The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness — he has accused his brother falsely — 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.
I’ve often wondered how we could stop all the frivolous lawsuits and random nonsense that pervades our culture. God had a solution for that all spelled out in Israel’s law. The punishment for falsely accusing someone was to have the tables turned. And, in context, this was not only applicable to lawsuits, but to all accusations whatsoever. This same rule applied to both civil and criminal cases. So the person who wanted to sue over something might end up having to pay the fines she was hoping to collect. The man who thought to get his neighbor executed might end up being executed. Such a rule would make a person think twice (and three times and four times and just keep right on thinking) about whether or not the potential payoff was worth the risk involved. Hypothetical situations abound when the subject of justice is brought up and I’m not qualified to address them except to say that God’s instruction was to investigate thoroughly. And when God says thorough He means thorough.
Great. The problems of frivolous jurisprudence could be solved. Woot! Doesn’t apply to me personally. Except that it does.
See, I can be either the accuser or the accused in this scenario. If I am accused, I need to remember that God handed this standard down to Israel. This means that God uses this standard when judging. So people may accuse me of all manner of wrongdoing, but God knows the truth and will act accordingly. If His Law is to dole out the punishment of the alleged crime on the accuser if the accused is innocent, then I really need to be praying for those who falsely accuse me because the punishment they were hoping would land on me will be coming back like a boomerang. But if I’m the accuser, I need to make sure I’m not accusing people with less than compelling evidence. I need a host of witnesses and empirical evidence piled like a mountain so that I’m no longer accusing, but stating an established fact. And that, I think, is part of what God is getting at with this command and the consequences. I had better know that I know that I know what I’m talking about before I think about accusing someone of something. I imagine that most of the scandal rags would go under and the “news” programs that thrive on sensationalism would be gone. But, more importantly, my words would be fewer and my speech trustworthy. Part of being a trustworthy person is not accusing people falsely.
My application of this is that I must stop opening my mouth in accusation unless I know that the thing I am about to say is 100%, incontrovertibly true. Did the President actually do the thing I’m about to propagate all over Facebook? Did that movie star actually say the thing I’m going to Tweet that they did? If I did not hear it with my own ears during a live broadcast or, better yet, in person then I’d better not say it, Tweet it, Share it, Like it, whatever. In the digital age, I can falsely accuse someone and gloss it over with a veneer of legitimacy because I share what some online “news” source has written. And, while I’m working on shutting my mouth (and taming my “post” buttons of all varieties), I need to remember that God has a standard with regard to those who are going to level false accusations against me and I need to PRAY for those people.