Was the testimony of two false witnesses enough to incriminate an innocent man in the Mosaic law?

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Careful examination by priest and Judges

In the Mosaic law, the testimony of two false witnesses was not enough to incriminate an innocent man who is accused of a crime. Perjury is a most heinous crime. A witness who publicly violates the truth commits a sin against himself and God. Therefore, the Law demanded that a careful examination by the priests and judges should be conducted to enquire of the truthfulness of the witnesses.

The law of Moses stated, “If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days.  And the judges shall make careful inquiry…” (Deuteronomy 19:16-18).

Higher court in the presence of Jehovah

And the difficult cases were to be brought to a higher court at the door of the sanctuary of the Lord, where the conflicting parties would be in the presence of Jehovah. And His Holy priests will hear and judge. “If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses.  And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment.  You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you …”  (Deuteronomy 17:8–12).

The penalty of the false witness

After the examination, if the witness is found to be a false one, then he will be punished severely. “…if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you.  Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:18-21).

A false witness would have to suffer the penalty he thought to inflict upon the accused. This is the law of just retribution (Exodus. 21:23–25; Leviticus 24:19, 20). This law was given to restrain evil and to bring in a higher sense of public duty and morality. The pit that the liar had dug for his innocent brother was to be his own grave (Proverbs 26:27).

You shall not bear false witness

The Lord clearly commanded, “You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness” (Exodus 23:1). The last half of the verse prohibits joining with others in spreading slander and lies. Though the word “witness” implies that the law is concerned mainly with court action, it is not restricted to that. Lying in court is an extension of the ninth commandment, which forbids it: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

A conspiracy to give false testimony and thereby bring an innocent man into jeopardy is unforgivable, for it represents potential murder in the heart of the false witness (Matthew 5:22). Therefore the judges should not have pity lest they be tempted to be more tolerant than firm justice required (Exodus 21:23–25; Leviticus 24:19, 20). And the punishment of the liar would serve as an example to others. “So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you” (Deuteronomy 13:11 also 17:13).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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