Heidelbasics: Brief Weekly Reflections on the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev. David Fagrey, Pastor of Grace Reformed Church of Rapid City, SD
112. What does the ninth commandment require?
That I bear false witness against no one, twist no one’s words, be no backbiter or slanderer, join in condemning no one unheard or rashly; but that on pain of God’s heavy wrath, I avoid all lying and deceit as the very works of the devil; and that in matters of judgment and justice and in all other affairs, I love, speak honestly, and confess the truth; also, insofar as I can, defend and promote my neighbor’s good name.
The Ninth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” is designed for “the establishment and preservation of truth amongst men… for the glory of God and the safety of our neighbor” (Ursinus, 600-601). Behind this command is the fact that God Himself is “a God of truth and without iniquity” (Deut. 32:4); “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18).
God created mankind in His image to imitate Him by thinking, speaking, and practicing the truth. Mankind fell by believing Satan’s lie, “You shall not surely die.” Mankind is saved by believing the truth: “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). When God redeems us from sin through faith in Jesus Christ, He gives us a love for truth and a hatred of lies: “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight” (Prov. 12:22). Therefore, by the work of the Holy Spirit, “a righteous man hates lying” (Prov. 13:5).
But the habit of lying, like every sinful habit, is hard to break. Therefore, Paul tells Christians, “putting away lying, let each of you speak truth with his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25). When we lie, we imitate the devil, who is “the father of lies” (John 8:44). All liars will suffer God’s eternal wrath in hell (Rev. 21:8). Believers will suffer God’s loving discipline. God disciplined Jacob by
allowing him to be deceived—first by his uncle Laban; and then by his own sons who led him to believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.
“The reputation and honor of our neighbor is his sacred right [Prov. 22:1]; and it is a grave sin to tear down his reputation and good name by speaking lies [25:18], or even by speaking unkindly about him” (Jones, Study Helps, 280). To twist someone’s words means “so changing the words of another person that a wrong message is given [Psalm 56:5] … Backbiting is speaking behind a person’s back in an evil and hurtful manner (even though truthful facts are reported), so that injury is done. Slander is telling things about another person which we know to be untrue.” Joining in condemning another person unheard or rashly refers to “believing a lie on insufficient evidence [Prov. 18:13] … We must warn others who tell us questionable things that they must beware of gossip [Prov. 18:8]. Even if we know something evil about another person, we are not to speak of it to others before first approaching the person privately and seeking his
repentance—in which case, we should forget the matter and not repeat it to others [Matt. 18:15]” (Jones, 280-81); “nor are those lies which are uttered for politeness sake, excused, because we may not do evil, that good may come… God did not bless [the Hebrew midwives] because they lied, but because they feared Him and would not slay the children of the Israelites [Ex. 1:15-21]”
God told Joshua to use military deception in defeating Ai (Joshua 8:1-26). May we say that Rahab’s lie was a form of military deception, since she chose Israel’s side in the war on Jericho? What about those who hid Jews in Nazi Germany?