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What does Proverbs 11:1 mean?

The verse reads, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.”

I have heard people take this verse to mean that all of our life activities should be balanced; for example, we shouldn’t work to the exclusion of play—and vice versa. Or we should have varied interests in life rather than having a “one-track” mind. Or we should be balanced in our eating habits. These observations might be true, but I don’t believe they are found in this verse.

To understand Proverbs 11:1, one must know how business was conducted in Old Testament days. In place of coins, people used scales to trade commodities. Weighing the items to find out how much to give a customer, the merchant used stones to balance the scales. At this point we should go to Deuteronomy 25:13–15:

You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a heavy and a light. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure, that your days maybe lengthened in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

Also, Leviticus 19:35 and 36 read,

You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. 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.

The Mosaic law showed that God’s holiness and justice demand honesty.

It is easy to see how the unscrupulous merchant back then could possess different sets of stones to use on his scale to his advantage, cheating people out of their deserved portions or charging them more than they should have been charged. It was something like a merchant even today who gets away with pressing his finger on the scale a bit so that the scale’s indicator shows more amount of an item than there really is. Then the buyer has to pay for more than he really bought.

Thus the word “false” in Proverbs 11:1 could be rendered “dishonest” or “deceptive.” God, Who is unchanging and holy, regards dishonesty seriously today as well (Romans 12:17; 2 Corinthians 8:21; Ephesians 4:28). It is noteworthy that God is specifically mentioned in Proverbs 11:1 (“to the Lord”; “His”) and that the passage does not say anything construed to be exclusive with regard to both nations and individuals being under this obligation. But whatever the unbelieving world does or does not do, it is vital that Christians be honest in all things, setting a clear testimony.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (July 2001).
© 2001 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.

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