When we think of the word “witness,” many different things may spring to mind. If you are into courtroom dramas on TV, you will think of a person in the dock giving testimony about a crime. If you are a person who has been to church for a long time, you will think of witnessing as the act of evangelizing, which may give you different feelings based on your own personality and experiences.
In my reading of Deuteronomy 31, I found the word witness used in a way that we do not often consider, and in a context that is often not on our minds. God calls the people to witness against themselves with a song.
Deuteronomy 31:19 – Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel.”
Moses was called by God to give the people a song to sing. That song would be a witness. But, unlike our concept of Christian witnessing, taking the gospel to others, this song would be a witness for God against the people. The words that the people were to sing would speak against them.
When the people of Israel would sing the song that Moses would teach them, they would declare truth about God. As they would sing that truth, they would prove that they were aware of what God had revealed about himself to them. They would sing the truth of God’s commands. They would show, with their song, that they were responsible to follow the commands that the Lord gave to them.
In some ways, the witnessing in this song is like a courtroom witness, giving testimony that the individuals who sang the song really knew the commands of God. The people would prove themselves guilty before the Lord by singing the testimony of the Lord’s truth.
So, this makes me wonder about our own singing and testimony. Do we bear witness when we sing our songs of worship on Sundays? Do the songs we sing have enough theological content to actually witness about anything? Or are our songs so full of empty sentimentality that they actually offer us no witness that could convict us of anything other than not feeling a certain emotion? May we be sure that, as we sing, we sing truth. May we be sure that our words are enough of a witness to the Lord that they could actually call us to account before the Lord.
Also, considering this kind of witness, may we also realize that when we witness to others, we are called to bring truth to bear. Being a witness for the Lord is not a call to use our powers of persuasion to change the minds and hearts of others. Rather, witnessing is telling the truth at such a level as to prove someone accountable for that truth. So, when we witness, we communicate to people the facts of the Lord’s gospel. We communicate their responsibility before the Lord. We do not do this harshly—there is no reason to do so. We do not communicate with a nasty attitude. Neither do we compromise the truth. If we are to be genuine witnesses, we give people the information they need to see where they stand before the Lord.
How would our lives change if we saw witnessing in the context of Deuteronomy 31? How would you change to think that you witness against yourself as you sing the truth about the Lord? How would your evangelism change if you realized that our call to bear witness to Christ is a call to tell others the truth so as to help them see their position before God. Yes, be loving to others. Yes, sing songs of joy and peace and love and hope and healing. But, yes, bear witness of the truth of the lord for the glory of God.