Martus / Witness
Word Studies
What does it mean to be a witness? Explore this word throughout the story of the Bible and see how it’s used to describe an experience with God.
The Basic Meaning of Witness

In the Bible, a witness is someone who sees something amazing or important. If this person begins to share what they’ve seen, we call this “bearing witness.” It’s a simple word, but being a witness carries a lot of responsibility! In fact, one of the ten commandments instructs against being a false witness (Exodus 20:16). Just like in English, the Hebrew words for "witness" and "to bear witness" frequently occur in a legal setting. This is seen when someone testifies in front of judges (Deuteronomy 19:18-20) or buys something from another person (Ruth 4:9, Jeremiah 32:10).

The Torah and Moses as a Witness

This pattern begins to take shape in the book of Exodus. The people of Israel witness Yahweh as the powerful King of the nations when he rescues them from slavery (Exod. 7-15). Then, when he speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai, he appoints this one nation to bear witness about what they have seen and experienced, calling them a “kingdom of priests” (Exod. 19:4-6). In other words, they are to mediate and connect the nations to Yahweh.

Moses and the Torah become chief witnesses tasked with bearing witness to Israel, so that they can fulfill their covenant relationship with Yahweh. When Moses meets with Yahweh on Mount Sinai, he sees and experiences God face-to-face. When he comes down, he bears witness to the people about his experience and presents the Torah, which testifies to God’s character and what God has done for Israel (Deut. 6:20-25). Moses even writes a song as a witness, so that the people will never forget how God has cared for and rescued them (Deut.y 31-32).

The Servant as a Chief Witness

In Isaiah chapters 40-48, we find the most direct designation of Israel as God’s witness to the nations (Isa. 43:10-12; 44:6-8). They are to declare Yahweh’s salvation and that he alone is God. But they are unresponsive, and God calls them blind and deaf (Isa. 42:18-20). How will a blind and deaf people announce Yahweh’s salvation to the nations? Yahweh says he will raise up a chief witness, or servant, out of Israel, who will be a light to the nations and bring salvation (Isa. 42:19-20; 43:10; 49:6).

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