The ninth commandment is more than simply lying. The commandment forbids us from giving false testimony against our neighbor.
What we don’t know about the Hebrew language hinders our full understanding of this passage. In the Hebrew, the word neighbor means anyone you’re in close contact with. There is also a judicial understanding in the text. For the original audience it was not giving false testimony in the courtroom. In a time when forensic science was unavailable the courtroom could shift on the testimony of one person. If that testimony was false, it could lead to the loss of life.
Let's look at the life of Joseph and how his brothers stole him and sold him into slavery. The slave traders took him to Egypt and sold him to a man named Potiphar. While living in Potiphar’s home, Jospeh excelled. He was basically put in charge of the entire home:
The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.Genesis 39:2-6
But there was a problem. Potiphar’s wife had longing eyes for Jospeh. She wanted to have sexual relations with Joseph but he refused time and time again. One day the house was empty and tragedy struck:
One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”Genesis 39:11-15
Potiphar’s wife lied about Joseph and it hurt him. Of course he would loose his status in the home. He might have to go to trail for attempted rape. She gave false testimony against him to her master and it landed Jospeh in Jail. Now Scripture teaches us that Joseph was innocent. We know this because in Genesis 39:1 we read that Potiphar was the captain of the guard. He was a military official. If he suspected that Joseph had tried anything funny with his wife, he would have had him killed. Potiphar knew his wife was was lying and spared Joseph’s life.
Listen to how the Lord feels about lying:
The Lord detests lying lips,but he delights in people who are trustworthy.Proverbs 12:22
The Lord detests lying lips. The Lord knows that lying hurts others, lands people in jail, and has the potential for the loss of life. That is why we are commanded not to lie.
If you have been lying will you submit yourself to the examination of the Holy Spirit to search you and find where those lies are hidden?
Will you allow the Lord to examine you, as a judge examines a court case, and find where lying is hurting your walk with the Lord?
Our neighbor is anyone we are in close proximity to. But it goes further! Listen to this: “In laws and formal rules, neighbor has nothing to do with proximity or familiarity; your “neighbor” connotes any other human being you may have dealings with, actually or potentially. -Douglas K Stuart.
The impact of false testimony
For the original audience there was a huge ramification for giving false testimony. That impact echos forward to today. If someone went on the stand to give false testimony against their neighbor it could lead to the loss of life. There is a captivating story in 1 Kings 3 about two prostitutes who stand before the young king Solomon. They are living in the same home when one woman rolls over on her son in the middle of the night. She proceeds to take her dead son to her roommate and steals her living son. She swaps the dead baby for the living baby.
The mother wakes up in the morning and sees her son is dead… but it’s not really her son. The case is brought to the king. The evidence is there. One living baby and one dead baby. Two women. Two different stories. The king needs wisdom in making this decision because the stories don’t line up
False testimony could have cost the life of another child in this story. Solomon uses the wisdom God gave him to judge the trail. But this didn’t have to get this way. If the one woman would have told the truth the whole situation could have been solved.
The story doesn’t tell us the punishment of the lying woman. We could look at the Levitical Law and conclude that her punishment could have been death. This woman not only lied but she stole another person. She became a kidnapper because of the pain of her loss.
I wonder what would have happened if she decided to tell the truth. She might have woke up in the middle of the night and wailed. She could have cried with her roommate and grieved the loss of her son. Maybe she would have changed her ways and not stolen a child. Her pain became pain for another. Her lying hurt.
This story reminds me about how important it is for us to have friends who we can be honest with. So often we ask each other: “How are you doing?” It’s a great question but in our culture it has become a greeting. We don’t tell people how we’re really doing. And there is another layer. Most people are so busy they don’t have time to listen to your answer. We need friends who listen to us.
Listen to what Dr. John J. Ratey wrote, “In modern life, people tend to have fewer friends and less support, because there’s no tribe. Being alone is not good….”
The importance of having friends helps us to keep accountable open telling the truth. When we tell the truth we live in the light. Listen to what the Apostle John taught us on telling the truth (read 1 John 1:6-7). If we claim to be Jesus followers we need to excel in telling the truth. If there is anyone in the world who tells the truth it needs to be those who call themselves Christians. We should excel at telling the truth because we are in relationship with the truth. That friendship encourages us to be relationship with others who keep us accountable to truth telling.
I love what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 6:14). If you are having trouble with telling the truth. memorize this verse. Every morning you and physically put on the belt of truth as you commit to telling the truth. Don’t say: “I’m going to try to tell the truth.” Say: “I am a truth teller.” If we say we will try to tell the truth we will fail. Commit to truth telling. Clothe yourself in the truth and watch how your life changes.