False Balances

Proverbs 11:1 A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
but a just weight is his delight.

John Piper, in a 1987  sermon, “The Pleasure of God in Public Justice”

The implications here are very far-reaching. But let’s get the specific picture clear in our minds. Suppose you were a merchant in the Old Testament times and you sold corn meal. And suppose that in those days ten cents a pound was a fair price. Someone comes to you and asks to buy five pounds of corn meal. So you reach for your five pound stone and place it in the dish on one side of the scales. Then you take your big bag of meal and start pouring it into the dish on the other side of the scale. You pour until the two dishes swing at the same level. Then you pour the dish full of meal into your customer’s container, and he knows that he has been given the right amount of grain. The size of a five pound stone is fairly common knowledge.

unbalancedBut then suppose that during the night you took a very sharp, hard blade and dug a small hole in the side of the stone and worked it around hollowing out the inside until it weighed only four pounds. Then you covered the little hole over with clay the same color as the stone and let it dry. The next day you don’t use it on the educated and strong because they might make a fuss over the apparently smaller pile of meal and might even examine the stone. But when the child comes on behalf of his mother, and when the widow who is partially blind comes to buy meal, you use your deceitful stone.

Our text says that this is an abomination to the Lord, but that the full weight is his delight.

Now what sorts of acts in the 1980’s are implied in the phrase, “false balances,” in Proverbs 11:1? Let me just mention four categories, which are really two different ways of dividing the acts into two categories.

Four Categories of Acts in the Present Day

First, this verse refers to sellers and it refers to buyers:

1. Acts of Selling

It includes acts of selling when the seller does not give goods or services worth the price or the fee that he is charging. You can imagine a gasoline pump that reads a penny more per gallon than it should, or a scale at the grocery store that reads high, or a medicine label that claims too much, or a realtor who doesn’t tell a buyer about a flooding problem in the house he is selling, or a college teacher who hasn’t written a new lecture in ten years and spends his time remodeling his basement.

2. Acts of Buying

It includes acts of buying when the buyer schemes to pay less than the goods or services are really worth. You can see what God thinks of such an act in Proverbs 20:14—”‘It is bad, it is bad,’ says the buyer; but when he goes away, then he boasts.” This would include paying some poor vendor in Mexico a ridiculously small sum for a quality rug he had made because he is desperate for a sale and you can take it or leave it. It would include not paying the late penalty on my water bill by dating my check back before the deadline.

The other way to categorize the acts denounced in Proverbs 11:1 is this: it refers to acts of deceit and it refers to acts of injustice.

3. Acts of Deceit

It includes acts that involve deceit in transactions with other people. And so the act expresses a lie. For example, in the next several days as you do your tax returns, this verse has something very definite to say about whether your reporting is a delight to God or an abomination to God. Or you might file an insurance claim and lie about the extent of the damages in order to get a better settlement.

4. Acts of Injustice

And the other side of this is that such acts always do an injustice to another person. A person does not get what is his due. For example, you might stick a person with a lemon of a car by not being truthful about its condition when you sell it. Or you might rush a refugee family into signing a lease for an unseen apartment and charge them exorbitant rent and leave the apartment in poor condition with no improvements.

So I hope you can see that all such things are implied in Proverbs 11:1, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.” You can be a deceitful seller or a deceitful buyer. And you can do and injustice to a buyer and you can do an injustice to a seller.

God’s Interest in All Our Non-Religious Life

One lesson to be learned from this already is that God has an interest in all our non-religious life. All our business transactions are his concern. God is not so distant or even so “religious” that he only cares about what happens at church and during devotions. Every square inch of this earth is his and every minute of our lives is a loan from his breath. He is much more secular than we often think.