Exodus 23:6


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 wrest the judgment.
I. That judges should be IMPARTIAL.

1. In particular towards the poor (ver. 6).(1) Because the poor are most open to the oppression of the powerful.(2) Because the poor are often at a disadvantage for the want of technical knowledge or means to procure legal assistance.(3) Because the poor are easily overawed.

2. In general towards the right (ver. 7, first clause). Not to aid or abet a wrong cause.

II. That judges should be CAUTIOUS, particularly with regard to matters relating to capital punishment. "The innocent and righteous slay thou not."

1. The case must be clearly proved.

2. The accused to have the benefit of the doubt.

3. Because justice would be done. If the criminal escaped an earthly doom, God would "not justify the wicked" (Proverbs 11:21).

III. That judges should be INCORRUPT (ver. 8), either in the shape of direct bribe or indirect present.

1. Because the bribe may blind him to the true merit of the case; and —

2. Because the bribe may weigh down and pervert his judgment on the wrong side.

IV. That judges should be CONSIDERATE (ver. 9), particularly in regard to foreigners. Because —

1. They had been foreigners themselves, and had suffered for the want of consideration.

2. They therefore knew something of the sufferings of foreigners.(1) Foreigners may be ignorant of the law and unwittingly break it.(2) When broken, they may know nothing of legal technicalities, or be unable to pay legal expenses.

(J. W. Burn.)

There was a close connection between the civil and the military constitution of the Hebrews. The same men who were captains of thousands and captains of hundreds in war were magistrates in time of peace. In every Oriental state the point of greatest weakness is the administration of justice. Those who have lived long in the East testify that there is no such thing as justice; that no cadi, sitting in the place of judgment, ever pretends to such exceptional virtue as to be above receiving bribes. The utmost that can be expected is the hypocrisy which is the homage of vice to virtue; and even this is seldom rendered, for where bribery is universal no one is constrained by shame to conceal it. Against this terrible demoralization no rock can stand but that of the Divine authority. In the administration of justice a theocracy is an ideal government, for it is Divinity enthroned on earth as in heaven; and no other form of government enforces justice in a manner so absolute and peremptory. In the eyes of the Hebrew lawgiver, the civil tribunal was as sacred as the Holy of Holies. The office of the judge was as truly authorized and his duty as solemnly enjoined as that of the priest. "The judgment is God's," said Moses; and he who gave a false judgment disregarded the authority of Him whose nature is justice and truth. The judgment-seat was a holy place, which no private malice might profane. Evidence was received with religious care. Oaths were administered to give solemnity to the testimony (Leviticus 5:1). Then the judge, standing in the place of God, was to pronounce equitably, whatever might be the rank of the contending parties (Deuteronomy 1:17). He recognized no distinctions; all were alike to him. The judge was to know no difference. He was not to be biased even by sympathy for the poor (Exodus 23:3; Leviticus 19:15). Magistrates were not allowed to accept a gift, for fear of bribery.

(H. M. Field, D. D.)

Persuaded that Marvell would be theirs (the Administration's) for properly asking, they sent his old schoolfellow, the Lord Treasurer Danby, to renew acquaintance with him in his garret. At parting, the Lord Treasurer, out of pure affection, slipped into his hand an order upon the Treasury for £1,000, and then went to his chariot. Marvell, looking at the paper, called after the Treasurer, "My lord, I request another moment." They went up again to the garret, and Jack, the servant-boy, was called. "Jack, child, what had I for dinner yesterday?" "Don't you remember, sir? You had the little shoulder of mutton that you ordered me to bring from the woman in the market." "Very right, child. What have I for dinner to-day?" "Don't you know, sir, that you bade me lay by the blade-bone to broil?" "'Tis so; very right, child; go away. My lord, do you hear that? Andrew Marvell's dinner is provided. There's your piece of paper — I want it not. I know the sort of kindness you intended. I live here to serve my constituents. The Ministry may seek men for their purpose. I am not one."

(Coleridge.)

"Why," asked one of the English Tortes of the Tory Governor of Massachusetts — "why hath not Mr. Adams been taken off from his opposition by an office?" To which the Governor replied, "Such is the obstinacy and inflexible disposition of the man, that he never would be conciliated by any office whatever." His daughter used to say that her father refused a pension from the British Government of £2,000 a year. Once, when a secret messenger from General Gage threatened him with a trial for treason if he persisted in his opposition to the Government and promised him honours and wealth if he would desist, Adams rose to his feet and replied, "Sir, I trust I have long since made my peace with the King of kings. No personal consideration shall induce me to abandon the righteous cause of my country."

I dare say many of you may have heard of the celebrated Sir Matthew Hale, that he was in the habit of receiving a present from a person annually; and it happened once, that about the usual time when this friend made him the present, that he was accused of some offence, and was to appear as an accused person before Sir Matthew Hale. On this occasion Sir Matthew Hale returned him the present, lest it should afford even the shadow of a suspicion that the purity of judicial impartiality should be disturbed, or seem to be disturbed, by a gift from one who was to appear before the court accused of an offence, and demanding a fair trial. And I believe still it would be thought the most scandalous outrage upon our constitution, and every judge would repudiate it with scorn and disdain, were any one, expecting to have his cause tried by that judge, to attempt to propitiate his favour by gifts. Now, this beautiful rule — so just, so reasonable, so proper — was anticipated and was known, you observe, three thousand years ago, and was first revealed by Him who is the Fountain of all wisdom and justice.

(J. Cumming, D. D.)

A speculator heard that an amalgamation between two joint-stock companies was projected, which would afford an opportunity to make a large sum of money by prompt purchases of shares. He was acquainted with an official holding a subordinate and poorly paid position in one of the companies, and went to him to obtain reliable information. But the official was a Christian and a man of honour, and knowing the information would operate to the disadvantage of his employers, refused to say whether the amalgamation was contemplated or not. "I can make £60,000 by my speculation if you will tell me," said the tempter, "and I will give you half." "I cannot betray my trust," was the reply. "You need not speak," said the speculator; "just wink your eye and I shall know, and you shall have £30,000." The temptation was fierce, but the Christian conquered it. A few days afterwards, when the amalgamation was completed, the speculator reproached his acquaintance for not giving the information, but he was told that an approving conscience was above price. It is satisfactory to learn that the faithful official prospered in his subsequent career, and is now receiving a salary of £5,000 a year.

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