Proverbs 21:28

A False Witness Shall Perish


1. This proverb makes a couple of contrasts:

a. The false witness vs. the man that heareth.

b. Perishing vs. speaking constantly.

2. The problem in interpreting this proverb is that the contrast is not apparent. At first glance it is hard to determine exactly what is being contrasted.

a. Contrasting the false witness with a man who speaks truth is obvious, but contrasting the false witness with the man who hears is not so obvious.

b. Contrasting perishing with living or flourishing is obvious; but contrasting perishing with speaking constantly is not so obvious.

c. The contrast was probably MORE obvious in the days in which it was written.

d. But we are separated from Solomon by language: ancient Hebrew vs. modern English—and by a culture and ancient society that is quite foreign to us.

3. Another problem interpreting this proverb concerns the meaning of a couple of the terms in the second part of the proverb.

a. I am going to give three slightly different views of this proverb tonight, because they all make sense in the context, and I am not able to determine with any certainty which meaning Solomon had in mind.

28a A false witness shall perish:

1. This part of the proverb is short, clear, and easy to understand.

a. The meaning of the terms is not disputed.

b. Nothing is ambiguous.

c. And in fact, it is a subject that Solomon deals with extensively in this book.

2. False witness:

a. Witness: A testimony; i.e., a person which gives verbal testimony and provides information about a situation; the giving of evidence in a formal legal setting.

b. False: a lie, untruth, falsehood, deceptive thing.

c. What Solomon describes here is a LIAR… a perjurer.

d. It may be a liar who falsely accuses a person of a crime OR a person who perjurers himself in a courtroom situation before the judge.

3. Solomon states that such liars (false witnesses in any situation) shall perish.

a. Perish: Destroyed; ruined; annihilated; exterminated; wiped out; die; to reduced to some degree of disorder.

b. In one form or another, the perjurer shall experience destruction.

c. He may suffer loss; his life may be ruined; he may be reduced in one way or another; he may be executed.

d. The term is broad enough to include all kinds of destructive forces that the liar may have to face.

e. But however you slice it, the liar does not face a good future. Bad things lie ahead for him.

4. The false witness is the subject of many proverbs because lying is such a part of fallen human nature.

a. Prov. 6:19 – A false witness was one of the six deadly sins that God especially hates.

b. Prov. 12:17 – A false witness shows deceit.

c. Prov. 14:5 – A false witness utters lies.

d. Prov. 19:5, 9 – “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape.”
• Repeatedly Solomon speaks of the consequences of being a false witness.
• That seems to be the main point of the first part of Proverb 21:28.
• The false witness will perish; he will not be unpunished; he shall not escape punishment.
• That part is very clear.

28b But the man that heareth speaketh constantly.

This part of the proverb is NOT so clear. There are a couple of possibilities in interpretation.

The First Possible Interpretation

1. The “man who hears”

a. Hears:
• This term is sometimes used in the sense of hearing a legal case; i.e., give a legal hearing (Deut. 1:16).
• It is possible that the “man who hears” this perjurer refers to the judge who “hears” his testimony (false witness) in a court of law.

b. In this interpretation, the contrast is between the perjurer and the judge who hears his perjury in court.

2. The judge who hears the case of the false witness “speaketh constantly.”

a. Constantly = endurance in time; perpetual; continual; unto the end; everlasting; an unlimited duration of time, implying permanency.

b. Thus, the contrast would be the following:
• The perjurer who speaks forth a false witness perishes, and his lies perish with him. His words cease.
• On the other hand, the Judge who hears the case, and judges righteously, CONTINUES to speak forth. His words do not cease.

c. The point of the proverb (according to this interpretation) is that truth triumphs over lies.
• Sooner or later, justice catches up to the liar.
• Sooner or later, his perjurer is discovered for what it is.
• The false witness and his false words perish.
• But the one who speaks truth (the judge in this case) continues. He speaks constantly.
• Justice marches on. Truth triumphs.
• And the message to the perjurer is “be sure your sin will find you out!” (Num. 32:23)
• Long after the false witness has been silenced, the Judge who heard the case continues speaking… and ferreting out more perjurers.
• The perjurer may be silenced through execution. (One who was found guilty of falsely accusing someone in court was to experience the same penalty that would have been inflicted on the innocent party. Sometimes that penalty was death.)
• He may be silenced through imprisonment.
• Hopefully his lies will be silenced because he learned his lesson and decided to tell the truth from now on!

The Second Possible Interpretation

1. Another way to read this proverb is to understand the contrast differently.

a. Instead of seeing this as a contrast between the perjurer and the judge who hears the case, one might see the contrast between two different witnesses in a court of law.

b. One witness is a false witness… the other one is not.

2. The false witness shall perish. (This part of the proverb is clear)

a. False witnesses in court shall not ultimately succeed.

b. They shall perish… and be destroyed.

c. Their false testimony will cease—thrown out of court.

3. But at this point the interpretation varies.

4. In this second view, the “one who hears” is not the judge, but is another witness.

a. However, this is not a false witness.

b. This witness “hears.”
• This witness is not a false witness.
• A false witness isn’t interested in hearing the facts of the case.
• A false witness has an agenda to push… namely, his lies.
• He is not interested in “hearing” truth. He wants only to speak forth his lies and perjury.
• But on the other hand, the true witness WILL hear. He keeps his ears open. He observes.
• When the true witness speaks, he is speaking out of knowledge because he LISTENED to the facts.
• Thus, his testimony lines up with the facts.

5. The true witness “speaketh constantly.”

a. Here too a slightly different meaning is given to the word “constantly.”

b. It can mean “continually.”

c. It also can mean “consistently.” If we understand the term to mean consistently, then the man who hears (all the facts of the case) speaks consistently with the facts, namely, TRUTHFULLY.

d. He speaks the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That is being consistent… constant… nothing but the truth.

e. The WORDS and testimony of the one who “hears” are consistent… reliable… faithful…

f. They are not like the false witness.
• His words are not consistent. They are inconsistent.
• There is something crooked about his words.
• They are not consistent with the facts of the case.
• They don’t line up with reality… with truth.

The Third Possible Interpretation

1. The third possible interpretation exists because the word translated “speaketh” has two distinct meanings in Hebrew (just as do many English words).

a. So far, we have been considering the meaning as translated in the KJV: The Hebrew word da·bar means to speak.

b. But it also has another meaning: to kill or destroy!

c. For example, the term is translated destroy in II Chron. 22:10, where Athaliah “arose and destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah.” (She killed them all!)

2. If we accept this meaning, then we arrive at yet a third legitimate and possible interpretation:

a. Then it would mean that the false witness shall perish, and all those who “hear” him (accept his word) will be destroyed too.

b. Both the false witness and the crooked judge who accepts his false testimony (and any others who go along with the perjury) will also perish.

3. In one sense, all three interpretations are similar in this one point: true testimony does not perish. It continues to speak.

a. Ultimately, the truth prevails.

b. Thus, (whichever view we take) we are encouraged to be like Christ. Consider how He is described in the book of the Revelation:
→ Rev. 3:14 – The “faithful and true witness.” (Rev.3:14)
→ Rev. 19:11 – And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True.