“Do not give false evidence against your neighbor.”
This Word of God is usually interpreted as a general prohibition against lying.
While that is not necessarily incorrect in terms of the spirit of this commandment, that is not exactly what is being referred to here.
Like some of the other Words, the original sense of this commandment is actually very narrow.
It is specifically referring to lying in court or perjury.
As all of the ancient Hebrew sages viewed the Torah as being about God’s justice, this fits very well within the framework of the Law.
This is a very serious sin because giving false testimony in a court of law can have violent consequences-even death in capital cases.
The following verse from the Book of Proverbs echoes the seriousness of speaking untruths during a judicial proceeding.
“Like a club, a sword or a sharp arrow
is a person who gives false testimony against a neighbor.”
Or how about this verse from Deuteronomy?
“If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime,
the two people involved in the dispute
must stand in the presence of the Lord
before the priests and the judges
who are in office at the time.
The judges must make a thorough investigation,
and if the witness proves to be a liar,
giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite,
then do to the false witness
as that witness intended to do to the other party.
You must purge the evil from among you.”
Another act repeatedly condemned that is connected to this commandment is the bribing of witnesses to testify falsely, especially when it was directed against the innocent poor.
The following psalm lists the moral criteria for participating in worship.
“He who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.”
Although this commandment is primarily about speaking untruths against someone in a court of law, there is also another act not restricted to the courtroom that when engaged in could put someone in serious danger of violating the principle of this 9th Word.
In Hebrew this is called LASHON HARA.
I’m talking about gossiping about others behind their backs.
We must always be very careful what it is we say about other people, especially if it is negative in nature.
When we gossip or blame someone for something that we have no firsthand knowledge of, in a sense I would say it is bearing false witness against that person.