Exegetical and Hermeneutical Commentary of Leviticus 19:16 – Bible Commentary

Thou shalt not go up and down a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor: I the LORD.

16. to talbearer ]Cop. Pro 11:13; pro 20:19. Jewish teachers frequently insist on the heinousness of slander. See Otho, Lex. Rabb. sv Calumny, and note the rendering of Targ. Jon., ‘Thou shalt not go after the slanderous (lit. triple) tongue.’ The epithet ‘triple’ implies that slander affects three persons: the slanderer, the slandered one, and anyone who repeats the slander. See Tal. Bab. ‘ Arachin Folio fifteen a, and cp. Sir 28:14ff. ( CB) with notes.

stand against the blood of your neighbor ]This expression has been differently interpreted: taken in connection with the preceding warning against being a talebearer, it seems to forbid endangering the life of an innocent man by bearing false witness. cop. Eze 22:9, part of a passage which describes with verbal similarity many of the evil doings which are forbidden in this ch. and the preceding one. Witnessing truly against a murderer is not forbidden, and Targ. Ps-Jon. explains this clause so as to enforce that duty; ‘be not silent about thy neighbour’s blood, when you know the truth.’ Another interpretation is, ‘thou shalt not stand (without rendering help) by the blood of thy neighbour,’ ie when he is in peril of his life.

Source: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Stand against the blood of thy neighbor – Either, to put his life in danger by standing up as his accuser (compare Matt 26:60); or, to stand by idly when your neighbors life is in danger. Whichever interpretation we adopt, the clause prohibits that which might interfere with the course of justice.

Source: Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

Lev 19:16

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer.

Talebearing and slander

. Character is in the keeping, and therefore at the mercy of acquaintances.

1. Therefore supremely value each others good name.

two. Jealously defend a worthy reputation.

3. Scornfully silence the unproved rumors of evils.

Character may be ruthlessly shattered by sinister whisperings.

1. For listeners are ready to entertain and repeat slander. Man’s inhumanity to man!

two. Aspersions feed on the inventiveness of malice.

3. Reputation is easily damaged. That which only a lifetime can build an hour may defame.

Character is so precious that its translators should be loathed.

1. Dread a talebearer as a destroying pestilence.

two. He who wrongs anothers reputation may next wrong yours. By heeding his slanders you encourage his vile trade from him, and slander must find new victims!

3. Put to shame all talebearers with ruthless severity.


1. There is enough of woe abroad without increasing it.

two. As we need our many evils to be pitied by man and pardoned by God, let us with charity hide sins, not expose them.

3. There is grace in Christ, and energy in the Holy Spirit, by which to perfect a good life and win a good name, which even enemies of religion shall be unable to defame or destroy.

Four. The light of the final judgment will refute all slander, and bring every secret thing to the open gaze of the world. (W. H. Jellie.)

Mischief of talbearing

The carrying of a tale, and reporting what such an one said or such an one did, is the way to sow such grudges, to kindle such heart-burnings between persons, as oftentimes break forth and flame to the consumption of families, courts, and perhaps at length of cities and kingdoms. The mischief such incendiaries do is incredible, as being indeed for the most part inevitable. And a vine or a rose-tree may as well flourish when there is a secret worm lurking and gnawing at the root of them, as the peace of those societies thrive that have such concealed plagues wrapt up in their hearts and bowels. (R. South.)

scandal rebuked

One day, in the presence of a pious tanner, at Elberfield, some people were tearing their neighbors characters to pieces. Diedrich, the tanner, was silent. You say nothing, said they. You see, he replied, I am a little like a bankrupt. He may be engaged in a most animated conversation, but I have always remarked, when the subject turns upon bankruptcy, he is suddenly dumb. I, too, am a bankrupt; the defects you are just reproaching your neighbors with I find in myself, and that shuts my mouth. (Pastor Krummacher.)

Talebearing condemned

the following is related of the late JJ Gurney, by one who, as a child, was often of his family circle:–One night–I remember it well–I received a severe lesson on the sin of evil speaking. Severe I thought it then, and my heart rose in childish anger against him who gave it; but I had not lived long enough in this world to know how much mischief a child’s thoughtless talk may do, and how often it happens that great talkers run off from the straight line of truth. I was talking very fast about some female relative, who did not stand very high in my esteem, and was about to speak further of her failings of temper de ella. In a few moments my eyes caught a look of such calm and steady displeasure, that I stopped short. There was not mistaking the meaning of that dark, speaking eye; it brought the color to my face, and confusion and shame to my heart. I was silent for a few moments, when Joseph John Gurney asked, very seriously, Dost thou not know any good thing to tell us of her? I did not answer. the question was more seriously asked, Think; is there nothing good thou canst tell us of her? Oh yes, I know some good things, certainly, but– Would it not have been better, then, to relate these good things than to have told us that which must lower her than her in our esteem? Since there is good to relate, would it not be kinder to be silent on the evil? Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, thou knowest. (Great Thoughts.)

The Tale Bearer

One celebrated nation of antiquity used to express this mans character by a very significant figure. They called a talebearer a seed picker. They gave him the same name which they used for a bird which goes about everywhere picking up seeds. There are men in the world who live by their seed collecting; by going about here and there from house to house, and gathering together all the little stories which can be told or made about the neighbors who are dwelling all the time securely by them and ignorant of the calumnies by which they are assailed. Yes, the seed collector, the man who goes about gathering anecdotes, great and small, about his neighbours, and retailing them again as he goes, is a common character everywhere. I wish that I could hold up the mirror to him for his own conviction of him. I am sure he would be ashamed, I believe he would be sorry if he saw himself faithfully poured. (Dean Vaughn.)

Source: Biblical Illustrator Edited by Joseph S. Exell

see each other 16. Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer]rachil signifies a trader, a pedlar, and is here applied to the person who travels about dealing in scandal and calumny, getting the secrets of every person and family, and retailing them wherever he goes. A more despicable character exists not: such a person is a pest to society, and should be exiled from the habitations of men.

Neither shalt thou stand against the blood, &c.]Thou shalt not be as a false witness, because by such testimony the blood-the life of an innocent man may be endangered.

Source: Adam Clarke’s Commentary and Critical Notes on the Bible

As a tale-bearer, who makes it his business to go up and down from one to another, and divulge evil and false reports concerning others, which, though many times it proceeds only from levity and talkativeness, yet apparently tends to the great injury of our neighbour. see Pro 11:13; Jer 6:28; 9:4. Neither shalt thou stand, to wit, in judgment, as a false accuser or false witness; for accusers and witnesses use to stand, whilst the judges sat, in courts of judiciary.

Source: English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Thou shall not go up and down a talebearer among thy people,…. The word used signifies a merchant, and particularly one that deals in drugs and spices, and especially a peddler in those things, that goes about from place to place to sell them; and such having an opportunity and making use of it to carry stories of others, and report them to their disadvantage, hence it came to be used for one that carries tales from house to house, in order to curry favor for himself, and to the injury of others; and such a man is a detestable person, and he ought not to be encouraged, see 1Ti 5:13;

neither shall thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor; either by bearing a false testimony, whereby his blood is in danger of being shed when innocent; or by being silent, and not hearing a testimony for him, whereby the shedding of his innocent blood might have been prevented; either way may be interpreted standing against it: the Jewish writers think, that a man by this law, is bound to do all he can to preserve the life of his neighbour, when it is by any means in danger, by drowning, or by thieves and wild beasts, so Jarchi:

I the Lord; the just and righteous One, who will resent and punish for all unjust proceedings in courts of judicature, secret tale bearing, doing any injury to another, or not preventing it when in the power of his hands.

Source: John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

Verse 16:

“Talebearer,” rakil, “slanderer.” The term occurs also in Pr 11:13; 8:19 p.m. The modern term is “gossip,” denoting one who magnifies and sensationalizes rumors and partial information, usually with no desire to help the subject of the rumor. Gossip is a sin today, 2Th 3:11; 1Ti 5:13; 1Pe 4:15; Pro 18:8; 26: 20-22.

Gossip is the product of a vicious heart that seeks to justify a wrong attitude by pointing out the faults and failings of another, often under the guise of piety and “spirituality.” But spirituality is not measured by one’s ability to expose sin; it is measured by one’s desire and effort to restore the erring, Ga 6:1.

Gossip is a certain way to endanger the life of one’s neighbor, which this text declares to be a sin. An example of this is 1 Kings 21:13; see also Mt 26:20; 27:4.

Source: Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

16. Thou shall not go up and down. The principle of the second clause is the same as that of the foregoing verse, for it is added to a general precept, where by detraction is condemned: and much more ought we to be deterred from it, whilst we acknowledge that our tongue is thus armed. cruelly to shed innocent blood. Some suppose that the word רכיל, racil, is metaphorically taken from merchants, because the tale-bearer or whisperer (169) is no less busy in hunting for false reports, which he may afterwards circulate, than the merchant is diligently bent on buying and selling. Others think that there is a change of the letter ג into כ; and that thus the word is derived from the feet; because slanderers are always wandering about to hunt for grounds of detraction; and therefore is always joined with a verb which means to walk. I do not think, however, that it is always used in the same sense; for when Ezekiel reproves the Israelites, because there were always men called רכיל, racil, among them, to shed blood, (170) I understand men of fraud, or fraudulent persons, who plot against the good to procure their destruction. ( Eze 22:9.) Some also translate it spies. Meanwhile, I doubt not, but that Moses, in this passage,…

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