY QUESTIONS CALCULATED TO AROUSE SERIOUS AND DAMAGING SUSPICIONS. When any one spoke evil of another in the presence of Peter the Great, he would promptly stop him and say, "Well, now; but has he not got a bright side? Come, tell me what good you know of him. It is easy to splash mud; but I would rather help a man to keep his coat clean l"
IV. SLANDER IS ENCOURAGED BY THOSE WHO PATIENTLY LISTEN TO IT, and who prompt the cruel person to vent his venom on the innocent.
(J. H. Norton, D. D.)I. MISREPRESENTATION. It is an ingenious method to class an opponent with those whom the world has already condemned as heterodox. It is still another to make his truth responsible for all the folly that unwise minds have added to it.
II. INSINUATION. A whisper dropped carelessly in some corner among the combustibles, a look, a shrug of the shoulders, a sneer, a laugh may serve the purpose. Rumour with most minds is presumptive evidence, and they will say with a knowing air, "There must be some fire in so much smoke."
III. DETRACTION. If we be unable to find evil in the opinions or actions of another, we can attribute his good to doubtful motives.
IV. TALEBEARING. Is there, I pray you, a creature more contemptible than this, who fattens on the griefs of others, and passes day and night in such petty larceny? How few dream of their responsibility in this! We know the power of strychnine or arsenic, but not of a word. What undesigned phrases we drop in conversation, and forget as soon as passed, yet they are never forgotten! What insignificant insects may have a fatal sting!
(E. A. Washburn, D. D.)
I. The first reason why we should never bear false witness or tell a lie is, because it is a MEAN thing. Who was the first person of whom we know that ever told a lie? Satan. Where was this lie told? In the garden of Eden. Satan bore false witness against God. He contradicted God. This was mean of Satan. He did it out of spite. A gentleman once sent his servant to market with the direction to bring home the best thing he could find. He carried home a tongue. He was sent again with the direction to bring home the worst thing he could find. Again he brought home a tongue. This was right; for the tongue is the best thing in the world when properly used, or the worst when not so used.
II. The second reason why we should not do it is, because it is aa UNPROFITABLE thing. People generally expect to make something when they tell a lie.
III. The third reason why we ought not to do this is, because it is DANGEROUS. Lying is like letting water through a bank. When it once begins to run, there is no telling where it will stop. Now, suppose it were possible all at once to draw every bolt and fastening out of that ship as she sails over the ocean, what would become of her? She would fall to pieces directly, and all her cargo would be lost. Well, every family, every village or town, is like such a ship. It is made up of a number of persons bound together. And what binds them together? Why, truth or confidence. Truth among people in society is like the bolt in the ship. If nobody told the truth, and people had no confidence in one another, they could no more live together in families or communities, and do business together, than a number of pieces of timber without bolts to fasten them together could make a ship. Would it not be very dangerous to have a person on board a ship who had a machine for drawing the bolts out, and who was trying to use it all the time? Certainly it would. Well, lying is such a machine.
IV. Our fourth and last reason is, we ought not to do it because it is a WICKED thing. This is shown by —
2. What God does with liars (see Revelation 21:8).
(R. Newton, D. D.)I. First, WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT SENSES IN WHICH A MAN MAY BE SAID TO BEAR FALSE WITNESS AGAINST HIS NEIGHBOUR.
II. THE ENORMITY OF THE SIN OF BEARING FALSE WITNESS. The malignity of an offence arises either from the motives that prompted it or the consequences produced by it. The most usual incitement to defamation is envy, or impatience of the merit, or success of other; a malice raised not by any injury received, but merely by the sight of that happiness which we cannot attain. Calumnies are sometimes the offspring of resentment. When a man is opposed in a design which he cannot justify, and defeated in the prosecution of schemes of tyranny, extortion, or oppression, he seldom fails to revenge his overthrow by blackening that integrity which effected it. The consequences of this crime, whatever be the inducement to commit it, are equally pernicious. He that attacks the reputation of another, invades the most valuable part of his property, and perhaps the only part which he can call his own.
(Bp. J. Taylor, D. D.)I. In HEART a man may fail —
1. By suspecting others unjustly, this is called evil surmising (1 Timothy 6:4), which is when men are suspected of some evil without ground, as Potiphar suspected Joseph.
2. By rash judging, and unjust concluding concerning a man's state, as Job's friends did; or his actions, as Eli did of Hannah, saying, that she was drunk, because of the moving of her lips.
3. By hasty judging, too often passing sentence in our mind from some seeming evidence of that which is only in the heart, and not in the outward practice; this is but to judge before the time, and hastily (Matthew 7:1).
4. There is light judging, laying the weight of conclusions upon arguments that will not bear it, as Job's friends did, and as the barbarians suspected Paul, when they saw the viper on his hand, to be a murderer (Acts 25:4).
5. The breach of this command in the heart may be when suspicion of our neighbour's failing is kept up, and means not used to be satisfied about it, contrary to that (Matthew 18:15). If thy brother offend thee, etc., and when we seek not to be satisfied, but rest on presumptions, when they seem probable.
II. In GESTURE. this command may be broken, by nodding, winking, or such like (and even sometimes by silence), when these import in our accustomed way some tacit sinistrous insinuation, especially when either they are purposed for that end, or when others are known to mistake because of them, and we suffer them to continue under this mistake.
III. By WRITING this command may be broken, as Ezra 5:6.; Nehemiah 6:5, where calumniating rebels are written, and sent by their enemies against the Jews and Nehemiah; in which respect many fail in these days.
IV. But WORDS are most properly the seat wherein this sin is subjected, whether they be only or merely words, or also put in writing, because in these our conformity or disconformity to truth doth most appear.
(R. W. Dale, D. D.)
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