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Sermon preached on Deuteronomy 25:11-16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/03/2010 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“A Perfect and Just Measure”
I’d like to start off our message today with a food analogy. I like to sometimes go to those Mongolian BBQ places where they give you a bowl, and you have to walk through a bar of uncooked ingredients, you fill your bowl with your ingredients of choice, and then give it to them to cook. They have these places in a lot of the food courts in malls, for example. Well, when I go to a place like that, I’ve got a very systematic way to load my bowl to maximize what I can fit in the bowl. They only charge you one price no matter how much you can fit in your bowl, so I do whatever I can to get my money’s worth. The end result is some heaping pile of food just barely balanced in my bowl, as I give it to the cook.
On the other hand, consider half gallon ice cream containers. Most major brands of ice cream no longer actually self half gallon containers anymore. They look like the old half gallon containers, but they are actually less than a half gallon of ice cream.
I bring these two examples up to talk about human tendencies. When we are in control on the receiving end, we try to get as much as we possibly can for our money. That’s like my heaping Mongolian BBQ bowl. On the other hand, when we are selling something, the tendency is to get away giving out as little as possible for that amount of money. That’s like the shrinking half gallon containers.
Now to be clear, there’s nothing technically wrong with either of my two examples. The Mongolian BBQ places allow you to fill you bowl up as high as you can. The ice cream containers are clearly marked with the exact ounces of ice cream that are inside them. But my point in mentioning these is to remind us of this human tendency. We tend to want as much as we can get, and give out as little as we have to. Humans can have a double standard on this. On the receiving end, we can demand the most, and on the giving end want to give out the least. This common attitude can be expressed in sinful ways; through fraud and deception in the world of commerce. We see some of those sinful expressions discussed in our passage today, in verses 13-16. These old covenant laws on weights and measures address this very thing. And so, we will spend some time today thinking about these civil laws given to Israel to address this human tendency. We’ll think a little about the moral application they hold for us today in our society. Ultimately, we’ll think about how they again point us to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So let’s begin by looking at these laws here on weights and measures. Let me start with an initial summary. In short, verses 13-16 are prohibiting them from having a double standard for weighing and measuring in commercial transactions. This is an aspect of truth and honesty. If you don’t do this, you are essentially a thief. You are stealing via fraud.
Look at how this is stated in the negative in verses 13-14. Don’t have differing weights, both heavy and light. Don’t have differing measures, both large and small. The weights mentioned in verse 13 would have been used to calculate just that – weight. We calculate this in pounds. It’s like when you go to the grocery store and weight your apples to see how much you owe. They’d use stones of a standardized weight to determine this back then on a scale. You put the weight on one end of the scale, and the item for purchase on the other end. When they balanced, then the item weighed the amount claimed by that stone. That’s what’s referenced with the weights in verse 12. As for the measures mentioned in verse 13 – they were for dry measure; they measured the volume of grain. Literally the word for measure here is the word ephah, which was one way they measured the volume of grain back then. And so two common systems for determining quantities in commerce back then would have been these weights and measures.
And yet let me point out an emphasis in the text. Our translation talks about differing weights and differing measures. The literal word for word translation is something like this: in verse 13: don’t have stone and stone, heavy and light. In verse 14: don’t have measure and measure, large and small. Don’t have stone and stone and don’t have measure and measure. There’s two of each mentioned. This law is not just about having differing weights, it’s about have two different weights of different sizes. It’s not just about having differing measures, it’s about have two different measures of different sizes. The reason for this is what I had already mentioned, people wanting to maximize what they get and minimize what they give out. The temptation would be to have a double standard. A weight or measure used when buying and a second, different, weight or measure used when selling. The smaller weight or measure would be used when you were selling something. You’d give out less. The bigger weight or measure would be used when you were buying something. You’d get more.
And so instead you see what they should be doing, according to verse 15. It says, “You shall have a perfect and just weight”, and “a perfect and just measure.” In other words, they are to have one of each, not two of each. One weight. A perfect and just weight; a fair weight. And one measure. A perfect and just measure; a fair measure.
It would be helpful for me to point out that back then they wouldn’t have had all the modern precision as we do today. We have a very standardized system for measurements that are consistent and accurate across the world. We also have very accurate measurement devices. Not just analog scales anymore, even digital ones. Yet back then, they did have some standards of measurement, that they would have had to approximate. For example, Genesis 23:16 talks about the weights current among the merchants; in other words the merchants had some standards that the weights were supposed to equal. Exodus 30:13 talks about the shekel of the sanctuary, which means they set the standard weight for use in temple worship and offerings. 2 Samuel 14:26 talks about shekels according to the king’s weight. In other words, those three passages show that there were different standards of weight, depending on the forum you were dealing with. And yet, nonetheless there would have been some official standard that your own weight and measure was to be compared to.
But of course back in antiquity, the weight and measure you personally owned would have would have been more of an approximation. You didn’t have the precision back then as you do today with these things. Your own stone or measure might be a bit off in one direction or the other. But these laws here in Deuteronomy would have provided some protection here in this. If you had only one weight and only one measure, you had a vested interest to get it as close as possible to the official standard. If you used only the same weight and measure each time, regardless if you are buying or selling, you’ll want to have it as close as possible. If you had two of each, on the other hand, one you used for buying, and the other you used for selling, then you can understand the temptations to be slightly off in your favor each time.
This reminds me of a story my Mom told me about her childhood. She’d tell me about how her and her sisters would share something. If they had to split up a piece of cake, one sister would divide it up into equal portions. The other sisters could each pick their piece first, with the person cutting it up, choosing last. We’ll that’s a system where the person cutting is going to be personally motivated to cut equal slices, to the best of their ability; lest they end up with the smallest slice. Well, the same is true with only having one weight and one measure. If you have to use the same standard for whether you are buying or selling, you’re going to be financially motivated to make sure it’s as accurate as possible to the official standard.
As we read on in this passage, we see in verses 15-16 that there is both blessing and curse held out. If you obey these laws, there is blessing being promised. If you disobey these laws, there is curse being threatened. The last part of verse 15 contains the blessing: long life in the land. This of course would be long life in the Promised Land. The land which is described as God’s special inheritance that he had set aside for Israel. It was to be a land of blessing. Long life in the Promised Land, then was to be a blessing. This is a promise seen a number of times in the book of Deuteronomy. For example, it was promised in the fifth commandment, to those who honor their father and mother. In other words, Deuteronomy repeatedly offers this promised blessing for various forms of obedience. They would prosper with long life in the Promised Land.
On the other hand, verse 16 speaks pretty negatively against those who would break these laws. For those who would commit the fraud and theft described here, the assessment is pretty serious. Verse 16 says that you would be behaving unrighteously. More so it says you would become an abomination to the Lord. We’ve seen a number of serious sins in Deuteronomy described as an abomination. That’s a serious word of offense. You’d become detestable and revolting to God’s sight by this sin. That’s an expression of being under God’s curse. By the way, we’ll get to learn more about blessings and curses under the old covenant shortly when we get to chapters 27 and 28 of Deuteronomy. But for now, realize how Moses paints this as a serious issue; it’s at the heart of living out the law under the old covenant.
We’ll let’s pause now and begin to offer some moral application of these laws to us today. Certainly we live in a different time today. None of us probably carry around weights and measures to use in our commercial transaction. We just trust the scales at the grocery stores and the amounts listed on packages. We’ve got authorities to look into those things and keep people accountable. And yet, though we may live in a different world today, with different concerns, we are all still humans. The same temptations to cheat in commercial transactions still exist today, just with different faces.
Think of all the white collar crime and corporate crime that goes on today. Some we all clearly acknowledge as wrong. Others we might do without much remorse. Obviously any fraud in a business transaction is wrong, and yet that still goes on today. Insider trading, embezzlement, and counterfeiting are just a few examples. These are different forms of commercial fraud that try to take more that what actually belongs to you. Most of us, probably, haven’t done these things. And yet, there are other ones that are more common. One common temptation is to bend the truth on your taxes, say not reporting all your use tax on your state tax return, for example. We can make justifications for our bending the truth here and there, but that’s still the same concept. Or, if you are a businessman and you charge for your services by the hour, you might be tempted to overly inflate your hours, always adding just a little bit more here and there. In advertising your services, you can oversell your services or overstate the client’s situation, just to make the sale. Or, if you are an employee paid by the hour, you can be tempted to surf the internet or make personal calls on the phone, when you are supposed to be on the clock. All of these are different ways we can try to get more than what we deserve and to give out less than we owe.
These kinds of sins are all expressions of commercial fraud, the very thing described here as a sin in Deuteronomy 25. The Bible says these sorts of sins are an abomination. I think that’s interesting to note in this passage. I hear Christians telling people all the time how homosexuality is an abomination. I don’t hear this much at all with regards to fraud in commercial dealings, which probably can hit much closer to home for most of us. We tend to quote the Bible’s assessment that homosexuality is an abomination, but don’t mention that when the Bible uses that same label to describes sins for which we might struggle. But think about what that means. If we play up how horrible the sin of homosexuality is, but minimize the sins in our life for which the bible gives the same label, what does that make us? It means we have a double standard. It means we have a different way we measure the sins we commit versus the sins other people commit. That means we find ourselves even more guilty. Not only are we guilty in the ways we have double standards in our commercial dealings. But we are also guilty in the ways we have double standards in our relationships with others. We are guilty of judging ourselves more highly than others.
You see, whenever we preach the law, we must realize how we measure up to it. Whether it’s a passage on just weights and measures or any kind of sin. We should measure up our living against the law and realize that we are found wanting. In the book of Daniel, King Belshazzar received the writing on the wall. Daniel interpreted the writing for him. In Daniel 5:27, he interpreted the word tekel on the wall, saying to the pagan king, “You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.” Well, when we measure up to God’s law, using God’s standards, we are weighed in the balances, and found wanting. We realize that we have earned for ourselves a measure of God’s wrath.
And of course, that’s what God’s wrath is. Divine wrath is measured judgment. Just strictly speaking in terms of law, we know that breaking God’s law brings his wrath. Commercial fraud, as it says here, is an abomination. Other sins are also especially heinous in God’s sight. And all sin is a transgression of God’s laws. They all result in wrath; they all result in divine curse; damnation. Think about this just it in terms of weights and measures. Micah 6:11, God asks, “Shall I count pure those with the wicked scales, and with the bag of deceitful weights?” This is a rhetorical question. The answer is clearly no.
Sin deserves God’s wrath and curse. God has a single standard for righteousness. It’s his moral law. Our measure of sin results in God having a just measure of wrath upon us. God’s judgment on the wicked will be measured out according to their degree of wickedness. God is a just God, he will not pervert the scales of justice by giving humans an unjust punishment. There will be even in hell, degrees of punishment. Think of his measured judgment according to Luke 10:13. Jesus says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you.” There will be degrees of punishment for the wicked, measured up against their sins. Now of course, hell, is hell. Any degree of punishment in hell is horrible. Yet, I find it interesting with God that even his punishment for the unsaved is properly measured out. Let not that comfort the wicked, though, for indeed any expression of God’s wrath will be terrible.
But I bring this up to point to how great the grace is to those who are in Christ. For God’s rightly measured judgment upon believers will not be put upon them, for it has already been placed upon Jesus. I read from Micah just a moment ago a verse that condemned those with false weights and measures. That verse didn’t offer hope, and yet reading on in Micah it says in Micah 7:18, that God would one day pardon the guilt of the remnant and overlook the sins of his special people in love. This came to pass with Jesus. Our sins of false weights and measures, and our other abominable sins can be forgiven in Jesus.
This is why 1 Corinthians 6:10 can remind Christians that some of us used to be thieves. Using differing weights and measures is a form of theft. But for Christians we are both forgiven and transformed. You see, my point is that there is grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. When we measure up ourselves against the law we are found lacking. We are found deserving curse. When we turn in faith to Jesus and call out to him for help, we are saved. We are forgiven. We are transformed. Most specifically: In Christ, we don’t get the measure we deserve. We don’t get the measure of wrath we deserve. Because Christ already took that measure of wrath upon himself on the cross. Looking to Christ, we are pardoned as God promised through Micah and the other prophets.
And not only do we not receive the measure of judgment that we deserve; we actually receive something that we don’t deserve. We receive Christ’s righteousness. And since we receive Christ’s righteousness, we receive the blessing of the righteous. That blessing was put in terms here in Deuteronomy as long life in the land. With the light of the New Testament we realize that this blessing looks ahead to not just long life in an earthly land; but to eternal life in heaven with Christ. We started our sermon by saying that the human tendency is to demand what we don’t deserve and hold back what we actually owe. That tendency can lead to so many sins. And yet, In Christ, to the praise of God’s grace, that’s actually what we get. We don’t get what we deserve. We don’t get the wrath we deserve. Instead we do get Christ’s righteousness. We don’t get the curse we deserve; we get instead the blessing of eternal life. We don’t get what we earned; we get what Christ earned. The scale of God’s justice leaves mankind damned; holding out a measure of God’s wrath; but if you trust in Jesus, you will receive Christ’s abundant grace in unending measure. Don’t be a fool. Do the math! Trust in Christ.
Brothers and sisters, in light of our message today, I urge us to not have two standards. Of course, this should be true in your financial and commercial dealings. Just as we ought not to have two different weights and two different measures, let us have a single standard of righteousness in our commercial dealings. Let us treat our employers and clients and debt-collectors the way we would expected to be treated.
But I would especially urge us to not have two standards in all our living; in every relationship. I recall what Jesus said in Matthew 7:2. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. I already mentioned how we can look down on some people’s sins so much more than others. We can treat homosexuals, for example, like they are wearing a scarlet letter, and yet be so quick to overlook those sins more socially accepted in our churches; sins for which God so often gives a similar assessment. In a similar way, we can minimize the matter when we sin against someone else, while making it a huge ordeal when someone sins against us.
And so let us not be people who have double standards! Certainly we should promote fairness in our dealings with each other. We should treat other people’s sins and shortcomings with a similar attitude that you’d want for yourself. But even that doesn’t say enough. If we want to follow Jesus’ command, he says use the same measure with others for which you want to be measured. We don’t want to be measured with strict fairness. We want to be measured with grace. We don’t want the measure of God’s law and subsequent wrath. We want the measure of abundant grace!
So if we are not going to have a double standard in our life, we should treat people with grace. That’s why we forgive others, because Christ forgave us. That’s why we love others, because Christ loved us. That’s why we deal with the log in our own eye first, before trying to help our brother with the spec in his eye. Let us not have double standards. Nor let us rule from a strict standard of unmerciful justice. Let us go forth with the standard of God’s redeeming grace in Christ. May we look to measure everything up with the fact that we’ve received abundant grace and forgiveness from God. We were debtors to God, but his grace has given us what we did not deserve. May we too have that single standard of abundant grace toward all who we encounter. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2010 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.