Just Weights and Measures

Mesopotamian WeightsIsrael was a theocracy, one kingdom under God, who was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22). In ancient Israel, God cared about the economic practices of His people, saying, “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt. You shall thus observe all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them; I am the LORD” (Lev 19:35-37). Here we observe that God was concerned about metrology, which is the science of measurement, most commonly with weights and volume. Having an agreed upon universal standard allowed a free market to operate with integrity, as each person could know that what they were buying or selling was a true measurement.[1]

We observe similar language in the book of Deuteronomy, where God directed His people to have integrity and to live honestly in their business dealings with others. Moses said, “You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Deut 25:13-15). Using unjust weights and measures would be a violation of the command not to covet (Deut 5:21) as well as the command not to steal (Deut 5:19). According to Victor Matthews, “Commerce in a society without coined money is dependent on standard weights and measures. Examples of stone and metal weights, marked with specific symbols designating weight values, have been found in Egyptian tombs as well as at several sites in Israel and Mesopotamia.”[2]

Bronze Age WeightsUsing different weights and measures was a form of thievery, as a businessperson would use a heavier weight or larger measure when purchasing items, thus obtaining more for himself, and then a lighter weight and smaller measure when selling to the purchaser, giving less to the customer. Jack Deere states, “The Israelites were to be totally honest in their business dealings. They could well afford to be so since it was ultimately the Lord who would withhold or give prosperity to them. Thus, honesty in business was a way of proclaiming one’s faith in the Lord’s ability to support him and give him long life.”[3] Here was blessing that came from God to those who abided by His moral standards.

As a theocracy, Israelites could not separate the learning of the law from the practicing of the law within the context of a theological relationship with the Lord of the law. Various aspects of God’s law touched on matters familial, agricultural, social, judicial, martial, religious, and financial. In this way, we learn there was no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. To walk properly with the Lord meant knowing His directives and conforming one’s life to them. God’s directives form the standard for righteous conduct. Without a fixed standard for values, morals become arbitrary and unstable. Holding to God’s moral standards meant one would follow ethical business practices, being honest in buying and selling, adhering to just weights and measures.

Solomon wrote, “A just balance and scales belong to the LORD; all the weights of the bag are His concern” (Prov 16:11). According to John Kitchen, “God is intimately involved in establishing what justice in the business world looks like. The standard of ethics for business is divinely established! Unethical business practices are not only in defiance of the king, but of God Himself. There is more to be considered in business than mere pragmatics.”[4]

Furthermore, God disapproved of false weights and measures, saying, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight” (Prov 11:1), and “Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD” (Prov 20:10), and “Differing weights are an abomination to the LORD, and a false scale is not good” (Prov 20:23). Three times in Proverbs it is declared that a false balance or differing weights are an abomination to the Lord. John Kitchen said:

An abomination is an attitude or action that is repugnant to the Lord and which He cannot endure. Because God loathes these things, they come under His judgment. Other things listed as ‘an abomination’ to the Lord include idolatry (Deut 7:25), homosexuality and other sexual perversions (Lev 18:22–30; 20:13), human sacrifice (Deut 12:31), occult activity (Deut 18:9–14), ritual prostitution (1 Kings 14:23f), and sacrificing unclean or defective animals (Deut 14:3–8; 17:1).[5]

Those who reject God inwardly will be inclined to defraud others outwardly. Unfortunately, Israel later turned away from the Lord and declined morally, and their business practices reflected their spiritual state. Having dethroned God from their lives and rejected His moral standards, they enthroned their own sinful desires which flowed into their business dealings. Later prophets, who served as prosecuting attorneys for the Lord, brought charges against Israelites because of their corrupt business practices (Amos 8:4-6, Mic 6:10-11), which added to the eventual destruction of the nation. It should be remembered that people may use weights in business dealings, but “the LORD weighs the hearts” of everyone (Prov 21:2; cf., Prov 24:12); and He desires “righteousness and justice” from His people (Prov 21:3). Honesty and generosity should be the hallmark of God’s people, especially those who lead in business.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] In the United States, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is the governmental department responsible for regulating weights and measures in business. For a helpful video, watch the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xml6brruFEU

[2] Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Dt 25:13–16.

[3] Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 307.

[4] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2006), 357.

[5] Ibid., 239.