Integrity and honesty in business is something about which God is concerned. He does not take kindly to those who seek to cheat others in business. There were commands in the Law in Deuteronomy 25:13-14 and in Leviticus 19:35-36 about the very thing we read here in Proverbs 11:1. In fact, so essential was honesty to the proper functioning of society that God called fraud an abomination. The fact that archeologists have found stones marked with the word “shekel” with a wide variety of weights remind us that fraud and dishonest business dealings are not just something of the modern era.
God instructed His people to have a fair weight in their bag. We read elsewhere in Proverbs 16:11, “A just balance and scales belong to the LORD; all the weights of the bag are His concern.” The way most commerce worked in those days was in a market setting where the seller would weigh out the amount of produce on a set of scales. On one side of the scales was a basket in which the produce would be placed. On the other side there was another basket into which stones would be placed indicating various weights. To make sure that honesty and integrity remained in place, all the weights were measured according to the “shekel of the sanctuary.” We read of this in Exodus 30:13 and Leviticus 27:25. The shekels used in these transactions would be weighed themselves according to the ones kept before the Lord so that there would be a common standard for business in Israel. This was not only there for the sake of honest business, but it was also there to remind Israel that God truly despised those who were dishonest in their dealings with others.
One example of this is when God rebuked Israel through the prophet Amos. There was a horrible thing happening in the land. People would go to religious observances - but attending them would make no difference in their hearts. They would cheat the poor and the needy afterward. Listen to what God said through Amos to these dishonest business people.
“Hear this, you who trample the needy, To do away with the humble of the land, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over, so that we may sell grain, and the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, to make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, and to cheat with dishonest scales.’” - Amos 8:4-5 (NASB)
Even while they were in the midst of their “religiousness” their thoughts were not guided by God's righteousness. As they walked through their religion, their thoughts were that once the new moon or the sabbath was over, they could cheat their customers as they normally did. Of course we would never act one way on a Sunday morning - and then act entirely different come the start of the business day on Monday. Sadly, we know this is the case with too many who have Sunday morning values that never see the light of day the rest of the week at work. God spoke some serious judgment upon those who did this. One would expect this from a God who says that He sees such things as an abomination. The second half of this proverb says that a “just weight” is God’s delight. The phrase is literally, “a complete or sound stone” which would refer to the true shekel of the sanctuary. The root word for this “complete or sound” stone is “shalem” which shares the same root as the word “shalom” which referred to being complete - but also meant peace. It was considered a way to bless someone as you greeted them. When the marketplace is set according to God’s standards (the shekel of the sanctuary), there is peace in the business world. But when one begins to weigh on false scales and use false weights - the business world becomes anything but peaceful. Instead it becomes a place of suspicion and distrust. No longer is the marketplace based on serving others, giving them quality, and offering them a fair price for what they purchase. Instead it becomes a den of thieves where one wonders with almost every purchase whether they are being cheated or not. And what is accepted as the norm in the business world - becomes the norm of the society. It is no wonder then why God takes the time to warn us against ungodly business practices. For an honest and upright marketplace makes for a peaceful world.
Just a closing thought on this proverb. I grew up with a father who was well known for being true to his word. He grew up in a time and place where integrity and honesty in the workplace was paramount. It was also a world where the principles of God’s Word were honored and where business people were taught the value of honesty and biblical integrity. It is no surprise to me that his day was also one where people didn’t lock their cars or their homes. They did not fear someone breaking into their house and stealing from them. I find it very interesting that in a world where God was honored in the marketplace - you also found a world far more at peace with one another and with far less dishonesty. It was a world where in honoring and serving God, they learned to value honoring and serving one another. I think it is safe to say that it is a world worth envying and emulating.