Top Ten Words – Pants on Fire: Exodus 20:16

Top Ten Words – Pants on Fire: Exodus 20:16

May 20, 2016


Last in Sermon Series by Pastor Dusty Mackintosh, Next Step Christian Church, Thornton, CO

Four Stories of Liars

My Headphones

You have probably noticed that most of the time I wear this strange-looking contraption around my neck. Notably, it occasionally flashes a little blue LED, and generally looks extremely nerdy and slightly mysterious.

At youth group, when we have a newcomer, there is usually a countdown to when they ask me the question: “What is that thing around your neck?”

I tell them: It is the brainstem relay that sends the signal to the controller here at the base of my spine (look, you can see the scar), and that controller directs my animatronic legs. You can actually see where they are kind of waxy and fake looking.

They get this look on their face…it says, that’s awesome if it’s true…I’m skeptical…but I don’t know you well enough… so maybe?

And then I tell them the truth — because it isn’t a lie if you tell them within 5 minutes. It’s “Impromptu Fiction” — an art form, really.

More stories about lies.

Rahab and the Spies

A prostitute by the lovely name of Rahab was living in a city by the Dead Sea by the name of Jericho. A couple spies of Israel stayed in Rahab’s home while scoping out the city’s defenses. When the soldiers came to capture the spies, Rahab hid them in drying stalks of flax and barley on her roof. She spins this whole lie about how they just left, going out the city gate, and if you hurry you can catch up!

The spies thank her, and she says she did it because she believed their God is God. They spared her…and — this is crazy — she is counted in the ancestry of Jesus…and in Hebrews 11, included in the Hall of Faith.

What was her greatest accomplishment? Lying to protect sneaky spies.

Corrie Ten Boom and the Nazis

Corrie Ten Boom lived in the Netherlands which was conquered by the Nazi army in World War II. Her family built a Secret Room in Corrie’s bedroom at the top of the house where Jewish refugees could hide. When the Nazis came knocking at the door, the family faced a moral predicament. Could they lie to the Nazi soldiers when they asked if any Jews were in the house?

Corrie Ten Boom did. Multiple times, she simply said “No, no Jews here.”

We want to call that Righteousness. Success. Admirable in every way. There is a tension there, a moral tension.

One more story about lies.

Two representative stone tablets with the ten commandments inscribed on them on an isolated dark ethereal background

King Ahab and Naboth stealing land

Ahab was King of Israel (and he was not hunting a whale). Naboth owned a vineyard right next to the King’s gardens. Ahab wanted

to expand his gardens to grow…vegetables. So many vegetables. But Naboth would not sell his ancestral land. “Land of my

fathers…I am staying.” Ahab sulked on his bed and refused to eat. Not kidding: 1 Kings 21 (read your Bible, good stuff).

So Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, solved the problem. She wrote letters to the nobles and elders in Ahab’s name, requesting two “scoundrels” who would swear, as false witnesses, that Naboth cursed God and the King. She got her witnesses, they stoned Naboth, and Ahab got his vegetable garden expansion.

Bunch of liars!

Exodus 20:16

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Familiar words, and internally we tend to translate them in our head: no lying. But you’ll find, across all the major translations, that they don’t do so. It’s always this long lengthy sentence… which is consistent with the original Hebrew. We see the last three commandments are VERY short, and this one is quite specific. It isn’t specific like the last commandment, with all sorts of examples. It is specific to action, location and intent.

Action – Lying

We are very familiar with the action part of this commandment: no lying. That is what we internalize this command as, that is how we generalize it. It leads us into some moral quandaries. How do we justify Rahab’s place in the Faith Hall of Fame of Hebrews 11, when she is really only there for the courage of her lie? How do we applaud Corrie Ten Boom when she broke one of the Ten? How do we justify our Pastor deceiving teenagers with hilarious animatronic legs?

Well, there is more to the command. I know this is going to raise some tension, and we will tackle some of that. This is not the only law or the only time pure honesty is addressed…but there is more to this command.

Location – Courtroom

There is a context, and in this case, a legal context. The picture here is in a courtroom, testifying as a witness against someone who allegedly broke the law. The trial of Naboth is a perfect

example. God said no one could be convicted on the strength of one testimony, they needed two scoundrels! So the context is the system of judgment that God Himself sets up in the civil laws following the Ten Commandments. Civil authority, witnesses, judges, possessing divinely appointed power and authority, something God intended for good. That is the location of the command.


And finally, there is an explicit intent in the command. Against your neighbor. This is the first appearance of “neighbor” showing up as a general term for “other person” instead of actual person right next to you. But “neighbor” is not confusing at all here. It’s only possibly confusing for people trying to weasel out of this command. That is really what Jesus was addressing with His story of the Samaritan. Neighbor = other human being.

“Against.” There is an intent there for harm, for destruction, for injury, perhaps for stealing. In the story of Jezebel and Ahab, they managed the Triad: they broke the ninth commandment: false witness, and broke the sixth commandment: murder, in order to break the eighth commandment: stealing the land.


There is explicit intent condemned in the command, the purpose is against one’s neighbor, wishing him harm or injury or loss.

The ninth commandment prohibits lying on the witness stand for the purpose of harming one’s neighbor.

Technically Not a Sinner?

There, we have successfully made the command so specific that most of us have probably not had opportunity to break it. You are welcome! When is the last time you were called as a witness in a courtroom? Did you tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” Well done.

But, let’s just say, hypothetically, that we aren’t interested in “technically” not violating the law, but instead, we are interested in Righteousness. And the Ten Commandments lay out the “Course of Righteousness”…signposts along the way, marking out moral boundaries. What is the moral boundary here?

Is it really about lying?

Is this command really about lying? Now, there are other laws about lying. There’s a good parallel one in Leviticus 19:11:

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not

lie to one another.

Straightforward honesty. It’s not just there, but scattered all throughout the laws in wisdom literature, and Jesus addresses honesty and integrity. But (and we touched on this weeks ago), Jesus connects simple honesty to the question of oaths relevant, not to the ninth commandment, but to the third commandment. Jesus says not to swear by heaven (and so profane the name of God), but let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No” be “No.” This parallelism is echoed in the passage we just quoted,

Leviticus 19:11, for the following verse, Leviticus 19:12 says:

12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane

the name of your God: I am the LORD.

It is later in Leviticus 19 where we see the expansion of the ninth commandment. Leviticus 19:15-16 says:

15 You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial

to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall

you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a

slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up

against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

Why do we care so much about Leviticus 19? Because in a very few verses, after addressing hate for your brother, which we quoted when talking about murder and the sixth commandment, Leviticus 19:18b says this (in summary of all this expansion of the Ten Words):…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Is this command really about lying? That is, without question, the action in the command. What were the other two pieces? The location was the courtroom, but the word was “witness.” What was happening here? This was the greatest position

of power your average Israelite was going to get. A moment where his words mattered. They were given weight and authority. And they were given that weight and authority so that people could obtain justice. Based on his words, someone could live or die. The reason God creates these courts is good, this is something God intended for good, and to accomplish that good He gives the witnesses’ words great power and authority.

Couple that with the intent of the command in the phrase “against your neighbor.” This is the sense that comes through in Leviticus 19 as well: a slanderer, standing up against the life of your neighbor. It is this sense that so infuriates us against a story like King Ahab and Jezebel while wanting to applaud a story like Rahab or Corrie Ten Boom.

King Ahab took the power that God gave him as King and used it for evil. He and Jezebel conspired to further twist the court system to obtain their selfish desires and the destruction of their neighbor. To the outside world, they get away with it. Their hands appear clean! The system did it. They took what God created for good and twisted it to evil purpose.

We are witnesses – people with power

We translate this to simply “no lying” because we can easily generalize that one piece of the command. We know ourselves to be liars. We can repent of that. We can pursue simple honesty. That has more to do with the third command. It is all about not manipulating people, but rather being people of integrity. But what about the rest of this command? What about the heart of this command? When are you a witness; when do you have opportunity for testimony?

A witness has the power to condemn or give justice. It is less about lying and more about abuse of power. Abuse of authority.

When do your words have weight and authority? When are you a witness? It easily goes beyond the courtroom, doesn’t it? That’s not a common experience for us. What power and authority has God given you, intending it for good? How easily could you twist that, through deception (or other means) into evil purposes? Selfish purposes. Just maybe to take them down a peg or two. A little humility. A tiny bit of personal justice, maybe.

You really, really, want that vegetable garden. Or that parking space. Or that promotion. What does God want you to do with the power He has given you, with the authority He has given you? How angry it makes Him when we use that delegated power and authority He has given us to injure or damage, to murder or steal from, to wound, to slander, to gossip, to hurt our neighbor. How angry it makes Him!

How Serious Is It?

We feel this. We want to applaud the courage and results of Rahab and Corrie Ten Boom. We are repulsed by the actions of King Ahab and Jezebel. Clearly that is despicable! But forget about how King Ahab and Jezebel make us feel. How did it make God feel?

Well…it made Him angry. You won’t like Him when He’s angry…

God hated this so much, He told on Ahab and Jezebel. He told His prophet Elijah and sent him with this message (1 Kings 21:19):

19 Say to him, “This is what the Lord says: Have you not

murdered a man and seized his property?” Then say to him,

“This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked

up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!”

That’s brutal. And Elijah speaks God’s expanded words of judgment. I will wipe out your descendants, thus saith the Lord. Dogs will devour Jezebel!…Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab…and the birds will feed on those in the country, thus saith the Lord!

God hates that we should take something He intended for good, twist it with our deception, and use it for our own evil purposes, to the destruction of our fellow persons. How much does God hate it? “Dogs will devour you… and lick up your blood. Yes, yours!”

When are you a Witness?

When are you a witness? When do you have the ability, with your words, with your actions, to harm or bless others? We have a huge boundary, a flashing sign at the edge, that shows us the outline of the path of Righteousness: do not use your power against your neighbor! It isn’t love, to use deception to twist what God intended for good to evil purposes. We know that. Instead, Jesus calls us to use some words of power:

To bless those who curse us.

To pray for those who mistreat us.

Those are words of power. Rather than witness against our neighbors before the great Judge, we become advocates for them. Pray for them, bless them. A witness has power to destroy, or to give justice. Power to condemn or to give blessing and life. Best of all point the way to the Truth.

Our Lying Pastor

So why is Dusty lying to kids about his headphones. I could tell you about my grand strategy of opening conversation and disarming tension, charming newcomers with ridiculous antics by becoming the awkward one — so that they don’t have to be, and uniting the students in the common bond of knowing that Pastor Dusty is a dork. Or, I could tell you, I do it because it’s just kind of funny.

You might be horrified by my little Fiction. If so, please pray for me. I suspect that God thinks I am funny. That He chuckles (animatronic legs, that’s good) and is thrilled that I got to connect and laugh with another of His children. It is when one of them comes to me (or one of the other youth leaders) and says, “Can we talk?” “I need help.” “I need advice.” Or best of all, “Who is this Jesus guy…and how can I get to know him?” We become a witness. Our words matter. And your words matter. We get the opportunity to bless…or to harm…

True Witness to Truth

We are a witness.

Witness to the Truth

I think of false witnesses in the Bible. False witnesses condemned the first martyr, Stephen, to death. The high priests sought out and found false witnesses to speak against Jesus and condemn Him to death.

I think of a little girl asking Peter, friend and follower of Jesus, aren’t you with Jesus? Peter said “No.” three times. And it broke Jesus heart. But then, confessing his sin, repenting of his sin, Peter spent the rest of his life living as a witness to the Truth — who in the end is not just a proposition, but a person.

Bear true witness for your neighbor. Witness to the Truth. Use every moment and every bit of power and authority you have to live as a witness to the Truth.

That is the greatest act of love for your neighbor.

Thank you to Pastor Dusty Mackintosh, Next Step Christian Church (SDB), Thornton, CO, for this series of sermons on the “Top Ten Words.” If you missed any of them, they are available online at

Introduction………..March 2015

Exodus 20:3……….April 2015

Exodus 20:4-6…….June 2015

Exodus 20:7……….July/August 2015

Exodus 20:8-11…..May 2015

Exodus 20:12……..October 2015

Exodus 20:13……..January 2016

Exodus 20:14……..February 2016

Exodus 20:15……..March 2016

Exodus 20:16……..June 2016

Exodus 20:17……..December 2015

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