The Ninth Commandment

Exodus 20:16

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
May 2014

We have been studying the Ten Commandments and we come today to the Ninth commandment as we come to the last part of this series. It is found in Exodus 20:16.  It says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”.  

This is the second one of the Ten Commandments that deals with a sin of the tongue. Two of the Ten Commandments deal with verbal sins.  One of the verbal sins has to do with God and one has to do with people.  The Third Commandment prohibits taking God’s name in vain. This one prohibits giving false testimony or bearing false witness against your neighbor.  This is one we have all broken.

Psalm 116:11 says that “all men are liars” (KJV) and that statement was not written by a woman but by a man. Groucho Marx said, “There’s one way to find out if a man is honest – ask him. If he says “yes” you know he is a crook.”  Psalm 116:11 is better translated “everyone is a liar” (NIV) or “all mankind are liars” (ESV).

I want to look at what this commandment says and how it applies in our world today.  Karl Barth used to say that we should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  What I have to say today may step on some toes.  Each one of these commandments has powerful applications into our daily life.

In America today lying is not that big of a deal. Our culture almost promotes it.  It is so common that it has almost become socially acceptable. Parents lie to their kids all the time.  They lie to their kids about Santa Claus. They make promises they do not keep. People lie on their resumes. We even call some lies “white lies” because they seem to be harmless. Governments lie.  They fudge on statistics and make numbers lie (unemployment or the number of jobs added).

Politicians tell lies. Bill Clinton held a press conference, shook his finger and said, “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinski”.  He lied to the American people, to Congress and to the courts.  Barak Obama promised the nation twenty-six times that when Obama Care was passed, we would be able to keep our insurance plan and our doctor period and we would all save money but that turned out not to be true for many people.

The White House lied about Benghazi.  They knew from intelligence sources within in the first twenty-four hours that it was a terrorist attack but went ahead and told the American people that it was a spontaneous protest to some offensive video on the Internet.  It was a flat-out lie.  There was no protest or demonstration.  You do not bring rocket-propelled grenades to a peaceful protest.  It was a planned terrorist attack.  It was an assassination.  All of the intelligence on the ground confirmed this.

Of course, lying is not limited to one political party.  Richard Nixon said, “I am not a crook”.  That was a lie.  He lied about his involvement in the Watergate scandal in 1972.  George H. W. Bush said, “Read my lips: no new taxes” in 1988 at the Republican National Convention when he accepted his party’s nomination.  Once in office, he raised taxes.

Did George Bush Lie about WMDs?

Liberals have said repeatedly that George Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The liberal line at the time was “Bush lied; people died.”  Some even called for him to be impeached over this. Did Bush lie about WMDs?

The answer is No.  This is a common myth. This is a fairly simple concept but many people do not know what lying is.  An intelligence failure is not the same thing as a lie.  Saying something that is not true is not the same thing as lying. Making a false statement is not the same thing as making a lie.  Every student who gives a false answer on a test is not lying.  An incorrect answer on a test is not a lie but an error.

A lie is a false statement that is deliberately presented as being true when someone knows that it is false. A liar is someone who knows one thing to be true but says something else in an attempt to deceive people.  George Bush was wrong about weapons of mass destruction but he didn’t lie.

He actually believed Saddam Hussein had WMDs based on the intelligence that we had and based on the intelligence that Great Britain and other countries had. It is not a lie to say something that is not true.  If he lied about WMDs, so did Hillary Clinton and all of the other Democrats who also believed that they were in Iraq.

The Ninth Commandment says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”.  How do you do that?  There are two main ways we do this. The first way is to take the stand, give testimony and lie in a courtroom.  That is called perjury.  It is deliberately giving false testimony in a court of law.

Perjury is a serious matter. It is a felony in North Carolina.  In biblical times, people’s lives were at stake.  Proverbs 18:21 says “The tongue has the power of life and death.” In the Bible, false witnesses did a lot of damage.  False witnesses caused Stephen to be stoned and Jesus to be crucified.  They accused Jesus of predicting to destroy the Temple.  They said said that Stephen spoke against the Temple and against the Law of Moses.  They framed them for a crime they did not commit.

If you take the stand and lie under oath, you break the Ninth Commandment.  There are two different ways people do this. You can lie to condemn the innocent or you can lie to protect the guilty.  Some take the stand and lie about someone who is completely innocent. Many take the stand and try to cover up or protect a friend or family member. The world says, “Don’t be a snitch”.  God says, “Don’t be a false witness”.

That is the first way to break this commandment – to give false testimony in a legal setting.  Here’s the problem.  Very few of us have given false testimony in a court of law. Few of us have ever committed perjury. In fact, very few of us have ever even been called to testify in a court of law or taken the witness stand in a criminal trial.

Does this commandment still apply to us? Yes. The Ninth Commandment is NOT limited to the courtroom.  It is not limited to perjury.  It does not say, “You shall not give false testimony when you take the witness stand or “whenever you enter a courtroom”.  It simply says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”. 

It is possible to bear false witness against our neighbor OUTSIDE of the courtroom. It is possible to make up complete lies about someone and slander them.  That is bearing false witness AGAINST your neighbor.  We just completed a primary in North Carolina.  That is precisely what many of the political ads do.  They try to destroy the character of an opposing candidate.  They try to smear their opponent as much as possible, so they can get elected into office.  Many of those ads violate this commandment.

I have a friend whose wife committed multiple affairs and eventually decided to leave her husband for another man.  A year later, she calls Child Protective Services and accused him of molesting his kids, not based on any evidence but just to get back at him and try to take his kids away from him.

The whole point of the Ninth Commandment is to be truthful to people. Tell the truth. Tell the truth in court.  Tell the truth outside of court.  What was the point of the Sixth Commandment? Life is sacred. Life is sacred, so we should not murder people. What was the point of the Seventh Commandment? Marriage is sacred. We are to stay faithful to our spouse and not commit adultery, because marriage is a sacred institution created by God.

What was the point of the Eighth Commandment? Property is sacred. That is why we are not to take things from people without their consent or permission. What was the point of the Ninth Commandment?  Truth is sacred. Because truth is sacred, we should not lie to people. What does the Bible say about lying?

The Bible and Lying

1. God does not lie.

Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (NIV).  Titus 1:1-2 says, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness- in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (NIV).

God does not lie.  He NEVER lies. In fact, the Bible says that God CANNOT lie.  Hebrews 6:18 says,God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.” (NIV). In the Bible, God is called “the God of truth” (Isaiah 65:16; Psalm 31:5). Truth is part of his nature. Lying is completely contrary to his nature.

We should act like God.  Honesty is an important character trait. Colossians 3:9-10 says, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (NIV).  Ephesians 4:25 says, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

2. Lying comes from Satan.

Jesus said,  “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44 NIV).  That tells us two things.  One, that the Devil is the father of some people.  Two, those people act like him and one of the things Satan does is lie.  Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies.

He is the one who invented lying. God told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they would surely die. Satan told them that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they would not surely die. The first lie found in the Bible is in Genesis 3:4 and Satan was the one who was doing the lying. Lying comes from Satan and when we lie, we are most like Satan (cf. Acts 5:3).  That is different from what the world says.  The world says that lying is normal and everyone does it.

3. God hates lying.

He hates a lying tongue. He hates lying lips. He does not just not lie, He hates lying.  “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,  a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict” (Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV).  Notice that two of the six things that God hates have to do with lying. Proverbs 12:22 says, The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.  The old KJV reads “lying lips are an abomination”.

What God hates, we should hate. We should hate lying as well.  If God hates lying, we should hate lying.  David said in Psalm 119:163, “I hate and detest falsehood but I love your law.” (NIV)  Proverbs 13:5 says, “The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves.” (NIV)  We should hate lying in our kids.  We should hate it in our politicians.  We should hate it in our friends.  We should hate it in ourselves.  Do you hate it when people lie or do you accept is as normal and rationalize it?

4. All liars will be punished (Proverbs 19:5, 9)

Lying may be tolerated and accepted in our country but it is not tolerated an accepted by God. Proverbs 19:5 says, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.” (ESV). The NT says that liars will be excluded from heaven. “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 ESV).

They will be excluded from Heaven. They may not kill anyone or steal anything but they are still excluded from heaven.  “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 22:15 NIV). The OT said the same thing.  “No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.” (Psalm 101:7 ESV) What does that mean? That would seem to exclude everyone, because everyone has told a lie

This is not just talking about people who lie, it is talking about people who love to lie (Revelation 22:15). It is talking about habitual liars and pathological liars. It is talking about people who lie all the time and think nothing about it. These are people for whom lying is second nature. There are some people who lie so much that they have difficulty separating fact from fiction.

Is withholding information lying? 

An omission is not the same thing as a lie. We must always tell the truth but that does not mean that we always have to tell the whole truth. As one person put it, “Honesty means that everything you say is true, not that everything that is true must be said.” If someone asks you how much money is in your bank account or what your credit card number is or how much money we make, you don’t have to tell them. When someone asks, how are you? you do not have to explain every detail in your life. Being selective is not the same thing as being dishonest.  There are biblical examples of this.

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.” The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” 

Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?” Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. (I Samuel 16:1-5 NIV)

God rejected Saul as king and sent Samuel to Bethlehem to pick out another king but he told Saul he came to offer sacrifice to the Lord and God told him to do it, so it must not have been wrong. Did Samuel lie? No. He did offer an animal sacrifice and invited Jesse and all of his sons to the sacrifice. Was that his only purpose in coming to Bethlehem? No. Did Samuel lie to Saul? No. Did he reveal his true intentions to Saul? No. There is some times when we have to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth (such as when we are on the witness stand and take an oath to do so).

There are other times when it would actually be wrong to tell the whole truth to people. Speaking the truth to people does not give us a right to be rude to people and to insult people. That answers the question, what do you say to the lady in the ugly dress or to the person with the really bad haircut or to the person who made you a really bad dinner?

Sometimes, we don’t have to say anything or we can be evasive. That is the old “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” philosophy. Some people use honesty as an excuse just to be mean to people. We are also commanded to be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32; I Corinthians 13:4; Colossians 3:12). Kindness is one of the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

Is deception is the same thing as lying?

We use the two words interchangeably but they are not exactly the same. Both involve deception but there is a difference between the two. Lying requires that a person make a statement. It is verbal.  All lies are involve deception but not all deception is lying.

Are all deceptions wrong? Not necessarily. Is it wrong to have a poker face when playing cards? Is wrong to use a fake in basketball? That is a deception. You say, that is just a game? Okay is it wrong to leave the lights on in your house when you go on vacation? People do that to deceive intruders.  You could say that this involves the observer fooling himself.

Hunters use traps and blinds; fishermen, lures and bait. Magicians use deception all of the time. Is that wrong? Most magic tricks are a form of deception. The police use deception as well (e.g., undercover operations). They have empty police cars parked to get people to slow down. Are soldiers allowed to use deception to fight the enemy? Camouflage is a form of deception. One Chinese philosopher said, “All warfare is based on deception.” (Sun Tzu).

Is Lying Ever Justified?

Are there times when it would be okay to lie? Is lying ever justified? If a distraught woman runs past you and says “help me” and is followed by a deranged individual with a knife, asking where his wife went, do you tell him? If you were living in Nazi Germany and the Nazis come to your house and asks if you are hiding any Jews, do you tell the truth or do you lie?

The Bible even has an example like this. In Joshua 2, twelve Jewish spies were sent to spy out the land of Canaan and two ended up staying with Rahab. She took the spies in, hid them and then when the authorities asked where they were, she lied about it. These are moral dilemmas.

A Moral Dilemma

What is a moral dilemma? A moral dilemma is a situation when you have only two options to choose from and both are wrong. Do you tell the truth or do you endanger a human life? That is a moral or ethical dilemma. Did Rahab do the right thing when she lied? I do not have the answer but there are two possible answers that evangelicals have taken on this question. You can decide which one you think is right.

Did Rahab do the Wrong Thing?

Lying is wrong. It is always wrong and even though she is praised in the NT, she is never praised for lying. She is praised for her works and for her faith. That is true. The question then becomes What should she have done in this situation? What would you have done in her situation?

Did Rahab do the Right Thing?

There is not one word of criticism of Rahab anywhere in Scripture. She is only praised for what she did. She is not only put in the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1), she is part of the hall of fame of faith in Hebrews 11. She saved the lives of the spies. It was the right thing to do because a greater moral good was served. In the same way, the Apostles served a greater moral good when they disobeyed the government in Acts 4 and continued to preach the gospel.  Joshua 2 says that she did what she did out of a fear of God and not man.












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