A number of Hebrew and Greek words are appropriately rendered “scales”; the expression has various meanings.
Animal Scales. Flattened, rigid plates forming part of the outer body covering of many fishes and reptiles. The Law ruled as ceremonially clean for food “everything that has fins and scales in the waters.” Water animals lacking such could not be eaten; they were “a loathsome thing.” (Le 11:9, 10, 12; De 14:9, 10) Thus scales (Heb., qas·qas·simʹ, plural of qas·qeʹseth) were one of the easily recognizable signs as to whether a certain fish could be eaten. Though there are four types of fish scales, most common are ctenoid scales (with a comblike edge) and cycloid scales (with a rounded border). These are arranged in overlapping rows, forming a thin, light, and flexible covering.
The same Hebrew word is used in Ezekiel 29:4, where the Egyptian Pharaoh is symbolically described as what seems to be a crocodile. The entire body of a crocodile is covered with strong plates of horn set in its leathery skin. Job 41:15-17 apparently also refers to the scales (AS, NW, MR) of the crocodile, in this case using the Hebrew word that is often translated “shield.”
Scales for Weighing. A device for weighing objects. The ancients were acquainted with the simple beam scale, or balance. It consisted of a horizontal bar, or beam, pivoted at the center on a peg or cord, and from each end of the beam hung a pan or hook. The object to be weighed was put in one pan (or hung on one hook, as with a small bag of money), and the known weights were put on the other side. (Jer 32:10; Isa 46:6; Ge 23:15, 16; Eze 5:1; see MONEY.) During a famine, even food might be measured carefully on a balance. The rider of the black horse described at Revelation 6:5 held a pair of scales “for measuring bread by weight, to personify . . . bad times, when provisions became cruelly expensive.”
Jehovah commanded honesty and accuracy in using scales (Le 19:35, 36), for a cheating pair of scales was detestable to him. (Pr 11:1; 16:11; Eze 45:10) Scales could be made inaccurate by having the arms of unequal length, or they could be rendered less sensitive by having the arms relatively short or by making the beam thicker and heavier. At times Israelites used scales fraudulently (Ho 12:7; Am 8:5), and they multiplied the deception by using inaccurate weights, one set for buying and another for selling.
Weighing scales were spoken of figuratively, as when Job mentioned ‘weighing his adversity on scales.’ (Job 6:2) The littleness of earthling men was emphasized by saying that they are lighter than an exhalation on the scales (Ps 62:9), and the nations were compared to an insignificant film of dust on the scales from the standpoint of Jehovah, who could, as it were, weigh all the hills in the scales. (Isa 40:12, 15) Scales were sometimes used to represent accurate measurement in judgment.
Scales of Armor. A coat of mail might have had scales (Heb., qas·qas·simʹ, plural of qas·qeʹseth) attached to it. These were small metal plates that overlapped and provided a relatively flexible armor plate.
Scales on Paul’s Eyes. When Paul was cured of the blindness resulting from Jesus’ appearing to him, “what looked like scales” fell from his eyes. (Ac 9:18) Some scholars take the view that nothing actually fell from Paul’s eyes but that this is simply figurative language meaning that Paul regained his sight. However, numerous modern translations indicate that something really fell from Paul’s eyes.