Summary: God’s Plumb Line (His Law) isn’t dumb! It speaks to us about our sin. But we are blessed that God isn’t silent about his grace either, that reaches out to us from the cross
I read a book this week that really challenged me. It was a book that speaks against all kinds of things going on in society today. I’ll list some topics, and think about what comes to your mind: Self-Righteousness, Deceit, Greed, Oppression of the Poor, Arrogance, Materialism, Heart filled worship of stuff, and Heartless worship of God…
I can’t tell you what you pictured, but there are any number of headline grabbers that would fit, just from the last few days alone. But the book I read was written before last week. In fact, it was written just of 2,700 years ago. It’s author was a guy named Amos. And as far as I can tell, it would be hard to find anything more relevant to our lives in 2009 than what God had him write.
Amos lived at time we can relate to. The recession aside, we have to admit that we have life pretty good. And the people of Israel at Amos’ time would say the same thing. They were rich and growing richer. Powerful, and growing more powerful. Their prestige, and war chest, and power seemed to expanding with no end in sight (just like home prices a few years ago… what could go wrong!)
And success is a great thing! But what the people let it do to them spiritual wasn’t. Instead of growing in thanksgiving with the blessings, they grew spiritually lazy and fell into all kinds of awful messes. They began to be characterized by greed, and smug attitudes, oppression, and all the other stuff we started the sermon with this morning.
And God was justifiably angry with these people. They started worshipping other gods (some idols, some their own success) instead of worshipping their creator God who had actually provided all this success. So God sends his prophet to proclaim his judgment. An outsider, not a professional prophet, or a man from the royal courts, but as Amos says in his own words, a guy who was making a living in the fields: But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
And what we end up with is book full of red-hot law and judgment. Such a harsh message that even Amos, the messenger, pleads with God not carry out such wrath. The people don’t deserve any kind of mercy, but Amos says, “Lord God, I beg you, stop!” in chapter 7. And God does, 2 times, but finally we get to our lesson; the point at which God doesn’t stop. So there is a message of wrath that runs the length of the book until the last 5 verses, which are among the most stirringly beautiful in the entire Bible.
But our verses are the beginning of the inevitable judgment of God, administered so the people would repent and turn back to Him instead of their wealth and success. We start with the first couple verses of the reading: This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.”
The image is of God standing on or beside a perfectly aligned wall with a plumb line in his hand. It’s just a simple construction tool, a string with a weight on it that is held up next to a wall to measure if it is built straight and square. I know about using tools like this because they don’t work in my house. My house has stood in the same place for 91 years, and nothing is square or straight in it. My guess is when I turn 91 people will say the same about me.
But you can see why God would use an image like this concerning his Word and Law. Because plumb lines deal with reality, they don’t mess around with softening results, or making excuses or explanations, they only say that a wall is plumb, or that it isn’t. And God’s Law does the same. It makes no attempt to soften blows on our pride, or accept any excuses, or both with hearing our explanations of our sinful hearts, and minds, and mouths. It has only one verdict: Right-Wrong, Holy-Unholy, Acceptable-Unacceptable.
And we can go about doing all the arguing we want. We can score a perfect 10 in mental gymnastics, we can justify, excuse, or ignore our sin as much as we like. But we can’t change reality. God didn’t pass by the people in Amos’ day and he doesn’t neglect us with the plumb line either: Then the Lord said, Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them.