Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Slander, Gossip, and Evil Speech About Others -- Exodus 20:16

 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Many a man (and woman) has had their lives destroyed because of the false witness that someone else has given about them.  Today, men (and women) are so easily falsely accused of sexual abuse.  Individuals end up in jail for years or for life for all sorts of crime they never committed.  Some even face the death penalty proclaiming their innocence right to the end of their lives.  This is often a result of someone bearing “false witness” against them. 
God is not in the business of destroying lives or having them destroyed.  And for that reason, He gave us the ninth commandment, “You are not to bear false witness against your fellow man or woman.” 
It is important again to see what we can learn about the meaning of the phrase from the literature.  Wikipedia has some interesting thoughts on this:
The Hebrew Bible contains a number prohibitions of false witness, lying, spreading false reports, etc.[9] A charge was established only on the evidence of two or three witnesses[10] In cases where false testimony was suspected, the judges were to make a thorough investigation, and if false testimony were proven, the false witness was to receive the punishment he had intended to bring on the person falsely accused.[11] For example, since murder was a capital crime, giving false testimony in a murder case was subject to the death penalty. Those eager to receive or listen to false testimony were also subject to punishment.[12]  False witness is among the six things God hates, king Solomon says.[13] False testimony is among the things that defile a person, Jesus says. [14]

It appears that the people of Israel took God mostly seriously on this matter, much more so than we often do.  When someone is accused of bearing false witness against another person, most of the time we simply “drop the charges” against whom the false testimony was given rather than take any serious action against the false accuser.  [Compare this to what happened in the story of Queen Esther in the Bible to Haman who wanted Mordecai hung and the Jews annihilated.  When these plans were told to the King through his wife, Esther, Haman got his just desserts.  He himself was hung on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai and then Mordecai was given his high position.]  In Christian circles, we may be even less attentive to God’s command and we simply part ways with the false accusers and often bless them in their new ministry.  I am not sure we are doing them any good.
One can also find some interesting thoughts on the topic from “Yahoo Answers” online including:
·      To bear false witness has two meanings, a tight one and a loose one. The tight meaning is as you say to give false testimony against someone in a trial. The looser meaning is more like saying bad things about someone that aren't true, slandering someone.
·      It means to lie.
·      It means to tell a false story, so that someone else may benefit from it that had no right.
·      When you lie, you are saying, "I witnessed it, and I know what truly happened, and here is what happened." Thus, your witness concerning the "whatever" is false; hence, a false witness.
·      To "witness" means to speak the truth.  To give “false witness” is to speak untruth.
·      It means not to repeat or pass on something someone said as true when you do not personally know it to be true. Gossip is close.
·      It means 'to lie' and even 'to support a lie,' as in being a 'false witness,' where you know it is a lie but you still support it for whatever purpose it may serve your interest.
·      A preacher who did not really believe in what he was preaching, or preached about a Christian way of life, but did not live by it.
And the Free Dictionary by Farlex says, “It is a criminal offense of making false statements under oath.”  Together they cover the gamut of meanings.  Like all the others, there’s no escaping this commandment either.  The bottom line is “do not lie” period. Much has been written about this.  As parents, we often tolerate much misbehavior from our children and grandchildren, but for most of us, we draw the line at lying.  Not just because we want the truth but also because we love our children and know that lying will eventually get them into serious trouble in life.
From the common definitions above, we can see that this commandment is not just about lying with respect to our neighbor; it covers all forms of lying.  Or put another way, especially in this ever-diminishing in size world we live in, where we can have breakfast in New York, lunch in Paris, and be back home for supper the same day, all of mankind is our neighbor.
The pursuit of, and amusement with, gossip (a form of bearing false witness) has become one of the world’s favorite pastimes.  Magazine racks and television schedules are rife with gossip news.  We seem to crave for it.  I continue to be amazed as to how much attention many of us Christians pay to these sources of “false witness”.  [And even if they are not false, who really cares.  Everyday on the social media we are bombarded with opinions of movie stars on various world issues.  Does what they say really matter in the end?  I do not think so.  Why even one of America’s favorite sons, Charleston Heston, who played Moses in The Ten Commandments epic movie, was turned against when society was being steered away from his support of the Second Amendment, an American’s right to own firearms.]
At the other extreme of not “bearing false witness” we have the latest action or edict of the Anglican Church who has taken any mention of the Devil out of their baptismal rite.  You may wish to read the whole the story at Church of England Kicks Out Devil.  I found that quite interesting and I am sure the Devil is rejoicing.  In fact, doing what the Anglicans have done is indeed bearing false witness as to the cause of sin and evil.
Finally, I find it interesting how it is that the world often borrows God’s ideas and uses them in their own way.  I find that happens often with respect to the practice of Human Resources and Labor Relations for afterall, God is the “ultimate employer”.  One such example is that when an employee is let go or dismissed from a company and is given some form of settlement, he or she is often asked to sign a separation release form in which there is a requirement for them not to bear false witness, that is not to speak about the deal or to speak badly of the company, etc.  How much more important is it for us that want to please and obey our God, to do likewise?

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