Tuesday, 9 December 2008

A biblical defence of standards

My recent posts on the need for standards and the government enforcement of such came from my thinking about weights and measures. This is a frequent biblical theme and I wish to mention several verses in defence of how important God sees honesty in trading.

The Lord commanded the Israelites that their measures were to be honest.
"You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You 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. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19)

"You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A 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. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God." (Deuteronomy 25)
An ephah is a volume measure for solids and a hin is a volume measure for liquids. In Leviticus God points to length, weight, and volume as measures that should be standardised. Examples of relevant measures for the Israelites would have included
  • Length: land
  • Weight: precious metals
  • Dry volume: grain
  • Liquid volume: oil
Note that the Israelites had to ensure both the scales were accurate as well as the weights used on the scales. God commands them to do so:
  • based on the fact that he indeed is God;
  • that they may dwell in the land for a long time, either live to an old age or that as a people they may occupy Canaan for many generations; and
  • because to not do so is dishonest and thus an abomination to God.
There are also several proverbs that mention the importance of honest weights and measures.
Unequal weights and unequal measures/
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 20)

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,/
and false scales are not good. (Proverbs 20)
God reminded Judah not only to have just standards but what the standards were,
"You shall have just balances, a just ephah, and a just bath. The ephah and the bath shall be of the same measure, the bath containing 1/10 of a homer, and the ephah 1/10 of a homer; the homer shall be the standard measure. The shekel shall be 20 gerahs; 20 shekels plus 25 shekels plus 15 shekels shall be your mina." (Ezekiel 25)
Hosea (Hos 12:7), Micah (Mic 6:10-11), and Amos spoke against dishonesty in trading. Amos makes some interesting comments on the actions of the people,
Hear this, you who trample on the needy/
and bring the poor of the land to an end,/
saying, "When will the new moon be over,/
that we may sell grain?/
And the Sabbath,/
that we may offer wheat for sale,/
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great/
and deal deceitfully with false balances,/
that we may buy the poor for silver/
and the needy for a pair of sandals/
and sell the chaff of the wheat?" (Amos 8)
There are several behaviours he condemns besides that which concerns us currently. They are:
  • Oppression of the poor or oppressed
  • Concern for business over things spiritual
  • Disregard for God's law
  • Possibly forcing the poor to become bondslaves
    • They do so just to get enough food to eat
    • They do so because they are cheated out of the money
    • The oppressors encourage this because they want their labour without cost
    • And the price of bondslavery is unjustly low
Specific transaction sins of the merchant identified here are:
  • Labelling merchandise as containing more than it really does
  • Charging more than the agreed amount (via deceit)
  • Including material/ refuse not desired by the purchaser
All these 3 actions the Lord considers abominations. We can conclude that merchants are to trade justly, and this includes:
  1. Accurate labelling
  2. Clear agreed price
  3. Not passing off refuse for merchandise

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