The scripture before us was given to the children of Israel by God via Moses at Mount Sinai. Prior to this instruction, God gave Moses the ten commandments by which Israel was to live. Among those commandments was the instruction: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). The commandment given in Exodus 23:1 is essentially the same. This verse forbids one to raise a false report. While it is possible to issue a false report that does not involve one’s neighbor, both false witnessing and false reporting involve purposeful misrepresentation of what one believes or what one knows to be true.
So why did God repeat the instruction? God repeated His instruction because it was necessary. Man does not seek God’s will. Man does not seek to do that which is upright. Man circumvents God’s instruction in selfish quests to do his own thing. God wants man to seek His righteousness and not to manufacture a righteousness of his own construction.
Exodus 23:1 also includes an instruction not to join hands with the wicked by being an unrighteous witness. There is a world of difference between being a witness of unrighteousness and being an unrighteous witness. When one repeats gossip, one may be giving an accurate accounting of unrighteousness, but repetition of gossip which is not an accurate accounting can make one an unrighteous witness. Engaging in the spread of gossip does not necessarily make one an unrighteous witness, but gossip repetition is hardly an avenue which leads to the realization of God’s will in one’s life.
There is a saying that fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong. That is not what the word of God says. Exodus 23:2 states that God’s people are not to follow the crowd when the crowd does that which is evil. We need to look at God’s word, and not at the crowd, in choosing the way which we should go. The commandment: “neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment” makes it clear that God’s people are to be guided by the intent of His law. It is God’s intent that one should seek His will, not crowd approval. We are to be seekers of His will.
In dealing with others, God would have His people deal equally and fairly in every occasion. When one looks upon the poor and afflicted, one is not to extend favor (v. 3) or disfavor (v. 6). God holds both rich and poor to the same standard. God’s standard of righteousness is the same for all. The Lord counts believing Him for righteousness. It is the same for all.
God’s ways are not the way of the crowd. When one finds an ox or an ass which has gone astray, one is to return it to its owner. This instruction specifically addresses the instance in which the owner of the ass or donkey is one’s enemy. Verse 4 illustrates the extent to which one is to reach out to others. If one observes an ass (a beast of burden belonging to someone else) which is unable to perform its task, one is to go out of his way to assist. This is not the way of natural man. Natural man is seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Both the priest and the Levite, like the thief, left the wounded man to fend for himself. The Good Samaritan went out of his way to help the helpless.
Again, God’s ways are not the ways of natural man. God’s instruction to Moses requires a righteousness not found in men. Natural man looks upon his enemy’s distress and declares it to be God’s judgment. God looked upon our distress and commended “his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We are to do as Christ who selflessly gave Himself for us, the undeserving. It is God’s intent that man should realize his need to look to Him to supply the righteousness which the law requires, a righteousness which all men lack.
“Keep thee far from a false matter . . .” (v. 7). Failure to distance one’s self from a lie or misrepresentation makes one guilty of any miscarriage of justice which results. The Lord God requires perfection. Keeping far from a false matter nine times out of ten is not satisfactory. God will not justify a single sin. When we ask forgiveness, He is quick and faithful to forgive (I Jn. 1:9). Christ supplies the perfection which the Lord God requires. “I will not justify the wicked” (v. 7). There is no escape from judgment.
In verse 8, Moses cautions against accepting gifts. The gift which one is to refuse has unseen attachments. It is one which influences justice. Acceptance of such gifts cloud the mind and destroy the testimony that God would have His people place before the world.
The instructions of verses 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8, are actions that would normally be implemented in the setting of a courtroom, while that of verses 4 and 5 apply to settings far removed from a hall of justice. The instruction of verse 9 has application both in court and outside of court. Regardless of the setting, God’s expectations remain the same. We, as His people, are called to do that which is right in His sight in every place and on every occasion.
We are called to His standard and to be the testimony of His standard. New Testament believers are to be a testimony of Christ who said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). Let us be obedient.