Exodus 23:1
In pursuance of its great requirement of love to one's neighbour, the law next prohibits the raising of a false report, the bearing of false witness in a court of justice, and the wresting of judgment. Recognising however, that "out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew 15:19), the taw, in addition to forbidding the outward acts, is at pains to warn against the motives and influences which most commonly lead to these acts. This section naturally follows the catalogue of "rights' in previous chapters, as dealing with cases of litigation arising on the basis of these "rights." Notice: -

I. THE SINS PROHIBITED.

1. The raising of a false report. This also is a species of false witness, though of a less formal character than the bearing of false witness in a court of justice. The forms it may assume are innumerable. The three principal are: -

(1) Deliberate invention and circulation of falsehoods.

(2) Innuendo, or malicious suggestion.

(3) Distortion or deceitful colouring of actual facts.

In God's sight slander ranks as one of the worst of off, aces. It indicates great malevolence. It is grievously unjust and injurious to the person traduced. It is certain to be taken up, and industriously propagated. For a calumny is never wholly wiped out. There are always some evil-speaking persons disposed to believe and repeat it. It affixes a mark on the injured party which may remain on him through life. Everyone is interested in the suppression of such an offence - the parties immediately concerned, the Church, society at large, the magistracy, God himself - of one of whose commandments (the 9th) it is a daring violation. It is a form of vice which should incur the emphatic reprobation of society, and which, where possible, should be visited with heavy legal penalties.

2. False witness in court. This, as a deliberate attempt to poison the stream of public justice, is a crime which admits of no palliation. It is a form of vice which, so far as we know, has never found a defender. All ages and all societies have united in condemning it as an offence deserving of severe punishment. Yet many a privately-circulated slander may do more harm than a falsehood uttered in the witness-box. God judges of these matters, not by their legal but by their moral turpitude.

3. Wresting of judgment. The corruption of public justice here reaches the fountain head. The judge who gives dishonest decisions betrays the cause of righteousness. He misrepresents the mind of God. He inflicts irremediable injury on the innocent. He opens a floodgate to iniquity. Few men, therefore, are guiltier than he. God will not spare him in the day of his judgment. Even in private life, however, we need to beware of judging rashly, of judging with bias and prejudice, of judging so as to do wrong to individuals, of judging so as to injure truth and retard progress and- improvement. This also is "wresting judgment."

II. MOTIVES LEADING TO THESE SINS.

1. The influence of the crowd (ver. 2). There is an infectiousness in the example of a crowd which only a firm back-bone of principle, and some independence of mind, will enable us to resist. The tendency is to follow the multitude, even when it is to do evil.

(1) Men like to be on the side that is popular. They dread the reproach of singularity. There are those who would almost rather die than be out of the fashion.

(2) A crowd can ridicule, and a crowd can intimidate. It may put pressure upon us which we have not the moral courage to resist.

(3) A thing, besides, does not look so evil, when many are engaged in doing it. They do not, of course, call it evil. They put new names upon it, and. laugh at us for our scruples. This may lead us to think that the course in which we are asked to join is not so very bad after all. So we belie or dissemble our real convictions, and do what the crowd bids us. To such influences we are certain to fall a prey, if we are governed by the fear of man more than by the fear of God (Acts 4:19, 20), or if we seek the praise of man more than the honour which comes from God (John 5:44; John 12:4:3). As counteractives to the influence of the crowd we do well to remember that the "vox populi is not always vox Dei;" that the fashion of the clay can never make that right which the law of God declares to be wrong; that the voice of the multitude is one thing to-day, and another thing to-morrow, while truth and duty remain one and the same; that whatever others think, it can never be lawful for us to act contrary to our own convictions; that if the multitude are bent on doing evil, it is our duty, not to go with them, but to be witnesses for the truth in opposition to their courses; that great guilt attaches to us if we do wrong simply in deference to popular sentiment; finally, that there is one who judges us, that is, God, and that he will surely call us to account for all such unfaithfulness to conviction (ver. 7).

2. False sympathy. Judgment was not to be wrested, nor false witness given, out of any quasi-benevolent wish to do a good turn to the poor (ver. 3). The poor man is not to be unjustly dealt with (ver. 6), but neither is he to receive favour. A court of law is not the place for sentiment. Equal measure is to be meted out to all. Judgment is to be given impartially as between brother and brother; rich and poor; citizen and foreigner (ver. 9); applying the same principles to each case, and keeping in view the essential merits as the sole thing to be regarded.

3. Enmity. Emnity to another, or the consideration of another's enmity to us, is not to be allowed to sway us in giving judgment in his cause, or in any other matter in which his rights are affected. This seems to be the connection of vers. 4, 5, with what precedes and follows; but the duty is taught somewhat indirectly by laying down the principle that enmity is not to be allowed to influence us at all, in any of our dealings with our neighbours. The illustrations taken are very striking, and fairly anticipate the gospel inculcation of love to enemies (cf. Deuteronomy 22:1, 4). If an enemy's ox or ass was seen going astray, the Israelite was not to hide himself, and let it go, but was "surely" to take it back again. Or if his enemy's ass fell under a burden, he was not to yield to the temptation to forbear help, but was "surely" to help him to lift it up. A fortiori, he was not to allow himself to be in any way influenced by enmity in giving evidence before the judges, or in pronouncing judgment on a cause brought before him.

4. Covetenseness. (Ver. 8.) This forbids bribery. It is impossible for a judge to take a bribe, whether given directly or indirectly, and yet retain his integrity. Despite of himself, the gift will blind his eyes, and pervert his words. For the same reason a man can never be an impartial judge in his own cause. - J.O.







Thou shalt not raise a false report.
I. Slander is CHARACTERIZED.

1. Originating a false report. It may be from —

(1)Envy.

(2)Carelessness.

(3)Hasty conclusions.

2. Listening to false reports.

3. Circulating a false report.

II. Slander is PROHIBITED.

1. Affecting antecedents.

2. Affecting character.

3. Affecting family or social relations.

4. Affecting goods.

III. Slander is PUNISHED. The slanderer is —

1. Excluded from religious fellowship (Psalm 15:3).

2. Exposed to contempt of mankind (Proverbs 10:18).

3. Object of Divine vengeance (Psalm 10:5).

4. Excluded from kingdom of heaven (Revelation 22:15).

(J. W. Burn.)

The tongue of the slanderer is a devouring fire, which tarnishes whatever it touches; which exercises its fury on the good grain equally as on the chaff, on the profane as on the sacred: which, wherever it passes, leaves only desolation and ruin; digs even into the bowels of the earth, and fixes itself on things the most hidden; turns into vile ashes what only a moment before had appeared to us so precious and brilliant; acts with more violence and danger than ever in the time when it was apparently smothered up and almost extinct; which blackens what it cannot consume, and sometimes sparkles and delights before it destroys.

(Massillon.)

The worthiest persons are frequently attacked by slanders, as we generally find that to be the best fruit which the birds have been pecking at.

(Bacon.)

The celebrated Boerhaave, who had many enemies, used to say that he never thought it necessary to repeat their calumnies. "They are sparks," said he, "which, if you do not blow them, will go out of themselves. The surest method against scandal is to live it down by perseverance in well-doing, and by prayer to God, that He would cure the distempered minds of those who traduce and injure us." It was a good remark of another, that "the malice of ill tongues cast upon a good man is only like a mouthful of smoke blown upon a diamond, which, though it clouds its beauty for the present, yet it is easily rubbed off, and the gem restored, with little trouble to its owner."

When any one was speaking ill of another in the presence of Peter the Great, he would shortly interrupt him, and say, "Well now; but has he not a bright side? Come, tell me what have you noticed as excellent in him! It is easy to splash mud; but I would rather help a man to keep his coat clean."

Calumny would soon starve and die of itself, if nobody took it in, and gave it lodging.

(Leighton.)There would not be so many open mouths if there were not so many open ears.

(Bishop Hall.)

It is AElian's observation, how that men being in danger to be stung by scorpions, use to place their beds in water, yet the politic serpents have a device to reach them: they get up to the top of the house, where one takes hold, the next hangs at the end of him, a third upon the second, a fourth upon the third, and so making a kind of serpentine rope, they at last wound the man. And thus it is, that amongst scandalizers and slanderers, one begins to whisper, another makes it a report, a third enlargeth it to a dangerous calumny, a fourth divulgeth it for a truth. So the innocent man's good name, which, like a merchant's wealth, got in many years, and lost in an hour, is maimed, and so secretly traduced, that it is somewhat hard to find out the villain that did it.

(J. Spencer.)

The Rev. C.H. Spurgeon has given publicity to the following letter: "Dear Mr. Spurgeon, — As I see that you are still occasionally put to the trouble of answering inquiries as to the truth of various anecdotes, etc., concerning yourself, I thought the following brief statement might interest you, or some of your numerous readers, if you think it well to publish it. About seventeen years ago I was for some time at a well-known health resort on the south coast. At the table d'hote I sat next to a young married lady, who was, alas! consumptive, and of that temperament which is so common in such cases, tres spirituelle, and very learned and accomplished. You may be sure she never lacked auditors for her lively conversation. At dessert one day she was 'telling stories' (in the literal and juvenile sense of the phrase) about yourself. I let her go on for some time, until I thought the fun was getting a little too fast; and then I said, 'I hope Mrs., you do not believe the stories you are detailing, because I assure you, I heard nearly all of them in my boyhood, before Mr. Spurgeon was born, and that most of them were then attributed to Rowland Hill — doubtless with equal lack of authenticity.' She looked me calmly in the face, with a comical expression, and replied, 'Oh, Mr. — , we never ask whether such stories are true; it is quite sufficient if we find them amusing.' 'Well,' I said, 'so long as that is understood all round, by all means keep on.' The poor, brilliant, thoughtless woman and her husband also have many years since passed away; but she has many, many successors, who are without her wit, and not quite so goodhumouredly candid as to their practice. If only you can get it 'understood all round ' that such folk really do not consider whether their 'anecdotes' are true or not, it might save you some trouble. Yours faithfully." Mr. Spurgeon himself adds: "This is quite true, but it is a pity that people should lie in jest. The lady was let off very easily. Our friend has touched the root of the matter, It is not malice, but the passion for amusement, which creates the trade in falsehood, which never seems to decline."

Apelles painted her thus: There sits a man with great and open ears, inviting Calumny, with his hand held out, to come to him; and two women, Ignorance and Suspicion, stand near him. Calumny breaks out in a fury; her countenance is comely and beautiful, her eyes sparkle like fire, and her face is inflamed with anger; she holds a lighted torch in her left hand, and with her right twists a young man's neck, who holds up his hands in prayer to the gods. Before her goes Envy, pale and nasty; on her side are Fraud and Conspiracy; behind her follows Repentance, clad in mourning, and her clothes torn, with her head turned backwards, as if she looked for Truth, who comes slowly after.

(A. Tooke.)

Often are the most painful wrongs inflicted through the medium of covert inuendoes and malignant insinuations. Half of a fact is a whole falsehood. He who gives the truth a false colouring by a false manner of telling it is the worst of liars. Such was Doeg in his testimony against the priests. He stated the facts in the case, but gave them such an artful interpretation as to impart to them the aspect and influence of the most flagrant falsehoods. It was through the same mode of procedure that our Lord was condemned.

An unrighteous witness
I. NOT TO CO-OPERATE IN AN UNRIGHTEOUS CAUSE (ver. 1). This "commandment is exceeding broad," and conveys a lesson —

1. To judicial witnesses.

(1)Personal friendships.

(2)The guilt of the accused on some other point.

(3)A show of justice must not influence us.

2. To all partisans, controversialists, politicians.

3. To trades unionists, etc.

II. NOT TO CO-OPERATE IN ANY UNRIGHTEOUS CAUSE BECAUSE IT IS POPULAR (ver. 2).

1. Because majorities are no test of truth. Multitudes may be roused by passion, prejudice, or self-interest.

2. Because men should be weighed as well as counted.

3. Because righteousness, from the constitution of human nature, is often unpopular and in the minority.

III. NOT TO CO-OPERATE IN AN UNRIGHTEOUS CAUSE BECAUSE IT IS APPARENTLY BENEVOLENT (ver. 3; Leviticus 19:15).

1. Because we may be putting a premium on vice which is the source of all misery.

(1)By endeavouring to conceal the crime.

(2)By extolling other virtues, so as to minimize the enormity of guilt. But to what purpose is it if we extol a man's honesty, if he is lazy, or a drunkard; or his sobriety, if a thief?

2. Because justice is above mere sentiment, and for the well-being of the whole community, and not for the exclusive benefit of a class.

3. Because of its influence on the object himself. Let a man feel that you do this or that for him simply because he is poor, and he will see no advantage in helping himself.Learn then —

1. To entertain none but righteous considerations.

2. To pursue them at all cost.

(J. W. Burn.)

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