Most people know the basics of the Ten Commandments. Often, we assume them to include a command not to tell lies. And, in a sense, this is true. But the command not to lie has more to do with justice. The command actually says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).
One way to bear false witness against your neighbor is to make a false accusation against him or her. The idea is that of a person who, out of malice, decides to accuse a person of doing wrong in order to have them punished in some way. It is to tell a lie against a person so that you benefit from their punishment either through financial gain or some sort of personal satisfaction.
The commandment is clear that such an action is forbidden. Later in God’s word, we get to see just how strongly God feels about this evil. God is clear that bearing false witness, making false accusations, is a really big deal.
Deuteronomy 19:16-21 – 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
In this passage in Deuteronomy, as God prepares the people to live in the land under his law, he makes sure they know how to deal with a false witness. When an accusation is made, judges are to seek to get to the bottom of the matter. Notice, by the way, that the judges here are interested in truth. Judges here are not employed to create new laws or to reshape society to their design. They are here to find the facts out in a situation through diligent questioning and research.
If the judges determine that a person is intentionally bringing a false accusation, attempting to do another person harm by their false accusation, there is a clear and just plan for what to do. God commands that the false accuser receive whatever penalty he or she intended that the one falsely accused was facing. So, if the false accusation would have cost the accused money, the accuser paid that money to the one falsely accused. If the false accusation would have cost the accused his life, then the life of the false accuser was forfeit.
As you think to yourself that this sounds pretty strong, notice that God says you are right. God is clear that the people are not allowed to show pity here. And here we get one of the passages that brings us the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Whatever the false, scheming accusation would have done to the innocent is to be the punishment for the one making the accusation. There are no exceptions.
Our society is full of people throwing around many false accusations. Social media has made this easier than ever. Let us learn from God’s word that these accusations matter. God takes bearing false witness very seriously. Under God’s justice, the right penalty for making a false accusation is that the false accuser face the very hardship he or she intended to cause
Christians, take two points away here. First, see that God’s law is good. God’s system of justice here is far better than what is present in our society. Second, see that your accusations are a big deal. God does care that you speak the truth, especially when you say that someone else has done something wrong.