Tipping the Scales
There are several places in Scripture that speak of God’s abhorrence of “dishonest scales.” Having recently read an editorial that sought to expose what the writer deemed “the unfair scales” of our justice system, the phrase catches my attention. There is something within us that cries out at the sight of injustice; we long to find the place where life is fair. But what does it mean to measure our own lives with an honest scale?
As the Israelites emerged from their slavery in Egypt and the perils of the desert through mighty acts of deliverance, they were asked to remember the almighty hand of God. The great plagues that came upon Egypt, the triumphant parting of the Red Sea, the manna from heaven—all were arguably unforgettable—and yet God specifically asked them to remember. Remember the great movement of God among you; remember the God who saw your misery and acted out in justice. Indeed, remember. For how easy it is to forget. How easy it is to forget that God not only sees the injustice of our situation, our yearning for help and crying for deliverance, but also the injustice we impose on others, our unwillingness to forgive, and our eagerness to tip the scales in our favor.
Through the prophet Micah, the LORD inquired of Israel, “Am I still to forget, O wicked house, your ill-gotten treasures and the short ephah, which is accursed? Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?”(1)
Used in ancient Israel, the ephah was a large vessel with which merchants measured out goods for a buyer. Likewise, the shekel was used to weigh out the silver with which the buyer paid for it. By shortening the ephah and increasing the weight of the shekel, the merchant found a way to sell less than he promised for more than he agreed. The practice of utilizing measures to get ahead in business was quite prevalent amongst merchants in the ancient world—perhaps as prevalent as it is today. In a poem titled “Song of the Devil” W.H. Auden voices a chorus familiar to the ages: “Values are relative/Dough is dough.”
Yet as God declared through Micah and again through Hosea and Amos, dishonest dealings make a mockery of the one who set the values. The cry of the prophet for economic justice is the cry of the God who is just. And God who is just demands a careful commitment to all that God values: “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.”(2)
Moreover, God who is just not only calls for justice in our dealings with others, but also in our dealings with God. Here, the Christian story reports that we ourselves have been weighed on scales and found wanting. This is a difficult truth to accept, particularly where we want to measure the world with a sliding scale of tolerance. All the more difficult to comprehend, Christ’s death is said somehow to level the scales. Where we are lacking, where we are unjust, where we have tipped the scales dishonestly in our favor, where sin throws off the balance, and we carry our bag of false weights, Christ comes to restore our own value inasmuch as those we have slighted. As the apostle Peter writes, “Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God.” In Christ the scales are balanced; what is wanting is restored in him by the Spirit. Setting on both sides of the scale, he is our full and just weight.
(1) Micah 6:10-11.
(2) Deuteronomy 25:13-15.