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.
Bibliography 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.