The Ninth Commandment–Exodus 20:16


Levi Durfey


1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.


4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.


7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.


8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.


12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15 Thou shalt not steal.

16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.




I read a story about a man who didn’t want the kids in his neighborhood stealing from his watermelon patch. So he posted a sign in the patch that read, “One of these watermelons is poisoned.” Of course, this was a complete lie, none were poisoned. He hoped that, because the kids couldn’t know which one was supposedly poisoned, that they would leave them all alone. 


The next day, when the watermelon scrooge went out to his patch, he found someone had changed the sign to read, “Two of these watermelons is poisoned.” Not able to know if they were lying, like he was, or, if they weren’t, which watermelon they poisoned, the man had to destroy his entire watermelon patch. The moral of the story is that lies have a way of coming back to you.


In the ninth commandment, we come to the issue of false testimony or lying. 




Exodus 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.


The first thing I learned about this commandment is that it, first of all, dealt with legal situations. In the Ancient world, most crimes were punishable by death. For example, here are a few of the laws of Hammurabi:


§8      If a man steals an ox, a sheep, a donkey, a pig, or a boat — if it belongs either to the god or to the palace, he shall give thirtyfold; if it belongs to a commoner, he shall replace it tenfold; if the thief does not have anything to give, he shall be killed.


§14      If a man should kidnap the young child of another man, he shall be killed.


§22      If a man commits a robbery and is then seized, that man shall be killed.


§229      If a builder constructs a house for a man but does not make his work sound, and the house that he constructs collapses and causes the death of the householder, that builder shall be killed. (William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, Context of Scripture, [Leiden;  Boston: Brill, 2000], 337-349)


In the ancient world, a person was guilty until proven innocent, so a false witness could immediately put a person’s life in jeopardy. There were no detectives that could lift fingerprints or find DNA samples, so the majority of a trial (if there was a trial) was dependent on witnesses. Giving a false witness would make you a murderer!


In the Old Testament, a couple safeguards against being a false witness were that two or three witnesses were required, and that the witnesses were to be the ones to cast the first stones.


6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. 7 The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you. (Deuteronomy 17:6–7)


So, even if a group of neighbors really disliked a fellow neighbor and were willing to jointly give a false witness, you’d have to have a pretty hard heart to be the one to pick up a large rock and throw it at him with intent to kill.


Someone might bribe two or three witnesses to give false testimony. One infamous example of this is the account of Naboth’s vineyard. Remember that Ahab was pouting because Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to him. Jezebel told him not to worry and got a couple men to bear witness against Naboth.


13 And there came in two men, children of Belial [basically, sons of the devil, or scoundrels], and sat before him: and the men of Belial witnessed against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died. 14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, Naboth is stoned, and is dead. (1 Kings 21:13–14)


So the ninth commandment is a very serious commandment (as they all are), because the life or death of a neighbor could be at stake. Basically, if someone wanted you dead—“legally”—and they had any sort of money or clout, it could be accomplished. Such was the case with our Lord Jesus—


59 Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; 60 But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, 61 And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. (Matthew 26:59–61)


With all this talk about the deadly seriousness of the ninth commandment, we might be tempted to think that we are free and clear because we have never given false testimony in a court. But…




Jesus taught us that the Ten Commandments are not the end of God’s commandments, but that they are the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. He showed us that “thou shalt not kill” extends all the way to hatred and “thou shalt not commit adultery” has to do with lust as well (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28). 


The Ten Commandments list the most extreme form of any sin, but they are not limited to those extremes. One scholar said that this is called “the rule of categories.” The Ten Commandments are listing categories of sins. The ninth commandment forbids the most extreme form of lying—a lie that sends someone to his death. But it’s also forbidding the entire “category” of lying. 


Later, in the book of Hosea, we see this confirmed:


2 By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, And blood toucheth blood. (Hosea 4:2)


Do you see how Hosea uses the more common word, “lying,” in a list that is obviously from the Ten Commandments? The Hebrew words in Hosea 4:2 and Exodus 20:16 are different, but God takes them as being essentially the same. The ninth commandment is not just about giving “false witness” in a court, but also about the “ordinary” lies that we tell. 


Yes, the ninth commandment forbids ordinary lying, but even if it didn’t, as Christians, we must understand that lying is a part of the old nature that needs to be put away:


9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; (Colossians 3:9)




The ninth commandment is one of two that focus on our speech. We are not to take the name of the Lord in vain and we are not to lie. James tells us how powerful our tongues are:


6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. 7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. (James 3:6–9)


Unlike the animals, human beings have the capacity of speech. God has given us this ability in order to praise him, but our tongues can also be used to harm others—and lying can be the most devastating form of destructive speech. 


How is lying so destructive? As we’ve seen, it could send someone to their execution. But lying, if it doesn’t kill someone, can certainly ruin a person’s reputation, their job, or even their life. Think of the lie that Potiphar’s wife told about Joseph trying to rape her. It ended a prosperous time in his life and got him put in prison.


Our lying will affect others in some way. Do we really want to be responsible to God for the destructive results?


As we move forward, we turn to a question that it would good for us to ponder for ourselves: why do people lie? Why do we lie?




For the answer to that, we turn to the “father” of lying. 


44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)


Why did Satan lie to Eve in the garden? J.I. Packer answered that question this way:


Partly from malice, partly from pride. When you lie to do someone down, it is malice; when you lie to impress, move, and use him, and to keep him from seeing you in a bad light, it is pride. Satan lied (and lies) because he hates God and godly folk, and wants to extend his anti-God revolt. (J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ, [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994], 272.)


So Satan was partly showing off to God how clever he was by lying to Eve. He was also setting up the Fall of Creation and Man, which he believed would wreck everything that God was trying to do in creating the world.


Are not the lies we tell also from pride (which would include protecting ourselves) or malice? We want to either make ourselves look good or we want to hurt someone else. 


There are cases, I suppose, that we lie to protect someone else, as Rahab did to protect the Israelite spies in Jericho (Joshua 2:4) or Corrie Ten Boom did to protect Jews during World War II, but I do not think that we ought to be eager to tell such lies. In the cases mentioned (and others in scripture), people’s lives were at stake—not merely an embarrassing tidbit. Also, these cases do not mean that the lies they told weren’t sins—only that God used them for good. 


Most lies are really told because of pride or malice. They are told either to better or protect oneself or to worsen someone else. Turn to the New Testament for an illustration of why people lie and what the ultimate end of all lying will be.




The early church in Jerusalem was suffering persecution from the unconverted Jews. You can imagine that it was like how a Muslim family will disown a member who becomes a Christian. In addition, there were new believers who came from other parts of the world who wanted to stay in Jerusalem to hear the teaching of the apostles.


Naturally, there were Christians who had needs—food, shelter, clothing, etc. So those who had, helped those who had not—


34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. (Acts 4:34–35)


This is not a Biblical endorsement of Socialism. Think of it as more like disaster relief. One of the people who gave everything was a man named Joseph (Acts 4:36-37). As a result, the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, which means son of comfort, consolation, or encouragement. 


Ananias and Sapphira must have saw this attention given to Joseph and coveted the same sort of recognition themselves. To get that recognition, they would have to make a major donation themselves. The problem was, that sort of donation would hurt. So they came up with a lie—a lie that would not hurt anyone else, but would get what they wanted. Their pride, not malice, was what motivated Ananias and Sapphira.


1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 5:1–2)


Keep in mind how thin the line was that they crossed. They could have openly said that they were only giving such and such a percentage from the income from the sale and they would have been fine. They weren’t obligated to give it all. But they pridefully wanted to look good. In fact, if they had actually given the whole amount, would they have been sinning? Yes, because they were giving in order to be recognized!


God had informed Peter about the situation. The money laid at the apostle’s feet, with Ananias and Sapphira fully expecting, “Wow! Looks like we have another Barnabas!” from Peter. But it never comes—


3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. (Acts 5:3–4)


Folks, our lies and all our sins are not hidden from God. He knows them. I can’t say how he is going to respond to them—he may discipline you now or later—but he knows. Our lies are known by someone and will eventually make themselves known. Someone once said that even a “little lie is like being a little pregnant, it’ll all show up after awhile” (Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes…, [Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009], 200).


Had Ananias and Sapphira had given that any thought to this truth whatsoever, it might have stayed their hand from committing the sin. They weren’t concerned about how they looked in God’s sight, only how they looked in the eyes of men.


Peter told Ananias that the lie he told was from Satan (he is the father of lies, as we have seen in John 8:44). Everytime you tell a lie, you are walking in Satan’s path. Peter also reminds Ananias that his lie was not just to him and the apostles, it was first a lie to God. This is very important for us to remember in light of what comes next—all sin is against God. All sin carries the death penalty.


5 A false witness shall not be unpunished, And he that speaketh lies shall not escape. (Proverbs 19:5)


So God chooses to implement the sentence for Ananias’ sin at that moment:


5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things. 6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. (Acts 5:5–6)


Sapphira was not exempted from God’s sentence either:


7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. 8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. 9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. 10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. (Acts 5:7–10)


This event stunned the church:  “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (Acts 5:11). Why were they so frightened? Perhaps it was because they were all thinking about the little white lies that they had told themselves. After all, all Ananias and Sapphira did was fudge the numbers a bit—it couldn’t have been that much. If someone in the church sold their house and said that they were giving all the proceeds—all $50,000—to the church, we would know right away that was a lie. Don’t think that somehow that their lie was far worse than the lies you tell.


Whenever God kills someone in the Bible, we need to take that event as a demonstration of the penalty of sin. We’re too prone to complain that God is unfair to kill people or something like that. But the wages of sin is death. There’s no guarantee that God’s going to wait until the afterlife to carry out the physical side of that penalty. Besides, always remember that the eternal side of the penalty of sin is billions and trillions of times worse!




One of the books I was reading about this pointed out that there are two sides to the commandments. It’s not just enough to not commit adultery, we must love our spouses faithfully. It’s not enough just not to kill, we must seek to be kind (even, Jesus said, to our enemies). And it’s not just enough to not tell lies, we must tell the truth.


1. Speak The Truth To Others In Love


Whenever the Bible tells us to speak truth (such as the truth of the Gospel), it’s always to be done with an attitude of love and concern. 


15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: (Ephesians 4:15)


15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: (1 Peter 3:15)


Our biggest problem arises when we are reluctant to tell someone the truth they need to hear because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. Of course, the other side is the ones who speak truth without concern for the other person at all. We must learn to live with this tension, knowing that, if we don’t feel the tension, we’re probably not in the right!


2. Speak The Truth To Yourself


A person that we often do not speak the truth to is ourselves. Temptation and sin are so frequent in our lives that we tell ourselves lies about our sin merely to get us through the day. “That white lie was necessary;” “No one cares if I take this;” “I don’t really hate her, it’s just a righteous dislike—I’m sure God feels the exact same way as I do.”


Have you ever wondered, in the time following Uriah’s tragic death at the battlefront and his marriage to Bathsheba, how David lived with himself? What did he speak to himself to rationalize and suppress his sin? Whatever it was, he was completely caught off guard the day Nathan walked in:


1 And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. 2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: 3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. 4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. 5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: 6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. 7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. (2 Samuel 12:1–7a)


It was, however, the very thing David needed to be set free from the lies he was telling himself—perhaps even that God was okay with what he had done. Confession is so good for our souls—


1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no guile [literally, no lie]. 3 When I kept silence, my bones waxed old Through my roaring all the day long. (Psalm 32:1–3)


What about you? What lies do you tell yourself? What lies do you use to maintain the illusion of control of your life? Only when you admit the truth about yourself and confess the lies to God will you find true freedom, and real growth in Jesus.


The first lie every human being has to confess is that they are either okay without God or okay with God. Neither is true. The atheist thinks that he doesn’t need a god; the religious person thinks that he is okay with God. The Bible says that the truth is, without God—without his Son Jesus—there is no hope. But when we confess our unbelief and throw our dependence entirely on Christ we find the power of truth:


32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

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