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Some thoughts on bearing false witness by Aaron Hecht

Have you ever wondered why the 9th Commandment is so specific?

Many translations of the Bible (and much of the commentary, both Jewish and Christian) about this commandment, treat it as if it said "You shall not tell a lie." In fact, you'll see many of the lists of the Ten Commandments embroidered on pillows, emblazoned on signs, posters, T-shirts, etc. translate the 9th Commandment as "Though Shalt Not Lie."

But that's not what the text says.

Obviously, lying IS a sin, and it's a very serious sin. The Bible has several other passages which make this very clear. But the 9th commandment doesn't prohibit telling lies. It prohibits something that involves lying but is more specific. Why would God do that? Why would He list a prohibition against this very specific form of lying alongside prohibitions against adultery, theft, and murder, along with all the other Ten Commandments?

Here's what I think.

In his famous book "Man's Search for Meaning" (which EVERYONE should read) world-famous psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said that being falsely accused and/or unfairly maligned and misunderstood is one of the most painful experiences a person can have. He even gave an example of how one of the guards at a concentration camp he was in had made a sneering remark about how he must have made a lot of money working as a psychologist before the war. Although it might have meant his death, Frank was unable to stop himself from indignantly informing the guard that, actually, he'd done most of his work for people who couldn't afford to pay him.

Did you catch that? 

A highly educated and intelligent man was willing to face possible death in order to set the record straight with a total stranger.

Have you ever experienced something like that?

I'll tell you about my own experience with this phenomenon.

I once worked in an office for a manager who had little regard for the truth. He was very focused on goals and viewed the truth as "all fine and good" but if it was inconvenient, he wouldn't hesitate to use lies and deceit to dispense with whatever inconvenience the truth might be causing him.

One of his favorite tricks was to blame his subordinates for the bad results of his own mistakes and poor decisions. This often involved making up completely untrue stories about them and even putting words in their mouths they never said in order to make them look like terrible people while deflecting attention from himself.

The first time it happened to me I was furious and tried to defend myself by telling the truth. But he brushed this off, simply repeating his false narrative over and over again, literally shoving it down my throat and making it very clear that I could either swallow it or he'd get rid of me. I wanted to stay in that job, so despite my intense feelings of helpless outrage, I swallowed that false narrative about me and moved on.

But it bugged me, and then a few months later something else happened and I had to swallow another false narrative, and then there was another one, and another. Sometimes they were about other people, and I knew he was lying to me about these other people, but I pretended not to know because, once again, I wanted to stay in this office which he was in charge of.  I swallowed one lie after another from this man for years until one day he went too far and I finally decided enough was enough, so I quit.

Quitting that job and leaving that office got me out of the toxic work environment but it didn't heal the scars on my heart and mind that all the lies and false accusations he'd made against me and other people I cared about, had caused. I spent a long time and a lot of money in therapy trying to heal and move on and to be honest, I'm still working on it.

A vitally important part of moving on from anything painful is forgiveness, and forgiving my former boss wasn't easy. But what was far more difficult was forgiving myself for letting it happen. 

How could I have been so weak and compliant, for so long, with something I knew was wrong? How could I have let someone use me like a dishrag and play me like a violin? Why didn't I fight back and stand up for myself more? Why didn't I call him out when he told me things about other people I knew weren't true? Why did I just keep my mouth shut in the face of such despicable deceit and hypocrisy? 

One thing that helped me answer some of these difficult questions was internalizing the fact that I was in a situation where someone who had power over my life simply didn't care what was true and what wasn't. This person sincerely thought that the work he was doing was so important that he was justified in saving himself from being distracted by petty hassles and problems. One way to do that was by blaming his subordinates for his own mistakes and then gaslighting, manipulating, shaming, bullying, and threatening them into accepting it, and much else that was convenient for him but maybe not so great for them. That, as far as he was concerned, was simply a management style that worked for him, so he saw no reason to do anything else.

So even if I'd tried to push back against the lies and false accusations with the truth, it wouldn't have made any difference. In fact, the few times I tried, it ended up just making things worse for myself.

What's true in the life of an individual is not infrequently also true in the life of a nation.

Consequences of living in a "Post-Truth World"

As I'm sitting here writing this, Israel is at wars.

No, that wasn't a typo. I deliberately made the word "war" plural in the previous sentence because the conflict Israel has had forced upon it in the past two weeks has many layers, facets, and dimensions.

There is of course a kinetic battle between the IDF and the Hamas terror organization which rules the Gaza Strip. There is also another kinetic battle being waged between the IDF and Hezbollah on the northern border. There are also kinetic battles being waged between the IDF, Border Police and other security forces, and various armed factions and gangs in Judea and Samaria. Although it's easy to forget, and indeed is barely being reported on anymore, the appallingly high levels of violent crime within Israel's Arab community haven't slowed down, and indeed threaten to erupt into yet another, internal front.

But in some ways, as difficult and dangerous as all those fronts are, there's another front in this war that's even more difficult and that's the public relations front.

Israel is vastly better at telling its side of the story to the legacy media than it used to be. But there are still a lot of "journalists" out there who bring a strong bias against Israel to their reporting on what goes on in this country. In the age of social media, the enemies of Israel have also found much better ways to bear false witness against us. Sadly, and for reasons that defy one's best efforts at rational speculation, the media and even many governments around the world are eager to take the lies and false accusations made against Israel at face value, while treating Israel's narrative with absurd levels of skepticism.

This was on sharp display in recent days as one of the most surreal situations I've personally ever encountered played out.

On the morning of October 7th, Hamas terrorists invaded Israeli territory and committed horrifying atrocities against Israeli civilians, filming many of their most gruesome acts so they could share the images and movies on social media. Almost everyone who has an internet-capable device has seen at least some of this footage. I am reliably informed that intelligence agents of several countries have seen footage that few of the general public have seen, and it includes things that drove some of the people who saw it to suicide.

However, despite this seemingly indisputable evidence, there were those who cast doubt on the reports of Hamas atrocities and demanded that Israel "provide actual proof" that they had happened. No matter how much "actual proof" was provided, these sneering doubters continued to cast their doubts. 

Then, on the evening of 17 October, Hamas issued a statement that Israel had deliberately targeted a hospital with air strikes and had "massacred" 500 people, mostly children. In the coming hours, that number of dead children would be revised several times, but no evidence of any kind would ever be offered for any of the various numbers quoted.

Within minutes, condemnations of Israel had been issued by several Arab governments. Shortly thereafter, Western governments, the EU, the World Health Organization, and many other agencies and NGOs piled on with angry condemnations of Israel while major media outlets ran front-page stories about the situation which quoted the Hamas statement, including the death toll, almost word for word.

It is not even theoretically possible that any of these governments, agencies, NGOs or media outlets would have made any effort to check the facts before running with the Hamas statement. No one even asked to see any evidence before issuing their statements condemning Israel for something Israel hadn't done. They were ready to take Hamas at their word axiomatically and without any trace of question or doubt.

Of course, in a few hours, the IDF released videos, intercepted communications and other evidence clearly showing that a rocket fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, intended for Israel, had instead fallen in the parking lot of the hospital. Even a video posted by Al Jazeera accidentally showed the rocket hitting the hospital parking lot.

The publicly available evidence compelled many (but not all) Western governments and media outlets to issue retractions of their condemnations of Israel and post fresh reports with a more neutral tone. But Iran, Turkey, Arab governments, and most Arab media outlets completely ignored the videos they'd seen showing the PIJ rocket landing on the hospital and continued to demand that Israel pay a price for this attack it didn't launch.

In other words, although the truth was on Israel's side, as it often is, it didn't help us much, as it often doesn't.

That's because many of the powerful people in this world don't really care what's true and what's not. Like my old boss, they have priorities that are really important to them and the moral or ethical dynamics of a given situation are not serious considerations for them as they seek to manage the things they have power over and grasp for power over other things.

That is deeply frustrating for Israelis and their supporters, but it's something that's not going to change before Yeshua returns to this Earth so my advice is to just manage your exasperation as best you can and pray for Him to come quickly.

All of this brings us back to the 9th Commandment.

I believe God included the prohibition against bearing false witness (which is a very specific form of lying) in the 10 Commandments because it is uniquely toxic to the lives of human beings and their relationships with each other and with their creator. Like all sins, it damages everything it touches. It hurts both the person (or country) who is sinned against as well as the one who commits the sin.

My old boss has suffered tremendously in almost every area of his life because of this bad habit he has of violating the 9th commandment for the sake of short-term advantages. It's very apparent and I wonder how it's possible that he doesn't realize it.

The same is true of these countries and governments and media outlets who are ready to believe, and immediately amplify, any false report about Israel. The media globally suffers from catastrophically low levels of public trust. Most Middle Eastern governments, and many Western governments, are held in contempt and deeply distrusted by their populations. Most of these countries are dysfunctional and corrupt. Everywhere, the phenomenon of the "post-truth world" is causing devastation and anguish, making normal life impossible. 

It didn't start recently though. There is a VERY old saying in this part of the world that "to admit to having made a mistake is to make a second mistake."

So, in order to avoid admitting to a mistake, people and governments tell lies, and then they tell lies to cover up the first lie, and so on.

Again, it's very difficult to imagine how these people don't make the connection between the lies they tell and the horrible situation they're in.

So...what's the good news?

The good news is, literally, THE GOOD NEWS!

The Middle East, very much including Israel, is VERY tired of all the lies, deceit, gaslighting, and hypocrisy and they're open to the Good News about the One who said of Himself, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me."

This aspect of Yeshua's identity, that He is "the truth" is something that I think we desperately need to take hold of. It's something that puts the Gospel in stark contrast to the way most of the world operates, and that might even be another reason for the 9th Commandment.

I invite you to join me in striving to eject from our lives any and all traces of lies, deceit, gaslighting, and hypocrisy. That absolutely includes the lies we tell ourselves and the false narratives we might be emotionally invested in. This includes false narratives about Israel, the IDF, and things we cherish about any other country or army.

It'll mean forgoing temporary advantages in many situations we might find ourselves in. It'll mean facing unpleasant consequences for our own mistakes, poor judgment, and failures. But I don't think we can do otherwise if we want to live out our calling, both as individuals and our corporate calling as the Church of Jesus Christ.

To sum up brothers and sisters, we can't bear true witness to the hope that is in us to a lost and dying world if we're failing the basic test of not bearing false witness against our neighbors.

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