Because of widespread immigration, colonial America was a muddled mass of measurements. By one estimate, over 100,000 units of measure existed at the same time. For example:

  • Land could be measured in Scottish miles, Irish acres, Rhineland Ruthin (rods). 
  • Fabric in New York was purchased using the English ell (about a yard), but sold by the Flemish ell (about half a yard). 
  • The Pennsylvania bushel was wide, shallow, and heaped, while the Philadelphia bushel was deep, narrow, and level. 
  • Tobacco was sold in hogsheads, which was about 1000 pounds of tobacco packed into a 145 gallom barrel. However, the New York hogshead was smaller than the Virginia hogshead, which was smaller than the Maryland hogshead. 
  • Alcohol was measured by the brewer’s hogshead, which was about 54 gallons of beer, but about 63 gallons of wine. The measurement also varied by location.
  • Volume was typically measured in quarts, gallons, and bushels, each one having as many as eight different amounts.

Situations like these are why governments, businesses, and consumers all benefit from the use of standards. It’s why businesses implement policies and procedures: to ensure consistent quality in every facet of the workplace.

Proverbs 20.10 says, “Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the LORD.”

Regardless of how primitive or sophisticated our business practices may be, there will always be cheaters. There will always be scoundrels who take advantage of others by taking advantage of the system. There were scams in biblical times, in colonial times, and in modern times. Proverbs 20.10 condemns dishonesty in the marketplace, both then and now.

Two things are noteworthy about Proverbs 20.10. First is the strength of the condemnation. Dishonesty is not only foolish, it’s wicked, it’s an abomination to the Lord. This is a reminder that of all the virtues we should possess, honesty and integrity are the most important. 

Second, this proverb isn’t limited to merchants. It also applies to the workplace in more general ways. Honesty on the job has plenty of applications. Do we work harder when the boss is nearby? Do we say one thing to the manager and another to our coworkers? Are we accurate when we clock in and clock out? Do we treat our favorite coworkers better than we treat our not-so-favorite ones? 

Proverbs 20.10 teaches us that wisdom demands honesty. Anything less may incur God’s wrath.