People promise to say the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in a court of law! The fulness of that wording is interesting as it tries to counter the common human tendency to bend the truth; this is done sometimes to the extent that it really becomes an outright lie. It has been said that “half-truths” are more dangerous than lies. When a human being declares to others, “Be it known to you …” certain ‘facts’ – it is always as they want to see the facts.

We have examples of this in both our Old and New Testament readings today. In Ezra we are reading of the struggles of the first contingency of Jews who returned from captivity to Jerusalem with the purpose of rebuilding the temple. Nebuchadnezzar, in destroying it, was so thorough that even the foundations were wrecked. The non-Jews who, were transported to the area from Assyria (Ezra 4:20) take offence when the Jews decline their offer of involvement in the work. The result is they try to stop the work.

When a new King comes on the Persian throne they write a letter to him saying, “Be it known to the king that the Jews … are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city … if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished they will not pay tribute, custom or toll and the royal revenue will be impaired …” (verses 12,13). This was a total distortion of the facts, really a lie. It is astonishing how often money is made an issue – it was a most important factor in human decision making then and now.

Now in the New Testament we read that after Paul’s arrest by the Romans in a riot that the Jews provoked, they allege before the Roman Governor that Paul is “one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world … he even tried to profane the Temple, but we seized him” (Acts 24:5,6). Testimonies as to the true cause of a situation are so often distorted through prejudice.

Paul refuted these claims (verses 12,13) and says, “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (verse 16). Do we “always take pains” to have a clear conscience? God knows whether we bend the truth, even slightly! Do we have a clear conscience in the way we teach what God’s word says? Paul tells Timothy, in the last letter he wrote, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The most dangerous thing of all for people to do is to bend God’s “word of truth”.