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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


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bal´ans 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) מאזנים , mō'znayim (Leviticus 19:36 ; Job 6:2 ; Psalm 62:9 ; Proverbs 11:1 ; Isaiah 40:12 , Isaiah 40:15 ; Jeremiah 32:10 , etc.); (2) קנה , ḳāneh (Isaiah 46:6 ), and (3) פלס , peleṣ (Proverbs 16:11 ). It is found in the sing., e.g. "a just balance " (Proverbs 16:11 ); "a pair of balances " (Revelation 6:5 , etc.), as well as in the plur., e.g. "just balances " (Leviticus 19:36 ), "weighed in the balances " (Daniel 5:27 , etc.).

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 Deuteronomy 25:13 King James Version, margin. A pair of scales (the King James Version "a pair of balances") is used in Revelation 6:5 by a figure of speech for the balance as a whole; only once is the beam so used, in Isaiah 46:6 , literally, "weigh silver in the beam." Abraham, we are told (Genesis 23:16 ), "weighed the silver."

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 Leviticus 19:36 ; Proverbs 11:1 ; Proverbs 16:11 ; Proverbs 20:23 ; Amos 8:5 ; Micah 6:11 , etc.).

4. "Wicked Balances" Condemned

"A false balance is an abomination to Yahweh" (Proverbs 11:1 ; compare Proverbs 20:23 ), and "a just balance and scales are Yahweh's" (Proverbs 16:11 ). Hos (Hosea 12:7 ) condemns "the balances of deceit" in the hand of the wicked; Am (Isaiah 8:5 the King James Version) cries out upon "falsifying the balances by deceit," and Mic ( Isaiah 6:11 ) denounces "wicked balances." Indeed, the righteousness of a just balance and true weights, and the iniquity of false ones are everywhere emphasized by the lawmakers, prophets and moral teachers of Israel, and the preacher or teacher who would expose and denounce such things in God's name today need be at no loss for texts and precedents. See WEIGHTS AND MEASURES .


Wilkinson, Ancient Egypt ; Erman, Egypt ; Lepsius, Denkmaler ; and articles on "Balance." etc., in Smith, DB , EB , Jewish Encyclopedia , HDB , etc.

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Balance'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

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