With all these commandments it is vital to remember that they were given to a people who had already been redeemed, not as a way of making them righteous. The rescue from Egypt had already happened, the people were no longer slaves, but called to be God’s people. These commandments set out how they should live as God’s people, in God’s land, under God’s law. And since God is a God of truth, he gave his people Commandment 9: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
As the book of Exodus goes on, it’s obvious that this refers, at least in part, to bearing false testimony in court. Without surveillance cameras or DNA tests, Israelite justice depended on witnesses being truthful in order to establish guilt or innocence, lest the guilty go free or the innocent be punished. As with all 10 commandments, there is therefore an element of speaking truth for the good of society, not just for personal morality. And of course, that’s still holds true today.
But across the Scriptures command not to lie takes on a wider meaning. Jesus commands us to “let our yes be yes, and our no be no.” It’s a command to be people of our word, people who can be trusted as much as the God to follow.
But the Bible goes further. 30 times in Matthew’s gospel alone, Jesus uses the phrase “I tell you the truth.” As his disciples, people should expect no less than us. That means no white lies, no exaggerating the truth to cover our guilt or to boost our reputation. It means owning up when we are in the wrong. It means giving straightforward answers, even when those answers may be uncomfortable to those who hear.
In these days of fake news, when the word of those in positions of power is rarely trusted, let’s make sure that as Christians our words are always truthful and reliable, for in that way we show ourselves to be children of our Heavenly Father.