Exodus 20:16
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(16) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.—Our fourth duty to our neighbour is not to injure his character. Our great poet has said—

“Who steals my purse, steals trash,

But he who filches from me my good name,

Robs me of that which not enriches him,

Yet leaves me poor indeed,”—

Thus indicating the fact that calumny may injure a man more than robbery. False witness is, of course, worst when given in a court of justice; and this offence has generally been made punishable by law. It was peculiar to the Hebrew legislation that it not only forbade and punished (Deuteronomy 19:16-20) false testimony of this extreme kind, but denounced also the far commoner, yet scarcely less injurious, practice of spreading untrue reports about others, thus injuring them in men’s esteem. The ninth commandment is broad enough in its terms to cover both forms of the sin, though pointing especially to the form which is of the more heinous character. Lest its wider bearing should be overlooked, the Divine legislator added later a distinct prohibition of calumny in the words. “Thou shalt not raise a false report” (Exodus 23:1).

Exodus 20:16. Thou shalt not bear false witness — This forbids, 1st, Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising and designing to deceive our neighbour. 2d, Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to the prejudice of his reputation. And, 3d, (which is the highest offence of both these put together,) Bearing false witness against him, laying to his charge things that he knows not, either upon oath, by which the third commandment, the sixth, or eighth, as well as this, are broken, or in common converse, slandering, backbiting, tale-bearing, aggravating what is done amiss, and any way endeavouring to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of our neighbour’s.20:12-17 The laws of the SECOND table, that is, the last six of the ten commandments, state our duty to ourselves and to one another, and explain the great commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, Lu 10:27. Godliness and honesty must go together. The fifth commandment concerns the duties we owe to our relations. Honour thy father and thy mother, includes esteem of them, shown in our conduct; obedience to their lawful commands; come when they call you, go where they send you, do what they bid you, refrain from what they forbid you; and this, as children, cheerfully, and from a principle of love. Also submission to their counsels and corrections. Endeavouring, in every thing, to comfort parents, and to make their old age easy; maintaining them if they need support, which our Saviour makes to be particularly intended in this commandment, Mt 15:4-6. Careful observers have noted a peculiar blessing in temporal things on obedient, and the reverse on disobedient children. The sixth commandment requires that we regard the life and the safety of others as we do our own. Magistrates and their officers, and witnesses testifying the truth, do not break this command. Self-defence is lawful; but much which is not deemed murder by the laws of man, is such before God. Furious passions, stirred up by anger or by drunkenness, are no excuse: more guilty is murder in duels, which is a horrible effect of a haughty, revengeful spirit. All fighting, whether for wages, for renown, or out of anger and malice, breaks this command, and the bloodshed therein is murder. To tempt men to vice and crimes which shorten life, may be included. Misconduct, such as may break the heart, or shorten the lives of parents, wives, or other relatives, is a breach of this command. This command forbids all envy, malice, hatred, or anger, all provoking or insulting language. The destruction of our own lives is here forbidden. This commandment requires a spirit of kindness, longsuffering, and forgiveness. The seventh commandment concerns chastity. We should be as much afraid of that which defiles the body, as of that which destroys it. Whatever tends to pollute the imagination, or to raise the passions, falls under this law, as impure pictures, books, conversation, or any other like matters. The eighth commandment is the law of love as it respects the property of others. The portion of worldly things allotted us, as far as it is obtained in an honest way, is the bread which God hath given us; for that we ought to be thankful, to be contented with it, and, in the use of lawful means, to trust Providence for the future. Imposing upon the ignorance, easiness, or necessity of others, and many other things, break God's law, though scarcely blamed in society. Plunderers of kingdoms though above human justice, will be included in this sentence. Defrauding the public, contracting debts without prospect of paying them, or evading payment of just debts, extravagance, all living upon charity when not needful, all squeezing the poor in their wages; these, and such things, break this command; which requires industry, frugality, and content, and to do to others, about worldly property, as we would they should do to us. The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbour's good name. This forbids speaking falsely on any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising or designing to deceive our neighbour. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to hurt his reputation. Bearing false witness against him, or in common conversation slandering, backbiting, and tale-bearing; making what is done amiss, worse than it is, and in any way endeavouring to raise our reputation upon the ruin of our neighbour's. How much this command is every day broken among persons of all ranks! The tenth commandment strikes at the root; Thou shalt not covet. The others forbid all desire of doing what will be an injury to our neighbour; this forbids all wrong desire of having what will gratify ourselves.The right of property is sanctioned in the eighth commandment by an external rule: its deeper meaning is involved in the tenth commandment.8. Remember the sabbath day—implying it was already known, and recognized as a season of sacred rest. The first four commandments [Ex 20:3-11] comprise our duties to God—the other six [Ex 20:12-17] our duties to our fellow men; and as interpreted by Christ, they reach to the government of the heart as well as the lip (Mt 5:17). "If a man do them he shall live in them" [Le 18:5; Ne 9:29]. But, ah! what an if for frail and fallen man. Whoever rests his hope upon the law stands debtor to it all; and in this view every one would be without hope were not "the Lord our Righteousness" [Jer 23:6; 33:16] (Joh 1:17). Heb. not answer, viz. when thou art asked in judgment, Leviticus 5:1 19:16; or, not speak a false testimony, or as a false witness; which doth not only forbid perjury in judgment, but also all unjust censure, slander, backbiting, scorning, false accusation, and the like; and also requires a just and candid judgment of him, and of his words and actions, speaking well of him, as far as truth and justice will permit, and defending his good name against the calumnies and detractions of others.

Against thy neighbour; no, nor for thy neighbours; but he saith against, both because such perjuries, slanders, &c. are most commonly designed against them, and because this is a great aggravation of the sin, when a man not only speaks evil and falsehood, but doth this from malice and ill-will. But under this kind are contained other sins of a like, though less sinful, nature, as in the other commands.

A man’s

neighbour here is not only the Israelite, as some would have it, but any man; as plainly appears,

1. Because that word is frequently used in that sense, not only in the New, as all agree, but also in the Old Testament, as Genesis 11:3 Leviticus 20:10 Esther 1:19 Proverbs 18:17.

2. Because it is so explained, Luke 10:29,36 Ro 13:9, compared with Matthew 22:39.

3. From the reason of the thing, which is common to all; unless a man will be so hardy to say that he may bear false witness against a stranger, though not against an Israelite; and, in like manner, that when God forbids a man to commit adultery with his neighbour’s wife, Leviticus 20:10, he may do it with a stranger’s wife; and that though a man be commanded to speak the truth to his neighbour, Zechariah 8:16, he may tell lies to a stranger.

4. Because the great law of love and charity, which is the life and soul of this and all the commands, and binds us to all; binds us, and bound the Israelites, to strangers, as appears from Exodus 23:4 Leviticus 19:33,34. Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Neither publicly in a court of judicature, by laying things to his charge that are false, and swearing to them, to his hurt and damage; nor privately, by whispering, tale bearing, backbiting, slandering, by telling lies of him, traducing his character by innuendos, sly insinuations, and evil suggestions, whereby he may suffer in his character, credit, and reputation, and in his trade and business; Aben Ezra thinks the words describe the character of the person that is not to bear witness in any court, and to be read thus, "thou shall not answer who art a false witness": or, "O thou false witness": meaning that such an one should not be admitted an evidence in court, who had been convicted already of being a false witness; his word and oath are not to be taken, nor should any questions be put to him, or he suffered to answer to any; his depositions should have no weight with those before whom they were made, nay, even they should not be taken, nor such a person be allowed to make any; but this is to put this precept in a quite different form from all the rest, and without any necessity, since the word may as well be taken for a testimony bore, as for the person that bears it: this is the ninth commandment. Thou shalt not bear false {m} witness against thy neighbour.

(m) But further his good name, and speak truth.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
16. The ninth commandment. Against bearing false witness, primarily in a court of law,—a specially common crime in the East,—but also more generally by taking away the character of a neighbour by false imputations (cf. Exodus 23:1).

bear false witness] lit. answer (in a forensic sense, in a court of law, Deuteronomy 19:16; Deuteronomy 19:18, Numbers 35:30 [EVV. testify], but also more generally, 1 Samuel 12:3 [‘witness’], Deuteronomy 31:21 al. [‘testify’]) as a false witness: Deuteronomy 5:20 has ‘as an empty, insincere, witness’ (the word explained on v. 7). For the penalty for false witness, see Deuteronomy 19:16-21. Cf. Proverbs 14:5; Proverbs 19:5; Proverbs 25:18 (same Heb. as here).Verse 16. - Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. False witness is of two kinds, public and private. We may either seek to damage our neighbour by giving false evidence against him in a court of justice, or simply calumniate him to others in our social intercourse with them. The form of the expression here used points especially to false witness of the former kind, but does not exclude the latter, which is expressly forbidden in Exodus 23:1. The wrong done to a man by false evidence in a court may be a wrong of the very extremest kind - may be actual murder (1 Kings 21:13) More often, however, it results in an injury to his property or his character. As fatal to the administration of justice, false witness in courts has been severely visited by penalties in all well-regulated states. At Athens the false witness was liable to a heavy fine, and if thrice convicted lost all his civil rights. At Rome, by a law of the Twelve Tables, he was hurled headlong from the Tarpeian rock. In Egypt, false witness was punished by amputation of the nose and ears (Records of the Past, vol. 8. p. 65). Private calumny may sometimes involve as serious consequences to individuals as false witness in a court. It may ruin a man; it may madden him; it may drive him to suicide. But it does not disorganise the whole framework of society, like perjured evidence before a tribunal; and states generally are content to leave the injured party to the remedy of an action-at-law. The Mosaic legislation was probably the first wherein it was positively forbidden to circulate reports to the prejudice of another, and where consequently this was a criminal offence. The Fourth Word, "Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy," presupposes an acquaintance with the Sabbath, as the expression "remember" is sufficient to show, but not that the Sabbath had been kept before this. From the history of the creation that had been handed down, Israel must have known, that after God had created the world in six days He rested the seventh day, and by His resting sanctified the day (Genesis 2:3). But hitherto there had been no commandment given to man to sanctify the day. This was given for the first time to Israel at Sinai, after preparation had been made for it by the fact that the manna did not fall on the seventh day of the week (Exodus 16:22). Here therefore the mode of sanctifying it was established for the first time. The seventh day was to be שׁבּי (a festival-keeper, see Exodus 16:23), i.e., a day of rest belonging to the Lord, and to be consecrated to Him by the fact that no work was performed upon it. The command not to do any (כּל) work applied to both man and beast without exception. Those who were to rest are divided into two classes by the omission of the cop. ו before עבדּך (Exodus 20:10): viz., first, free Israelites ("thou") and their children ("thy son and thy daughter"); and secondly, their slaves (man-servant and maid-servant), and cattle (beasts of draught and burden), and their strangers, i.e., foreign labourers who had settled among the Israelites. "Within thy gates" is equivalent to in the cities, towns, and villages of thy land, not in thy houses (cf. Deuteronomy 5:14; Deuteronomy 14:21, etc.). שׁער (a gate) is only applied to the entrances to towns, or large enclosed courts and palaces, never to the entrances into ordinary houses, huts, and tents. מלאכה work (cf. Genesis 2:2), as distinguished from עבדה labour, is not so much a term denoting a lighter kind of labour, as a general and comprehensive term applied to the performance of any task, whether easy or severe. עבדה is the execution of a definite task, whether in field labour (Psalm 104:23) and mechanical employment (Exodus 39:32) on the one hand, or priestly service and the duties connected with worship on the other (Exodus 12:25-26; Numbers 4:47). On the Sabbath (and also on the day of atonement, Leviticus 23:28, Leviticus 23:31) every occupation was to rest; on the other feast-days only laborious occupations (עבדה מלאכת, Leviticus 23:7.), i.e., such occupations as came under the denomination of labour, business, or industrial employment. Consequently, not only were ploughing and reaping (Exodus 34:21), pressing wine and carrying goods (Nehemiah 13:15), bearing burdens (Jeremiah 17:21), carrying on trade (Amos 8:5), and holding markets (Nehemiah 13:15.) prohibited, but collecting manna (Exodus 16:26.), gathering wood (Numbers 15:32.), and kindling fire for the purpose of boiling or baking (Exodus 35:3). The intention of this resting from every occupation on the Sabbath is evident from the foundation upon which the commandment is based in Exodus 20:11, viz., that at the creation of the heaven and the earth Jehovah rested on the seventh day, and therefore blessed the Sabbath-day and hallowed it. This does not imply, however, that "Israel was to follow the Lord by keeping the Sabbath, and, in imitation of His example, to be active where the Lord was active, and rest where the Lord rested; to copy the Lord in accordance with the lofty aim of man, who was created in His likeness, and make the pulsation of the divine life in a certain sense his own" (Schultz). For although a parallel is drawn, between the creation of the world by God in six days and His resting upon the seventh day on the one hand, and the labour of man for six days and his resting upon the seventh on the other; the reason for the keeping of the Sabbath is not to be found in this parallel, but in the fact that God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because He rested upon it. The significance of the Sabbath, therefore, is to be found in God's blessing and sanctifying the seventh day of the week at the creation, i.e., in the fact, that after the work of creation was finished on the seventh day, God blessed and hallowed the created world, filling it with the powers of peace and good belonging to His own blessed rest, and raising it to a participation in the pure light of His holy nature (see Genesis 2:3). For this reason His people Israel were to keep the Sabbath now, not for the purpose of imitating what God had done, and enjoying the blessing of God by thus following God Himself, but that on this day they also might rest from their work; and that all the more, because their work was no longer the work appointed to man at the first, when he was created in the likeness of God, work which did not interrupt his blessedness in God (Genesis 2:15), but that hard labour in the sweat of his brow to which he had been condemned in consequence of the fall. In order therefore that His people might rest from toil so oppressive to both body and soul, and be refreshed, God prescribed the keeping of the Sabbath, that they might thus possess a day for the repose and elevation of their spirits, and a foretaste of the blessedness into which the people of God are at last to enter, the blessedness of the eternal κατάπαυσις ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὐτοῦ (Hebrews 4:10), the ἀνάπαυσις ἐκ τῶν κόπων (Revelation 14:13). See my Archaeologie, 77).

But instead of this objective ground for the sabbatical festival, which furnished the true idea of the Sabbath, when Moses recapitulated the decalogue, he adduced only the subjective aspect of rest or refreshing (Deuteronomy 5:14-15), reminding the people, just as in Exodus 23:12, of their bondage in Egypt and their deliverance from it by the strong arm of Jehovah, and then adding, "therefore (that thou mightest remember this deliverance from bondage) Jehovah commanded thee to keep the Sabbath-day." This is not at variance with the reason given in the present verse, but simply gives prominence to a subjective aspect, which was peculiarly adapted to warm the hearts of the people towards the observance of the Sabbath, and to render the Sabbath rest dear to the people, since it served to keep the Israelites constantly in mind of the rest which Jehovah had procured for them from the slave labour of Egypt. For resting from every work is the basis of the observance of the Sabbath; but this observance is an institution peculiar to the Old Testament, and not to be met with in any other nation, though there are many among whom the division of weeks occurs. The observance of the Sabbath, by being adopted into the decalogue, was made the foundation of all the festal times and observances of the Israelites, as they all culminated in the Sabbath rest. At the same time, as an ἐντολὴ τοῦ νόμον, an ingredient in the Sinaitic law, it belonged to the "shadow of (good) things to come" (Colossians 2:17, cf. Hebrews 10:1), which was to be done away when the "body" in Christ had come. Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), and after the completion of His work, He also rested on the Sabbath. But He rose again on the Sunday; and through His resurrection, which is the pledge to the world of the fruits of His redeeming work, He has made this day the κυριακὴ ἡμέρα (Lord's day) for His Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return, and having finished the judgment upon all His foes to the very last shall lead it to the rest of that eternal Sabbath, which God prepared for the whole creation through His own resting after the completion of the heaven and the earth.

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