We all recognize this. It’s the 9th commandment. It’s often understood today as “don’t lie.” Let’s take a look at this commandment and why it was included, why it was so important in the world of the Israelites.
During the time of the Exodus the Israelites didn’t have the court systems that we have today for settling disputes like we do today. May other things were also missing. The people didn’t have many of the means of gather evidence like we do today. Limited written records, no forensic science. Disputes were settled via testimony those involved in or witnessing. One of Moses’ main responsibilities was to judge these disputes. It took so much of his time that, eventually, he delegated these tasks to tribal leaders and priests for all but the most important disputes.
For most disputes, the testimony of two or more witnesses was required to settle the case. The penalty for giving false testimony was to receive the same penalty that would have been given to the charged party had he been found guilty. This could even include death for the person bearing false witness in a capital case. Keeping civil order among the people depended very heavily on honesty in court cases and settlement of disputes. The “against thy neighbor” was extremely important in the application of this commandment in the time of the Exodus.
In explaining this commandment and its application, Jesus expanded its meaning to include all lies or (knowingly) untrue statements. Very simple, in Jesus’ explanation, knowingly making an untrue statement is an offense to God. Lying separates us from God and is, therefore, a sin.
Today we place much less emphasis as a society on being truthful. Whether in business negotiations, when preparing our taxes or even in court cases, lying is commonly accepted and even perjury in court cases is seldom prosecuted. The oath to “tell the truth” is often given little value.
Perhaps our society would benefit if we returned to the practice of applying the same penalty to a person who lies to what the accused would have received if found guilty!
Shalom, Art Alive in The Word
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