Summary: Aligning ourselves with God, as opposed to going against His Word.
THE PLUMB-LINE TEST
When I was at High School, we were building a garage. We were taught how to mix mortar, lay bricks, and to check everything was lined up straight with a plumb-line. The work had been begun by those of the Year above mine: but in mid-January 1968 ‘Hurricane Low Q’, the worst storm of Glasgow’s history, had flattened the part-built walls while the mortar was still wet.
This passage in Amos falls into two parts: first, the vision of the LORD measuring a plumb-line built wall with a plumb-line; and second, the response of Amos to Amaziah, the priest of Bethel.
I. Amos 7:7-9
First, that the wall in the vision was “plumb-line built” (Amos 7:7) can be surmised not only from the grammar, but also from the facts that lie behind the vision. When the northern tribes of Israel had seceded from the house of David after the death of Solomon, it was not without divine commission. The first king Jeroboam (not the one in this passage) had been given the northern kingdom upon certain conditions (see 1 Kings 11:38) but failed to keep those conditions by building golden calves at Dan, and here at Bethel. Those conditions still applied to each successive dynasty until the fall of Israel, but each successive king failed: and Jeroboam the second was no exception (see 2 Kings 14:23-24).
So, we have this picture of the LORD measuring a plumb-line built wall with a plumb-line: He built it, but it was no longer squaring up. Thus, the LORD was setting a plumb-line amid His people Israel, and (because of their sins) there was no longer a pass-over for them (Amos 7:8). The LORD still called them “My people Israel”, but the rule set down in Amos 3:2 still applied.
The threats of the two previous visions had been averted by the prayers of Amos (Amos 7:1-3; Amos 7:4-6). But the setting of the plumb-line called forth no prayer from Amos, and no relenting by the LORD. It was as if Amos had heard what Jeremiah would later hear concerning the southern kingdom of Judah: ‘pray not for this people’ (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11).
There is ‘a sin unto death’ (1 John 5:16), and even the Apostle of love says, ‘I do not say you should pray about that’! If we are not with Christ, we are against Him (Matthew 12:30). When Jesus separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32) there will be no court of appeal.
This is not in any way unjust. If they failed the plumb-line test (and they would), the high places which Israel pretended had been sacred since the days of Isaac would be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel would be laid waste. A religion built on innovations and lies is of no interest to the LORD: ‘I desire obedience not sacrifice’ (1 Samuel 15:22; cf. Hosea 6:6).
Furthermore, the king himself would fall before the plumb-line. The whole dynasty, and the whole kingdom, was doomed.
II. Amos 7:10-15
Amaziah, the priest of Bethel reported his version of the words of Amos to the king. The report itself is not entirely accurate, misrepresenting what Amos said, like ‘fake news’ today. “The land is not able to bear all his words,” complained the priest.
Even Jesus was accused of ‘stirring up the people’ (Luke 23:5). His followers were accused of being ‘Those who have turned the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6). But He has warned us to expect it to be so (see Matthew 5:11).
There will always be those in the ‘church’ who take exception to the word of God. How dare you preach the Bible, here in church! Think of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, and their bold response (Acts 4:18-20). Even then, such was the tenacity of the Apostles, they were later accused of ‘filling Jerusalem’ with their teaching (Acts 5:28).
Then Amaziah mocked Amos, misrepresenting the prophet’s motives in preaching. Flee for your life (he implies). After all, stipends are better in Judah. They will no doubt be glad to hear your words against the northern kingdom down there in the southern kingdom. Get your treasonous words out of the king’s cathedral!
The reply of Amos demonstrates his own tenacity, and his faithfulness to his God and his mission. Amos was not a member of any fraternity such as ‘the sons of the prophets’ (2 Kings 6:1). Amos does not pretend to be anybody in and of himself, but he describes how he was just going about his business as a tender of sycamore fruit and following the sheep, when the LORD called him, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (Amos 7:15).
Amaziah failed the plumb-line test, as will all who tell us ‘do not preach’ (Amos 7:16-17). Amos stood firm, as must we, and passed the plumb-line test. We must persevere to the end and preach the gospel to all nations (Matthew 24:13-14).