BALANCE. The English word is from the Latin bilanx and means “having two scales.” It is used to translate three Hebrew words: mo’znayim, kaneh, and peles. The balances of the Hebrews consisted of a horizontal bar, either suspended from a cord that was held in the hand, or pivoted on a perpendicular rod. Scales were suspended from the ends of the bar, one for the object to be weighed, the other for the weight. At first the weights were of stone. Weighing with such balances could be accurately done, but the system was liable to fraud, so that in the OT there is much denunciation of “dishonest scales” (
The term is used only in
The word, generally in the Heb. pl. (מֹאזְנַ֫יִם, H4404), occurs more frequently in the OT. At Belshazzar’s feast, Daniel interpreted part of the handwriting on the wall as “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (
Most of the references in the OT indicate that, human nature being what it is, the weight system was often abused and the seller would take advantage of the unsuspecting buyer. Archeologists have found inscribed weights which were both over and under the average standard. The inference must be drawn that men often had one set of weights by which to buy and another by which to sell. Even when items were weighed in full view of the buyer or trader, the balances could be slyly manipulated. The ancients often spoke of unbalanced or “crooked” scales.
As the Lord’s special people, Israel was expected to have “just balances” and “just weights” (
On the other hand, in the OT proper scales become the symbol of human integrity, honesty and righteousness. Prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel use the picture of weights and balances to call Israel to repentance and righteous living. Job (31:6) asks that he “be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity.” Isaiah speaks of the righteousness of God in grandiose terms when he says God “weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance” (
Therefore, balances and scales were common on the Biblical scene, just as they are in stores and shops today. Weights and scales became more refined and standardized as history progressed; so much so, that weights of precious metals developed into a coin system, first in terms of weight and then in terms of value. Scales were no longer necessary in the majority of purchases under a money-value system. The Eng. word “balance” comes from the Lat. bilanx (bi plus lanx, “two scales”).
See Weights and Measures.
G. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible (1944), 199-207; Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon (1952), 340; F. Wright, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (1953), 225-227; M. Johnston, Roman Life (1957), 35-41; S. W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (1960), 150-154; W. Williams, Archeology In Biblical Research (1965), 174, 175.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The English word "balance" is from the Latin bilanx = "having two scales" (bi = "two" and lanx = "plate," or "scale"). It is used to render three Hebrew words:
(1) mo’znayim (
(2) qaneh (
(3) pelec (
It is found in the sing., e.g. "a just balance" (
1. Balances among the Ancient Hebrews; the Parts, etc.:
(1) The "balances" of the ancient Hebrews differed little, if at all, from those used by the Egyptians (Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt (1878), II, 246 f). They consisted, probably, of a horizontal bar, either pivoted on a perpendicular rod (see Erman, Aegypten, I, 615 for similar Egyptian balances), or suspended from a cord and held in the hand, the more primitive form. At the ends of the bar were pans, or hooks, from which the things to be weighed were suspended, sometimes in bags.
A good description of the more developed and final form is this: A beam with its fulcrum in the middle and its arms precisely equal. From the ends of the arms were suspended two scales, the one to receive the object to be weighed, the other the counterpoise, or weight.
(2) The weights were of stone at first and are so named in
2. Probably of Babylonian Origin:
The basis and fountain-head of all systems of weights and measurements is to be traced, it is now thought, to Babylonia; but the primitive instruments and systems were subject to many modifications as they entered other regions and passed into the derivative systems. The Roman "balance" is the same as our steelyard (vulgarly called "stillyards"). Compare the Chinese, Danish, etc.
3. The System of Weighing Liable to Fraud:
Though the "balances" in ancient times were rudely constructed, the weighing could be done quite accurately, as may be seen in the use of equally primitive balances in the East today. But the system was liable to fraud. A "false balance" might be literally one so constructed that the arms were of unequal length, when the longer arm would be intended, of course, for the article to be weighed. The system was liable, however, to various other subtle abuses then as now; hence the importance in God’s sight of "true weights" and a "just balance" is enforced again and again (see
4. "Wicked Balances" Condemned:
"A false balance is an abomination to Yahweh" (
Wilkinson, Ancient Egypt; Erman, Egypt; Lepsius, Denkmaler; and articles on "Balance." etc., in Smith, DB, EB, Jewish Encyclopedia, HDB, etc.
George B. Eager