The Ninth Commandment
Deut. 5:20 gives us the Ninth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we will not accuse him falsely or maliciously. This law also governs the prophetic office and Truth itself.
The purpose of this commandment is to prevent injustice and to promote justice by the revelation of truth. Deut. 19:15 says,
15 A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
The fact that a single witness cannot convict anyone of any sin is designed as a safeguard against false accusation. More than one piece of evidence must be found, or more than one person must witness an act in order to convict a sinner. This law was foundational to the entire system of biblical law under both covenants.
Jesus mentioned it in His brief listing in Matt. 19:18. Paul used it in 2 Cor. 13:1 and applied it again in 1 Tim. 5:19 in his instruction to Church leaders:
19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
In other words, a Church leader was forbidden to believe an accusation without corroborating evidence as a double witness. This is a good example where Paul upholds the law's standard of Christian behavior, even though he denies the law's ability to save or perfect any man. Paul agreed with the law that no man could be convicted of sin apart from two or three witnesses.
The Penalty for False Accusation
The Ninth Commandment forbids false accusation and enforces penalties for such acts in Deut. 19:16-21,
16 If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. 18 And the judges shall investigate thoroughly; and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. 20 And the rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. 21 Thus you shall not show pity; life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
In other words, if someone falsely accuses his neighbor of stealing a sheep, the penalty is that the false accuser owes his intended victim a sheep. If a false witness deliberately testifies that his neighbor committed murder, which would result in the death penalty imposed on an innocent man, then the false witness must be sentenced to death (unless the victim forgives the crime).
Witnessing in the Divine Court
This law is often closely related to the Third Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Deut. 5:11). When two disputing parties go to a biblical court, they are said to be standing before God, because the judges represent God. For this reason, Deut. 19:17 (quoted earlier) says, “then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges.”
The priests and judges were God's representatives in the earth (as long as they truly represented Him, of course). Those who took oaths were actually presenting a formal statement of truth to be established in the records of heaven. They were calling upon God to bear witness to the truth of their statement. Thus, they subjected themselves to God for judgment for any falsehood in their statement or any malice in their hearts.
Any false statements profaned the name of God, as Lev. 19:12 says, because it presumed that God Himself would confirm a lie. But even Balaam prophesied truthfully that “God is not a man that He should lie” (Num. 23:19). Coming from him, this prophecy is especially significant, because he had hoped that God would bear witness to the Moabite king's curse upon Israel.
The Ninth Commandment also condemns false prophets who present God in a false light or presume to speak His words when they are really only the carnal thoughts of men. A false prophet is one who bears false witness in his testimony. Some do so deliberately and are judged accordingly. Others, often young prophets who yet have a problem with heart idolatry, bear false witness inadvertently. These are judged with greater mercy.
This Commandment also condemns priests and preachers who present God's character in an inaccurate or false manner. However, the judgment for such false witness must usually be left in the hands of God Himself, because men are so often incapable of judging on that level. In fact, judging prophets should normally be left to other prophets, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:29,
29 And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others [i.e., other prophets] judge.
It is only when a genuine biblical court is established that one can hope to judge prophets correctly. In Scripture most of the examples are of the true prophets of God being falsely accused in the earthly courts. That is why the true prophets were stoned, sawn asunder, or imprisoned as false prophets. Israel's priests and judges seldom had the spiritual discernment or the knowledge of God's character to maintain righteous courts.
The situation has changed little even today. For this reason God brought judgment upon Israel and Judah, putting them under the authority of other nations and the laws of men (and false gods). God destroyed the nation that He formed, the courts that He established, and the temple that He authorized Solomon to build. When those divine institutions ceased to bear witness to the truth of God's character, He did not hesitate to condemn them and to destroy them.
Prophets Represent God
Prophets represent God to men, but they also represent men to God. This is their intercessory, or priestly, role. They are given revelation which is to be conveyed to the people accurately. The main problem they face is that their revelation is always incomplete or partial, for Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 13:9, 10,
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect [full revelation] comes, the partial will be done away.
Paul was not speaking of the end of prophecy in the Church, as if the prophetic gift was to be withdrawn when the New Testament writings were complete. Even the New Testament was not a complete revelation of truth, for it is self-evident that no man even today has a perfect understanding of revelation and the mind of God. For this reason there is much disagreement among those who interpret Scripture. But when the perfect revelation comes, the partial revelation that we have today will pass away.
Jesus was a perfect witness of all that He heard His Father say and all that He saw His Father do (John 8:28). For this reason, we read in Rev. 3:14 that He is “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness.” In other words, all that He said and did was simply an Amen, a double witness, of the Father’s words and deeds. His witness was absolute truth, and He was also “faithful” to portray it in every aspect of His life.
Yet because a true prophet bears witness to things that contradict the heart idols of average people, the prophet usually finds himself at odds with the people and with religious leaders. For this reason most of the prophets were persecuted and many were stoned as false prophets. In a world that has so little understanding of the mind of God, it is dangerous to be a prophet.
Priests and preachers have it much easier, because they normally give their understanding of prophecy, rather than to prophesy directly the word of the Lord. As long as their opponents understand the distinction, they are in no serious danger. Yet unfortunately, many do not understand the difference, and so they confuse wrong opinion with false prophecy. When such men have been given positions of authority and law enforcement, they have often accused men falsely. Many have been executed and even tortured for having a wrong or differing opinion about some doctrinal viewpoint.
When God blesses His people for their faith and obedience, He uses the mouth of the prophets to convey this blessing. This was the purpose of the blessing that the priest used to convey each day when the priest emerged from the Holy Place after burning the incense in the temple. The blessing is found in Num. 6:24-26,
24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 The Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.
However, when the people persisted in rebellion and disobedience, the prophets became the spokesmen of God for judgment. This was where they ran into trouble, because the people usually wanted to be blessed in their disobedience. As time passed, many of the people forgot the law of God or learned a twisted version of it when the priests interpreted it according to their own carnal reasoning and understanding.
In such cases, the prophets (and Jesus Himself) attempted to correct their understanding, but the priests and teachers usually had too much confidence in their own carnal viewpoints. The people reasoned that a hundred priests, descended from Aaron and called by God to minister to Him, could not all be wrong, and so the prophet was cast out or executed as a false prophet.
Later, of course, the people realized that they had misjudged the prophet. So they erected monuments to honor them posthumously (Matt. 23:29). Nonetheless, they continued to stone the prophets of their own generation.
Change in the Prophetic Office
Perhaps the foremost problem that prophets face is when they have to decide whether to represent God or to represent the people, the king, or church leaders.
While there are certainly false prophets in every generation, the Bible usually refers to prophets who use their genuine gifting for false purposes. Balaam, for instance, is held up in 2 Peter 2:15, 16 as the classic false prophet, though he never seems to have prophesied anything falsely. Instead, he used his gift to obtain power and money. In doing this, he was false to God.
In other words, a prophet is false not because he predicts something that does not come to pass, but because he speaks out of the idols of his own heart—idols such as the love of power, money, or prestige. They have greater loyalty to those idols than to God.
The king's prophets are those who are loyal to the king, rather than to God. A church prophet is one who is loyal to the church, rather than to God. A prophet of Baal is one who is loyal to Baal, rather than to God. Any of these may actually be genuinely gifted, but they might misuse their gift, often because they receive payment which has bought their loyalty.
While this problem has been seen throughout history, it came to a head in the days of Eli, the high priest. Up to that time, the high priest had worn the ephod, by which they prophesied the will of God through the use of Urim and Thummim. But Eli had two sons who were corrupt, and Eli refused to correct them or to bar them from ministering as priests.
So finally, a prophet (referred to as a “man of God”) was sent to Eli with a message from God in 1 Samuel 2:27-36. In essence, he told Eli, “Did I promise your ancestor, Phinehas, that he and his children would be high priests to minister to Me indefinitely? Well, now, because of your corrupt sons, I am taking back that promise. I am going to disqualify you by chopping off your arm, and the sign of this will be when your two sons will die on the same day.” The man of God continued in verse 35,
35 But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always.
This prophecy was ultimately fulfilled in Christ Himself, whose enduring priesthood was of the Melchizedek Order. But yet the prophecy also had a partial fulfillment in Samuel, who was a type of Christ in His roles as a Prophet-Priest.
Up to that time, the main prophetic office had been united in the priesthood. But because of priestly corruption, the prophetic gift had been compromised or unheeded. Eli should have used the Urim and Thummim to determine the will of God in dealing with his own sons, but it is apparent that he failed to do this.
Therefore, God separated the prophetic office from that of the priesthood. Peter bears witness to this change in Acts 3:24,
24 And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also pronounced these days.
Why did Peter seem to ignore the prophets who lived prior to Samuel? Was it because those prior prophets gave no witness of Jesus Christ? Of course not. Abraham was a prophet (Gen. 20:7), as was Moses (Deut. 18:18) and Aaron (Exodus 7:1). Each of these were types of Christ in their own way. So why did Peter single out Samuel, as if he were the first prophet? The answer is that while there were men with prophetic gifting since the beginning of time, the office of prophet was not distinct until Samuel. That is when it became distinct, on account of corruption in the priesthood.
This was Eli’s “arm” that was chopped off. One’s arm is a symbol of power or authority. Since there is no record that Eli ever lost one of his arms, it is plain that God was speaking of the loss of another type of arm that would disqualify Eli from the priesthood. God cut off the prophetic office from Eli, which disqualified him as a high priest. By extension it disqualified the entire Levitical priesthood, setting the stage for the coming of the true High Priest, Jesus Christ.
In the case of high priests, under the Old Covenant they were not allowed to minister if they had any physical defect (Lev. 21:17-23). Therefore, no one-armed man was allowed to serve as high priest. But God was more concerned about spiritual defects than physical. A high priest without a prophetic office was defective and not qualified to hold that office. For this reason, the Levitical priesthood itself became disqualified, and from that point, it was determined that it would be replaced by the Order of Melchizedek.
This change did not occur instantaneously. In fact, when Eli died, his son Eleazar took his place (1 Sam. 7:1). When Eleazar died, his son Abiathar took his office. Abiathar was eventually replaced in the early days of Solomon. 1 Kings 2:27 says,
27 So Solomon dismissed Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord, which He had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.
Even though Eli’s descendants continued to be high priests for three more generations, they had lost the prophetic office to Samuel and the prophets who came later. God began to raise up prophets distinct from the priesthood who were divinely trained and accountable directly to God. These prophets were not required to be of any particular tribe, and so they too foreshadowed the Melchizedek priesthood that was yet to be fully instituted through the New Covenant.
In this way God began to resolve the problem of dynastic succession, inherent in the Levitical system, where it was inevitable that even a godly priest would eventually have sons that did not follow his godly example. Dynastic succession is inevitably doomed to failure in the end.
Abiathar Supports Adonijah the Antichrist
The prophetic office beginning with Samuel was not passed down from father to son. Rather, God raised up new people in each generation as He saw fit. Such an arrangement, of course, was not popular among the priests—especially the high priests, who were loathe to give up the ephod, which was the symbol of the prophetic office. We see this also in the final strange statement of the man of God who gave the word of the Lord to Eli. 1 Sam. 2:36 concludes his statement:
36 And it shall come about that everyone who is left in your house shall come and bow down to him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread, and say, “Please assign me to one of the priest’s offices so that I may eat a piece of bread.”
This portrays Eli’s family begging for priestly responsibility in order to make a living. But God had already purposed to make a change of priesthood, and this change came three generations later in the early days of Solomon. Eli’s grandson, Abiathar, had been the long-time friend of David throughout his reign, but when David died, he backed Adonijah as his successor (1 Kings 1:7).
An antichrist is one who attempts to usurp the position of the one truly chosen and anointed (enchristed) to rule the Kingdom. Since David was a type of Christ, then anyone attempting to usurp his throne would be an antichrist. (The Greek word anti means “in place of,” often in the sense of a usurper.) Absalom was an antichrist when he usurped the throne of David in 2 Samuel 15. Likewise, later Adonijah tried to be an antichrist by usurping the throne of Solomon, the one chosen to succeed David.
Abiathar backed an antichrist, rather than the Prince of Peace, represented by Solomon (“peaceful”). For this cause, he was replaced by Zadok, a new line of priests that prophetically represented the Melchizedek Order. We are told in 1 Kings 2:35, “and the king appointed Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar.”
Zadok was a different descendant of Aaron. Thus, he qualified as a high priest during the time of the Old Covenant. However, in the end, even he was only a type and shadow of the priesthood that was yet to come. His line was replaced by Jesus Christ under the New Covenant, when the true Prince of Peace came as the high priest after the Order of Melchizedek.
Recall that Abiathar had rejected Solomon, backing Adonijah in his attempt to usurp the throne. This pattern was repeated when the priests in Jesus’ day rejected the Prince of Peace in favor of Barabbas, the robber (Matt. 27:21). In that case, Adonijah was a type of Barabbas. Adonijah was the son of David, while the name Barabbas means “son of the father.”
When David was on his deathbed, the people had to choose between two of David’s sons, because both Solomon and Adonijah were sons of the same father. But in the New Testament, the people had to choose between two who were named “son of the Father.” Strangely enough, history shows that Barabbas’ full name was Jesus Barabbas. The irony could not have been lost on Pontius Pilate, who gave the people their choice of two with the same name but whose hearts were far different.
Ezekiel Prophesies the Change of Priesthood
Two centuries after Zadok’s inauguration, Ezekiel prophesied of the greater change of priesthood in Ezekiel 44. Though he did not specifically name the priesthood that was to be replaced, he spoke of them as an idolatrous priesthood who had caused Israel to go astray (44:10). His word picture is clarified when he contrasts the idolatrous priests with the sons of Zadok in verse 15,
15 But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me….
In that this is a prophecy of the future, it is clear that “the sons of Zadok” represent the Melchizedek Order, which replaced the entire Aaronic system that served under the Old Covenant.
Today, of course, the same problem has resurfaced, as Jewish priests are being trained to overthrow the Melchizedek priesthood and to revert back to the old system in Jerusalem, complete with animal sacrifices, carnal washings, and an earthly temple. They are begging for some responsibility to fulfill the office of a priest, but God has replaced Levi with Melchizedek, even as the true Lamb of God has replaced animal sacrifices.
Those who back this effort are aligning themselves with Adonijah the antichrist type. Like Abiathar, the priest who had faith in David for many years but who proved unfaithful in the end, many Christians and their leaders are now following his example by backing the Zionist attempt to replace Christ and His Order of Melchizedek with the old system that God Himself abolished long ago. Such Christians need to reread Hebrews.
This was foreseen by the New Testament writers, especially the Apostle Paul, who sought to keep the early Church from reverting back to Judaism. (See my commentary, The Book of Galatians: Paul Corrects the Distorted Gospel.) Likewise, the book of Hebrews was designed to show the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old, along with the various changes in the forms of the law (Hebrews 7:12).
In conclusion, the Ninth Commandment establishes truth as the basis of conversation and daily life, judges false witness according to their intent, governs prophetic witness, and sets a standard for recognizing the true Messiah.