There are many kinds of lies. Wikipedia lists eleven: bold-faced lie, lying by omission, lie-to-children, white lie, emergency lie, perjury, bluffing, misleading, dissembling, exaggeration, and jocose lies. These vary in moral blameworthiness. For example, lying to your husband about his upcoming birthday party is surely less blameworthy than perjury in open court!
In general, as we saw yesterday, God hates lying. There are occasions when biblical characters lie in order to save lives (e.g., Rahab hiding the Israelites spies in Joshua 2:1-7). But these occasions are few and far between, and the lie, while morally questionable, prevents a greater harm.
One kind of lying that God particularly hates is perjury, lying in a court of law. Proverbs 6:19 states: “[God hates] a false witness who pours out lies.” Three proverbs contrast the testimony of a truthful witness with that of a perjurer:
A truthful witness gives honest testimony,
but a false witness tells lies (12:17).
A truthful witness does not deceive,
but a false witness pours out lies (14:5).
A truthful witness saves lives,
but a false witness is deceitful (14:25).
Perjury is the intentional representation of false information as true information. It should be distinguished from testimony that the witness mistakenly believes is true but is in fact false.
Why would anyone perjure himself? To gain a personal advantage over someone else. This proverb identifies revenge as one possible motive:
Do not testify against your neighbor without cause,
or use your lips to deceive.
Do not say, “I’ll do to him as he has done to me;
I’ll pay that man back for what he did” (24:28-29).
Another possible motive is hatred:
He who conceals his hatred has lying lips,
and whoever spreads slander is a fool (10:18).
In this proverb, a man conceals the true reason for what he says about his neighbor. If that motivation were known, it would cast into doubt what he is saying. That’s why his speech is characterized as “lying lips.”
There are two possible outcomes to perjured testimony. The first is injustice, in which the falsely accused are wrongly punished.
A corrupt witness mocks at justice,
and the mouth of the wicked gulps down evil (19:28).
Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor (25:18).
The second is exposure (and perhaps judicial punishment) of the perjurer:
Do not bring hastily to court,
for what will you do in the end
if your neighbor puts you to shame? (25:8).
As we read these proverbs, we should take to heart the lesson to speak truthfully in all situations but especially in open court. If called to jury duty, we should discern – where possible – the credibility of the witnesses. What is their motivation for testifying?
But we should also be keenly aware that sometimes, we evaluate testimony on the basis of our own prejudices, which should be ruthlessly eliminated from our heart, less we be party to injustice ourselves. For as this proverb reminds us:
A wicked man listens to evil lips;
a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue (17:4).
In sum: Don’t lie, and don’t listen to lies!