Wednesday, February 13, 2008

First Sunday in Lent: Exodus XX.17: Ninth Commandment: Dt. 25:1-10

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we ask that you empower your word now. We know that you stand by your word, and that it is trustworthy and true and righteous. Therefore, give us wisdom by your word, and strengthen your people to love the truth, through Jesus…

We come now to the Ninth Commandment. This commandment prohibits bearing false witness and requires that God’s people love truth, honesty, and justice. Here, as with the eighth commandment it is important to emphasize the intense personalism of words. Our words are not bare facts, assertions, ideas, or thoughts; our words are extensions of ourselves. This is because we serve the God of the Incarnate Word.

Justifying the Righteous
Understanding Moses’ teaching on the ninth commandment becomes more clear when we recognize the connection between the ninth and the third commandments. “Bearing witness” is a legal description of our words and is the principle upon which all honesty is required. In other words, in some sense all of our words are oaths. All of our words are sworn. This is why absolute honesty and integrity are required of God’s people. When God “bears witness” he swears by himself, by his own Name (Heb. 6:13). This is why honesty is tied to a person’s name. If a person is known for being trustworthy and faithful, he or she is said to have a good name (Pr. 22:1, Ecc. 7:1). God’s word is true because He is his Word, and his Word is Truth (Jn. 1:1, 14:16). And in the New Covenant God’s Word, the Lord Jesus, is his Name (Acts 4:12). This means that truth has hands and legs. Truth walks and talks and decides. Therefore, honesty and truthfulness demands upholding justice, and Moses says that judges must justify the righteous and condemn the wicked (Dt. 25:1). At the same time, punishments must be carried out with equity (Dt. 25:2-3). A reputation for justice is a reputation for loving the truth.

Justice and Levirate Marriage
The custom of Levirate marriage is strange and foreign to modern ears. This law provided that a brother in-law ought to raise up an heir for his brother’s widow in order to preserve his brother’s name and inheritance (Dt. 25:5-7). The ninth commandment requires that we love and defend the good name of our family, neighbors, and friends. Because the promises of God were tied to the promise of the inheritance of the land, it was necessary for God’s people to defend and protect God’s Word by protecting and defending the name and inheritance of their families, even at great cost or loss to themselves (cf. Ruth 4:6). Refusing to raise up an heir was a refusal to defend the name of a brother, and further, it was tantamount to making God a liar which is itself a lie. This is a cause of great shame, and the one who refuses to defend his brother’s name is given a name of shame (Dt. 25:10).

Conclusions & Applications
If bearing false witness is wickedness, bearing false witness in the name of God is a great wickedness and profanation (Lev. 19:12). This is why we must take our oaths seriously (Is. 48:1). This is also why James says that we should not swear by heaven or earth but simply let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’ (Js. 5:12). This is not an exhaustive prohibition of oaths, but rather an exhortation to avoid truth inflation and to weigh our words carefully. Oaths that God expects us take seriously are: baptismal vows, marriage vows, our corporate “Amen!” is a vow unworthy of mumbling or mindlessness, and the confession of the Creed is a symbol of loyalty to our God. These oaths are sworn testimony before the God of heaven.

Jeremiah warns that lying and deception is one of the sins that God does not tolerate in his people. People who lie and then come and stand before God in worship are inviting his judgment (Jer. 7:9ff). Your words are you; you are your words. Therefore love the truth, defend and promote the reputation of your neighbor, and do justice. And do all of this recognizing that this is what God has first done for you.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, you have sent to us your Son, the light of the world, the very Truth in flesh. You sent the Truth to us in order that we might know the Truth and the Truth might set us free. Give us the courage and humility to follow the Truth, to follow Christ wherever he might lead that we might walk in freedom and liberty.

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