Proverbs 11:1 has this to say “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord. But a just weight is His delight.”
To ask, “What do those words mean?” is no crime at all. To ask, “What do you see when you read those words?” is a richer and better question.
“What do you see when you read those words?” encourages us to be more than readers or listeners; it urges us to become spectators, seers.
The first question is a good one but because of how we are shaped to respond, it more immediately links us to a moral question. The second question doesn’t draw us away from the moral question—it brings us more deeply into it by vision; we become present when the words are being portrayed as an event.
What happens in the text is this. God one day visited a market in Dothan and watched the thriving businesses and the struggling ones. He looked pleasant enough and seemed to be enjoying the visit—enjoying it, that is, until He saw one merchant carefully choosing another set of stones to put on the scales when he was about to sell some goods to a little woman and her husband. The business man was using different weights. He was cheating them. God was more than angry with the crook, He was infuriated! He saw it as a crooked act but He saw it as an abomination—so says the text!
Here’s what Rabbi Heschel said: “To us a single act of injustice—cheating in business, exploitation of the poor—is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world.” [The Prophets, page 4]
It’s difficult for us to get this. Why is that? Is it because people-trafficking is so much uglier, more brutal, more obviously heartless? Is it because warmongering is so damnably hideous and child abuse and porn is so disgusting? In comparison with those what’s so bad about conning the naïve and vulnerable and poor out of some money. I half-understand that but then conning the poor, fleecing the easily intimidated, slyly talking the timid and inexperienced out of as much as we can—exulting in the ease with which we can do it—that is disgusting. And then there’s this, Proverbs 14:31 trenchantly barks out: “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker.”
There’s a day coming when the impenitent, exulting thief will face the Creator of the people these wasters have been fleecing. Let them try their oily, sly and cruel speech then. Let the robbers who found (they said) dangerous electrical, plumbing and structural defects in an older lady’s little home, tore it apart and robbed her of thousands of dollars, all she had, to fix it and never returned—let them approach her Creator with the exulting con-man spirit.
But the text has, so to speak, God going farther into the market daily to see the little stalls where men and women have only one set of weights, only one scale, an honest scale. Not only do they not own dishonest scales (there is a law against owning those much less using them since you could use them for only one thing) they have no desire to own them. They want to honest all the time and not just now and then. And God knows that anyone that comes to that stall, liked or disliked, would get fair treatment. God does more than nod approval to the man or woman there—He’s thrilled by it! Closes His eyes and smiles! Goes over to the stall and hugs them both and tells them that they have made His day! He delights in what they do; it’s more than sober approval! They make Him happy!
And He’s doing that to this day! Yesterday or last week or last year or a century ago He did it! Maybe yesterday He walked into a modest lawyer’s office, asked to see the lawyer. “You Nanette?” He asks? “I am!” she says, “Come here,” God says and takes her in His arms and waltzes around the office to the soft music that’s been playing while He tells her how her honesty and integrity makes Him happy! He’s doing it all over the world, every day, and we need to be enabling such people, in the name of His Holy Son, to know and remember that!
(Holy One, Holy Father, we your children know that we can make you sad—we know that! Help us please to believe and remember that we can make you happy!)
[I’m borrowed some of the above from my little thing called Celebrating the Wrath of God. It’s a Random House book. It wouldn’t make me unhappy if you bought one. My books don’t sell. I hate that but with most of them I understand why.]