"A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will perish."
The kernels of truth that are contained in this proverb are so crucial to maintaining equilibrium in a sinful world where it looks like evil, selfishness, and sin triumph.
The people who lie are often those who look like they are making the most progress. The skilled liar who can tell people what they want to hear makes fantastic progress at the beginning, and it seems that the honest person is left in the dust. One can be tempted to give up a righteous position and adopt the "whatever works" approach of the immoral person.
Don't do it, Solomon tells us. There is a punishment coming for the liar. They may seem like they are getting ahead but do not despair.
The Hebrew word for unpunished is the word naqa which actually means innocent, clean at its root level. The idea seems to be with the negative in this phrase that the liar will not be completely acquitted. It may look like they are getting away with it, but they have not. Hang in there; their lie has already been appealed to a higher court.
The word for lie is the Hebrew word kazab which means lie or speak that which is untrue or false in connection to reality. One must also grasp the idea that to lie in an immoral sense means that one is telling this untruth for personal gain. It is the intent of the untruth that pushes over the line of immorality. All of us say things that are false to reality all the time, but it is because we were told wrong or our perception was not accurate. It is when one purposely tells that which is untrue to bring about personal gain or avoid punishment that one is lying in the immoral sense.
Let's spend a little time looking at lying morally. It is important that we grapple with these ideas during our teen years because we will face these issues. It is also important that we think biblically about these issues and not try and make old solutions make sense.
The Ten Commandments have this aspect in the ninth command: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. God does not say thou shalt not speak anything that is false to reality, but instead He says you cross a line when you tell that which is false to reality with the intent to harm your neighbor. Do not seek personal gain for yourself (which will result in harm to your neighbor) or harm to your neighbor by speaking that which is untrue.
St. Augustine said that there were eight kinds of lies – five which were clear violations of this command and three which weren't. It is the three that aren't a violation of God's command that are of interest. There is the false witness that is not against the neighbor but would actually be for the neighbor. Example would be when the Gestapo came to take young men to the army. Some people told them that they had already run away, when in fact they were hiding. There is the false witness that is against an unrighteous enemy. Example would be if a murderer overpowers you and asks where a person is they want to murder. Must you tell them if you know? Answer: NO. The most common example is in the military where secret plans are made. If you were captured, would you have to tell the enemy all you know? Answer: NO. There is the false witness that is neither for nor against the neighbor. Example: This is entertainment, plays, movies, and drama where everyone knows that this is not true; but it not for or against anyone. It is some middle ground.
What is clear from this proverb is that people will lie all around you; and if you are not careful, it will cause you to lose heart because it looks like they are getting away with it but they are not. You don't have to take personal vengeance or go into despair or adopt the practices of the liar. Just move on about your business and you will see the righteous triumph.
It is interesting that the word translated in the NASB tells is the word for breathes lies. This proverb is specifically talking about the person who is a practiced liar. Every time they breathe, you suspect that they are lying. The more that this is true, the more quickly will come the perishing.