A Plumb Line
A Sunday meditation
July 21, 2019
By Pastor John Partridge
Have you ever lived in a small town?
On at least three different times in my life I have lived in small towns. But I want you to understand what I mean when I say, “small town.” In these places parents often caution their children to behave while they are in the community just as well as they do when their parents are watching, and they do so because you can be quite certain that even though they are out of sight of their parents, someone that they know will see them, and their parents will hear about what they have done, often before they return home from doing it.
This kind of caution is just the message that God gives to the people of Israel through the prophet Amos. God says that he will measure his people with a plumb line. A plumb line is simply a metal weight that hangs at the end of a string but thanks to the predictability of gravity, that line is always dead straight. (Amos 7:7-17)
7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”
“A plumb line,” I replied.
Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:
“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
and Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,
“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’
17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:
“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
God tells his children that just because they didn’t see him, doesn’t mean that their father wasn’t watching. And not only was he watching, but he intends to measure what they are building with their behavior. His standard is dead straight and perfect. Israel knew what the rules were, they knew God’s standards, they knew what he expected, but they didn’t follow his instructions so what they were building wasn’t straight.
It didn’t conform.
It deviated from God’s standards.
But the rest of the story is also important. When Amos arrives to declare God’s judgement, the king’s advisor, the priest Amaziah, declares Amos to be an enemy. They don’t want to hear any bad news even if it comes from God. Israel’s religious and political leaders would rather ignore God than repent and obey him.
Not surprisingly, ignoring God and pretending that his judgement isn’t real does not prevent God from doing what he promised to do, In fact, because Amaziah has refused to recognize Amos as God’s prophet, and refused to listen or respond to God’s judgement, Amos declares a personal curse upon Amaziah in addition to the punishment that God had intended for Israel all along.
But so, what?
What does that mean to us in the twenty-first century?
I see two important lessons for us as the church, as a people, and as a nation.
First, ignoring God and his instructions is does not prevent us from being measured by God’s standards. Every nation, secular, religious, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise will be measured by the plumb-line of God. It doesn’t matter if the highest levels of the government or the highest levels of the church pretend that God is dead. Pretending that judgement will never come will not stop God’s judgement from coming any more than pretending that a freight train is fluffy will stop it from crushing you if you stand on the crossing.
Second, the leaders of the church, and the leaders of the nations, will be held personally, and particularly, responsible for the way in which they lead their nations.
Even as citizens, how we choose to lead, and how we choose to vote for our leaders, and how we hold them accountable, is important. It is important that we choose leaders who lead well, and who lead us in ways that do not ignore the instructions and commands of God.
Just like a child living in a small town, even when our father seems to be invisible and out of sight, he knows what we are doing and is measuring what we are building with our behavior.
We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). We know the standards, instructions, and commands of God.
We need to act like it.
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