When something frequently appears in the Bible, it’s probably a significant theme. The Bible is a short book considering its scope and importance. God has chosen his words very carefully, so we do well to pay close attention to repeated themes. The image measurement is a repeated theme in the Scriptures. Sometimes it’s weighing balances, stretching a line, or using a rod, but every time a measure takes place, we should be paying attention. What does it mean to be measured? Let’s take a look and see what the theme is.
We compare things to a standard when we measure them. In the ancient world, this was a rod or reed. Today it would be a yardstick or a measuring tape. The tool used to measure is relatively insignificant; what matters is a standard has been applied.
People do not fare well when compared to the divine standard of perfection. “For there is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Roman 3.22b-23). When God’s holiness and perfection are being referenced in measurement imagery, we should expect to see judgment and punishment. For example, David measured out three lines of Moabite soldiers, executing two and condemning the third to servitude (2 Samuel 8.2). While this isn’t a direct measurement against God’s glory (that’s down below), it does establish there is a measurement/judgment motif in the Bible.
The divine standard isn’t the only “measuring rod” presented in the Bible. We have measures we use to justify ourselves in our idolatry. Isaiah shows us our fault: “The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also, he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also, he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isaiah 44.13-17)
It is significant that Isaiah’s picture of idolatry begins when the carpenter “stretches a line”; he measures out his iniquity. Idolatry can take place without an idol. Anytime we set anything ahead of God we are guilty of idolatry. Do you love your spouse or children more than God? Idolatry. Do you love your job or stuff more than God? Idolatry. Do you love traditions and self-made religion more than God? Idolatry. Even coveting is idolatry (Colossians 3.5). It’s surprisingly easy to be an idolater. Idolatry is such an easy sin to commit that everyone is guilty. Come on, admit it. You’ve done it at least once. Today.
When God stretches his measuring line over the people, sometimes it is for their judgment. They failed to love God entirely, they failed to follow the Lord flawlessly, and they were faithless to the covenant. Their failures and faithlessness lead God to decree their judgment: “And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” (2 Kings 21.13-15)
If left to ourselves, we will receive the just judgment for our sin. We can see God measuring this judgment in the Bible. It’s a scary thought that we are accountable for every transgression we’ve ever committed. We need something or someone to save us. Thank God for Jesus!
What about the times when God measures good things? Great question! Not everything that’s measured fails because sometimes God makes us stand (cf Romans 14.4).
In the Old Testament writings, we see God measuring prophetically: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the LORD. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.” (Jeremiah 31.38-40)
God looked forward to the day when His righteousness would shine forth and cover the sins of his children. The forgiveness offered in Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross completely cleanses the faithful. Jesus came to give abundant life and a full pardon (John 10.10b; Luke 24.47). Everyone who becomes a Christian is perfect in God’s judgment because of Jesus; when God measures us we aren’t found wanting.
No Fear in Jesus
This is where God measuring things all throughout the Bible becomes really cool: Christians are now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.16; 6.19; Ephesians 2.22). We are the new temple, we are the new nation, we are the new Jerusalem. Remember that Jeremiah promised God would measure out a new city and never overthrow it? Yeah, that’s us. God told Ezekiel to measure the temple and the Spirit would dwell in it forever; that’s us, too. The temple with perfectly square measurements in John’s Revelation? That’s also us. We are now perfect because of Jesus, measuring exactly to the standard of God’s divine holiness.
Our perfection in Christ is why Paul can say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8.1). We finally meet the standard. We no longer have to fear being measured by God.
Why Use David?
Someone asked why I used David as an example of God’s measure in judgment. That’s a great question, and there’s a good reason for it. First, it shows us that measurements are used to determine punishment. The Moabites were going to be completely judged for their sins and aggression against both God and Israel. The Moabites were cousins to Israel (cf Genesis 19.36-37). God expected these family ties to result in a tribal or national kinship, very similar to the way the United States has a particular kinship with the UK in modern politics. Moab made themselves worthy of judgment when they were faithless to God, deserted Israel in time of need, and even waged war against their cousins.
We can see this motif of judgment in the New Testament, too. Jesus said, “Don’t judge so you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (cf. Matthew 7.1-2) There is a standard of judgment that will be used to measure all people on the final Day of Judgment.
Second, David is a picture of Jesus. We can see Jesus foreshadowed in many of David’s actions. Jesus even be called “the son of David”, which points to this allegorical connection in addition to physical lineage. Since we see David using a “measuring rod” in judgment, we can expect to see Jesus doing it, too.
Paul says that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and “each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5.10)The measuring tape that Jesus uses on that day is the word of God (John 12.48). We will be measured out according to what Jesus has said, our lives put in a balance against the divine definition of “good and evil”, and we will be weighed. Everyone will be found wanting.
This is why the gospel is important. If we come to God based on our faith, then we can have righteousness counted/granted to us. If we come to God on the basis of what we’ve done, then we will fail miserably when measured by God. Thank God for the grace and mercy he gives to us through his son, Jesus!