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Unequal Measures: A Meditation on Proverbs 20.10

19 Apr

You have seen the stickers before, you have just ignored them, or better said, you have just assumed them. The next time you fill up your car with gas, and thereby emptying your wallet (but I digress), take a moment to look for the sticker that certifies that the pump dispensing your gasoline is in face accurate. As maddening as it is to pay $3.75 for a gallon of gasoline, think how infuriating it might be if you were actually paying $3.75 for 8/10s of a gallon of gasoline. We trust the pumps are accurate because the state sends someone out to check on it.

Can you imagine living in a society where we could not trust the scales to be accurate? We would never know if we were getting a full gallon of gas, a full pound of hamburger meat, or a full pound of bananas. We take for granted that we live in society where our scales of measurement are just, or at least that our government is doing the job of certifying the accuracy of the scales.

But Solomon wrote his words of wisdom in a different age. In the days of Solomon, each vender in the market place had his own scale to weigh out a unit of wheat or to measure out a unit of barley. The purchaser had to be wary of unscrupulous salesmen who might bring with them two sets of weights. One set would be used for the most customers, but when the vulnerable and gullible would come around, a little sleight of hand would bring out the second set of weights. This must have been incredibly difficult to legislate and regulate in Solomon’s time, as I am sure that a few scales fall through the cracks of governmental oversight today. And so Solomon gave his son this wise advice:

Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 20.10 ESV)

Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good. (Proverbs 20.23 ESV)

A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight. (Proverbs 11.1 ESV)

A just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work. (Proverbs 16.11 ESV)

Not only was bringing out a second set of weights bad business practice, but it was an “abomination” to the Lord. We don’t use that word very often, but we probably should. The Hebrew words means “a disgusting thing.” The English dictionary defines it as “something worthy of disgust or hatred.” Very strong words. The Lord hates dishonest measurements.

But Solomon was not alone in leading the wise away from dishonest scales. The law and the prophets are very clear about the immorality of unequal measurements:

  • 35“You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. 36You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 37And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19.35)
  • 13“You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 16For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 25.13-16 ESV)
  • Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is accursed? 11Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights? (Micah 6.10-11 ESV)

The Scriptures seem quite clear. The Lord is disgusted by deceit, particularly those who use dishonest means of measurement in commerce. Notice that the wealth gained from such dishonest scales is the “treasure of wickedness” and that those who practice a full and fair measure shall have long days.

Other than the obvious application of Proverbs 20.10, that we should use honest scales when we are buying and selling, what do we do with Proverbs 20.10 in a land where the scales are regulated by the state? Allow me to suggest two different applications.

First, I think it is fair to apply the wisdom of Proverbs 20.10 to our work ethic. While we may not use scales and weights to measure out the grain we sell in the market place, we are measuring out our work that we give to those who employ us. Are we giving an honest and just day of work to our employer? When they pay us by the hour or by a salary, are they getting their just money’s worth? In a day where “work time” bleeds into the evenings and weekends, it can be difficult to discern what is fair. If a salaried worker must work on the weekend (without additional compensation), is it really unfair to spend a few minutes during the workday on Facebook? If we are never really “off” from work, how can we be sure that we are really “on” at work?

But it is important, that as Christian employees, we make sure that we are giving an honest day’s work, an honest measurement of what is being purchased by our employer. We must do this because this is a wise way to live, and there are inherent blessings to living a wise life. We must do this to avoid the disciplining hand of God. And we must do this so that we can enjoy long days and the peaceful life. The wise life is not always the easy life, but it is the blessed life.

Another way that we can apply the words of Proverbs 20.10 in a New Testament context is by reading the words of the apostle James. He wrote,

1My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? (James 2.1-7 ESV)

James speaks of making distinctions, which is another way of making measurements. Solomon wrote about “unequal measurements are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 20.10), which is exactly what James is speaking of, albeit in a different context.

James applied the wisdom of Solomon to the context of measuring the worth of another person. Some were determining the measure of a man by the amount of money in his pocket, but that scale was dishonest. The true measure of a man is their amount of wealth in the kingdom of God. But by measuring the wealthy to be more worthy than the poor, some in the church were measuring out their kindness, respect, and grace in different measurements. The rich got their favor, and the best seats in the house while the poor were ignored and marginalized. Their unequal scales were not only in their forms of measurement but in the measure of the grace they allocated to other persons. Unequal measures are an abomination to the Lord.

May we be wise today in our measurements of our time, our work, of others, and of the grace we dispense.

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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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