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A Witness Without a Cause
“Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause; and deceive not with thy lips.”
1. In this proverb, the author speaks of one’s testimony in court.
2. Two commands are given in that setting.
3. Both have to do with dishonesty and deception.
1. The injunction against bearing false witness:
a. Witness: one who gives a verbal testimony; one who serves as a witness; one who gives evidence of what he knows in a formal, legal setting;
b. The readers are commanded NOT to give a verbal testimony or give any kind of evidence in a formal legal setting “without cause.”
c. Ex. 20:16 – This is basically the same command as the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
d. In other words, all testimony in court must have a just cause. It must be accurate, truthful, and honest.
e. Bearing false witness in court could cost an innocent person his reputation, his freedom, his property, or even his life.
f. This is an exceptionally serious command because God is a God of truth and hates that which is false.
i. Prov. 6:19 – It is one of the seven deadly sins that God especially hates!
ii. Prov. 12:22 – lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.
iii. Jesus said, “I am the Truth.” Of course lies and deception are hated by Him.
g. But it is also serious because of the damage and harm it can to do other men.
h. Ex. 23:1 – Moses states here that they were not to join with others in raising a false report against someone.
i. Don’t be part of a conspiracy against someone.
ii. Don’t allow peer pressure to entice you into joining the crowd in condemning an innocent man.
iii. This was especially important under Mosaic Law, because one witness could not condemn a man. However, if there were two or three witnesses, then a person could be condemned.
iv. Hence, if a liar wanted to harm someone he hated, he would try to talk others into joining him in the false witness. The command here is: don’t be a part of that!
2. Bearing false witness against one’s “neighbor.”
a. Neighbor: This term has a broad range of meanings. It includes: friend, companion, fellow, an associate; a fellow citizen or countryman; another person,
b. The term is obviously broader than just the person who lives in the house next to you.
c. The term the author uses here is broad enough to include ANY other person.
d. There is never an excuse for bearing false witness… even if the person is your enemy who has done you much harm.
e. Honesty in the court system in Israel was to extend to everyone… close kinsmen, associates, fellow countrymen, foreigners, and even the dreaded enemies!
3. Be sure that your testimony is not “without a cause.”
a. Without a cause: freely, for no purpose, in vain; gratuitously, without cause, undeservedly; not having a basis or ground for an argument
b. It is possible to give testimony about a person that really does not serve the right purpose.
i. For example, if you are asked a “yes or no” question about a person, and you go way beyond the answer and testify of other things in order to tarnish the person, you are testifying without cause.
ii. Don’t give excessive details to put him in a bad light. Just answer the question you were asked honestly.
iii. A defendant standing before the court may not be a choir boy; he may be a troublemaker. But that does not mean he is guilty of the crime before the court.
iv. Unfortunately, we have too many examples of this in our politicians. They are asked a simple question about their opponent and answer it – and then go on a 5 minute diatribe highlighting all the faults and failures of their opponent going back to the sixth grade!
v. There is really no basis or grounds for that kind of speech. They are giving information “without a cause” – not pertinent to the subject at hand.
c. Our answers and our testimony should be PURPOSEFUL and to the point… not “without a cause”, that is a just cause.
i. What we say about another person ought not to be groundless… baseless… undeserved… for no good reason.
ii. This command forbids us from speaking up against someone out of anger, hatred, spite, or revenge.
iii. It is likely that verses 27 and 28 go together.
1. If that is the case, then the author clearly is writing about testifying against someone who has wronged you.
2. Hence, the warning is not to seek revenge in your testimony against that person.
3. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t stretch the truth. Don’t try to get even… don’t bear false witness against him – even if he has wronged you.
iv. Even if we have suffered as a result of another person, the right way to handle injustices is to leave it in the hands of the Lord – and not to take matters into our own hands and run a smear campaign against them… or lie.
v. That is unbecoming a saint.
1. The second injunction: Do not deceive with your lips.
a. Deceive: The term can mean to be open, gullible, simple, easily deceived OR actively, it means to deceive, persuade, or entice.
b. Prov.12:20 – “Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil…”
c. A person with deception in his heart will eventually have deception flowing out on his lips.
2. The concept of deception is broader than an outright lie. It also includes misleading speech.
a. It is possible to speak nothing but facts, but to present them in such a way as to mislead.
b. Often important, pertinent facts are purposely left out in order to mislead… even though you spoke only the truth.
c. I hear that often in counseling. It is human nature to say things in such a way as to make self look good, and the other guy look bad.
d. It is easy to justify that kind of speech to ourselves, because perhaps we said nothing but truth.
e. But there are lots of other ways to communicate too: body language; tone of voice; expressions of disbelief; rolling the eyes; etc.
f. God is a God of truth. He knows not only the words that we speak, but also the motive behind those words.
g. He knows what we are trying to communicate by other means as well.
3. Men deceive others to hide the hatred in their hearts.
a. Men will lie and smear another man out of hatred, and attempt to do so in a deceitful manner – to make themselves look good.
b. Out of hatred for another person, we can just hurl out there little innuendos, incriminating pieces of information, half truths, etc. in order to persuade others to believe the worst about someone.
c. It is human nature to attempt to HIDE the hatred in our hearts and to use deceptive speech as a “cover up.”
4. Prov. 19:5 – Deception shall be punished.
a. False witnesses and all liars shall not escape punishment.
b. It may not reach them in this life, but it surely will in the life to come.
c. Vs.9 takes it a step further: he shall perish! (brought to ruin)
5. Col.3:9 – The Christian is not to lie, but not because he fears the penalty of the law.
a. We are not to lie because we have already put off the old man, the man whose life was characterized by lying and deception.
b. It is not fitting for a new creature in Christ to behave like the old man he used to be.
c. God hates lying. So should we!
i. Ps. 119:163 - The Psalmist said: “I hate and abhor lying…”
ii. Prov.13:5 – “A righteous man hateth lying.”
f. This is an important part of our testimony before the world.