The Exposition of the Commandment
Exodus 23:1, 2, 7
1. Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.
1. Non suscipies vocem mendacii, neque adjicias manum tuam impio ut sis testis mendax.
2. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment.
2. Non eris post multos ad mala, neque respondebis in causa, ut declines post multos ad pervertendum.
7. Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.
7. A sermone mendacii longe aberis: nec occides innocentem et justum: quia non justificabo impium.
1. Thou shalt not receive (margin) a false report. It might also be translated, Thou shalt not raise, or stir up: and, if this be preferred, God forbids us to invent calumnies; but, if we read, Thou shalt not receive, He will go further, i.e., that none should cherish, or confirm the lie of another by his support of it. For it has been stated that sin may thus be committed in two ways: either when the wicked invent false accusations, or when other over-credulous persons eagerly associate themselves with them; and thus either sense would be very applicable, that the original authors are condemned, who raise a false report, or those who help on their wickedness, and give it, as it were, their endorsement. But, since it immediately follows, "put not thine hand with" them, I willingly embrace the version, "Thou shalt not receive," in order that the two clauses may combine the better. Indeed Moses uses this word with great propriety, for a lie would soon come to nothing from its own emptiness, and fall to the ground, if it were not taken up and supported by the unrighteous consent of others. God, therefore, recalls His people from this wicked conspiracy,1 lest by their assistance they should spread abroad false accusations; and calls those false witnesses who traduce their neighbors by lending their hand to the ungodly: because there is but little difference between raising a calumny and keeping it up.
If it be thought preferable to restrict the second verse to judges, it would be a Supplement to the Sixth Commandment as well as the Eighth, viz., that none should willingly give way to the unjust opinions of others, which might affect either the means or the life of an innocent person. But, inasmuch as the error of those who are too credulous is reproved by it, whence it arises that falsehood prevails, and calumniators throw what is clear into obscurity, it finds a fit place here.2
7. Keep thee far from a false matter. Since he seems to speak of perjury, which brings about the death of the innocent, some might perhaps prefer that this passage should be annexed to the Sixth Commandment; but this is easily solved; for Moses is expressly condemning false-witness, and at the same time instances one case of it, whereby it may appear how detestable a crime it is, viz., the slaying of a brother by calumny, because the false witness rather kills him with his tongue than the executioner with his sword. Although, therefore, it is a gross act of inhumanity to lie in general against one's brother, yet is its atrocity increased if he be put to death by perjury; because murder is thus combined with perfidy. A threat follows, whereby God summons false-witnesses before His tribunal, where they who have brought the good into peril by their falsehoods shall not escape with impunity.