Unequal Weights and Measures: What’s the Right Standard of Justice?

Unjust weights and measures? I can hear the gears of many minds grinding as they try to sort through that question: “Unequal weights and measures? What in the world does that mean?” they say. As archaic as that phrase sounds, the time when such concepts were readily understood is not that far gone.

In the past individuals understood them, because they were continually used in our daily lives. Weights and measures speak of justice, doing what is right or giving what is right in terms of payment. They speak of the same standard applied to all. This is why we often see depicted before courts a woman with a blindfold holding a set of scales in her right hand. The idea is that justice is blind to favoritism or personal convictions, even social status. True justice weighs out what is right according to what weight is revealed hanging in the balance. That is, the weight of a crime deserves a just payment—i.e. penalty.

This idea of justice, of a set standard for all, comes directly from the mind of God: “You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous” (Deut 16.19; ESV). Ahh man! Your quoting from that dusty old sheepherders’ book again! Yes, again, for out of this old book flows the river of life. The Bible may be old, but unknown to so many in this generation is that its truth is just as relevant today as in the past.

Let’s take a moment and consider the use of just weights and measures in pop-culture. You see, even Hollywood gets the truth of this idea; at least in part.

In the past, markets would use scales to weigh out what was a suitable price for the produce being purchased. In the 1980’s movie the Karate Kid: Part II we see how this concept plays out in a village in Okinawa, Japan. The ruling family in the community was purchasing the produce from the village farmers who had raised crops.  The karate kid, a.k.a. Daniel-son, played by “Ralph Macchio, “noticed that the villagers were being cheated. The son of the ruling father (who happened to be the chief antagonist in the movie) was using false weights in order to pay less for the people’s produce. The karate kid intervened when he noticed the people were being cheated and he broke the false weights with his bare hands in front of the farmers. As you may expect, the villagers were angered for being paid an unfair price for the fruits of their labor. Pulling the veil back on those who perverted justice was not appreciated by the ruling family, and only added to the hatred displayed in the film towards the karate kid and his sensei Mr. Miyagi.

Now the truth is that we still use these ancient forms of measurement today. If you do much grocery shopping you will notice that produce is often priced according to weight. Nuts, candy, and even frozen yogurt are likewise charged a price according to weight.

What we need to understand as human beings is that this idea is something very dear to the heart of God. In fact, it is from Him that we derive such knowledge and sense of duty.

  • “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances and weights…” (Lev 19.35-36; ESV).

Why, you may ask?

  • Because “unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (Prov 20.10; ESV).

You see the reason God is concerned about such things is because He is Holy and righteous. Holiness speaks of purity from sin and righteousness speaks of doing what is right. As Abraham once said, “Will not the judge of all the earth do [what is] right?” (Gen 18.25; NIV). As God’s Image bearers we are required to act in the same manner. Of course, being unholy and unrighteous—sinners who do not do what is right—we often fall very short of this standard (cf. Rom 3.23). But that does not change the fact that the standard remains.  A yard stick is always three feet long, even if I have a hard time reading it accurately when I go to take a measurement, the standard remains true.

Herein lies the problem that we all have as fallen creatures. Our means and methods of measuring or weighing in the balance what is right is often skewed. Let me give a quick example to illustrate this truth. Man-stealing is a crime punishable by death in the Bible. God looks at such forms of slavery as unjust and worthy of death (cf. Exod 21.16; 1Tim 1.10). Rape is another crime in Scripture that is also punishable by death (cf. Deut 22.25-26; see 2Sam 13.14).[i] A just society who uses just weights and measures and serves justice blindly (that is without giving consideration to personal opinion, conviction, favoritism, or feeling) would put such perpetrators when convicted with two to three lines of hard evidence to death.

Am I then saying that slave owners in the south who stole and purchased human beings like cattle should have been put to death? Am I saying that a person who rapes another violating them sexually stealing from them their dignity, filling their hearts with shame, should be put to death? Absolutely, without a doubt. “The death penalty is appropriate because kidnapping [man-stealing; forced slavery] is an assault on the very person of the image of God, and as such is a radical manifestation of man’s desire to murder God. Like rape, it is a deep violation of personhood and manifests a deep-rooted contempt for God and his image.”[ii]

My concern is for the way that our society refuses to deal with crimes of this sort in a proper manner. Two examples come to mind, one I just recently wrote about. The young man (I will not give him the benefit of mentioning his name) who brutally and heartlessly gunned down faculty and students in Florida just a few weeks ago. There is a possibility that by his pleading guilty to a crime he committed where he murdered 17 people that he will receive “a sentence of life without parole,” wrote Kerry Sanders and Phil McCausland.[iii]

The other is convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar of more than 150 young women. Even though the “Judge Rosemarie Aquilina…bluntly made clear that Dr. Nassar, 54, was likely to die in prison…[saying] ‘I just signed your death warrant” he was only “sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison.”[iv] Notice I say, he was only sentenced for “x” amount of years. “Why,” you may ask? Because the dirt-bag deserved to die for his crimes. Everyone of those young women he violated will never get back what he stole from them. Though they may heal in some respect, they will remain deeply scarred from the trauma they were put under.

Some may respond, “But will giving that man, or the young man who murdered all those people in the Florida school shooting, take back what they have done?” No, but justice will have been served. There is a valid reason why the death penalty has been an established law in the United States for so many years. What reason? Because the punishment fits the nature of the crime. Equal weights and measures.

Did you know that it was punishable by death to rape another in this country until the mid-1970’s? Do you know why they decided to declare the death penalty unconstitutional in cases of rape, and why it is frowned upon in nearly all other sects of our society even for murder?  Because the penalty seems cruel and unusual as an appeal to the 8th amendment is often made and upheld.[v]

The purpose of the 8th amendment, which is established on Judeo-Christian law, as are many of the laws seen at the founding of this nation, is to not pervert justice and show favoritism or partiality. The purpose is to punish crimes according to the weight and measure they inflicted on their victims. The only thing cruel and unusual about this type of pseudo-judgments is that they care more for the perpetrator than for the victim, and the rest of us are left carrying the burden of those individuals’ crimes.

Sadly, in our society those in civil authority act more like the village criminals, than Daniel-son (a.k.a. the karate kid). Blind justice is good justice, for the simple fact that it refuses to show partiality or favoritism based on wealth, emotional manipulation, or social status. I don’t know what sort of justice you prefer, but I’d much rather have the latter; which, by the way is the biblical model established by our Creator.


[i] Confusion often comes in on this point when people reading the Bible do not understand the difference between what constitutes true slavery (man-stealing versus indentured-slavery, which is a form of debt payment that is to be worked off in a period of seven years, after which they are to go free) and rape (forcing a man or woman in a sexual union versus seducing them to take their virginity and then leaving them soiled. This was especially harmful for the young woman in such a society, because most men did not want to marry a woman who had “been around.”)

[ii] James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 104, PDF e-book. Italics added.

[iii] NBC News,  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-school-shooting-suspect-nikolas-cruz-willing-plead-guilty-life-n848846.

[iv] Scott Cacciola and Victor Mather, “Larry Nassar Sentencing: ‘I Just Signed Your Death Warrant,’” The New York Times, Jan 24, 2018, accessed Feb 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/24/sports/larry-nassar-sentencing.html.

[v] One recent case may be seen in Kennedy V. Louisiana, No. 07-343 where the Supreme Court ruled against the state of Louisiana on June 25, 2008. https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/kennedy-v-louisiana-no-07-343.