Plato’s Wicked Scales

The most difficult rule of the biblical tradition–and the one most widely ignored–is Scripture’s insistence that its judgments can apply only to one’s self. In 2 Samuel, David quickly condemned the rich man for stealing a poor man’s ewe lamb, unwittingly accusing himself:

Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.” Nathan then said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:5-7)

It was David, wealthy and powerful, who had stolen a poor man’s wife, murdering the foreigner to satisfy his own wants.  David had co-opted the Torah as an “agent of sin” (Galatians 2:17) as though Scripture was given to set one sinner above another. Seeking a justifiable course for itself, the human mind builds “wicked scales” (6:11) using the weaker brother as a crutch for Plato’s imaginary “good person.” In opposition to human reason, the Bible asserts that no one is good. (Psalm 14:1-3)  Perpetuating the David-Nathan paradigm, Scripture coaxes the ego, inviting condemnation of the Pharisee in order to expose the reader’s pharisaism:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” (Romans 2:1)

Echoing the same principles, Micah’s prophecy exposes Jerusalem, not the foreigner, as the unrepentant aggressor. Even if Jerusalem had done nothing wrong (Matthew 25:26; Luke 19:22) like David, they stood condemned by their debt to God:

Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul.  I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! ” (2 Samuel 12:7-8)

Daring Judah to make a reasonable defense of itself, in Micah, God taunts his people, suggesting they plead their case to the mountains and foundations of the earth. (6:1-2) The metaphor calls to mind humanity’s insignificance compared to God’s creation 1 emphasizing the magnitude of their indebtedness. “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

“My people,” God cries, “what have I done to you?” (6:3) The gift of creation? (6:1) Deliverance from slavery? (6:4) The blessing of instruction? (6:4-5) These alone lay a burden at Judah’s feet to heavy to bear. The worst atrocities of Assyria’s king pale in comparison.

What does that say about you, the reader? Think before you answer. God cannot justify wicked scales. (6:11-12)


  1. Tarazi, Paul Nadim, The Chrysostom Bible: Genesis as Commentary, OCABS Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, 2009.  In Genesis, the toledot (תּוֹלְדֹת) of creation supersedes that of Adam, playing down humanity’s importance.