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Friday, June 23, 2017

Plumb Line of God


Introduction

Amos spoke eight prophesies to the Israelites of the northern kingdom, seven about the nations around them and one about their own people. He then spent four chapters (chapters 3-6) proclaiming the sins about which God charged and judged them. The northern Israelites for their entire time as a divided nation worshiped idols and lived for themselves. During Amos’ time of prophesying, in the 750s BC, the people of Israel, particularly Samaria, were very wealthy and lived luxurious and extravagant lifestyles. They did not care for the poor and corrupted justice in their land. For their oppression of the poor and their corruption of justice, God judged them. He said a nation north of them would take them captive into exile.

In chapter seven, Amos told the people of the northern kingdom about the visions God gave him concerning them. He spoke of three visions in chapter seven and Amaziah, the chief priest of Bethel abruptly interrupted him. Today’s study will cover the first nine verses of Amos 7. This study will lead us to understand the first three visions God showed Amos and how they concerned Israel. The study will stop before Amaziah interrupts Amos in verse ten. These three visions were of locusts, fire, and a plumb line.


Vision of Locusts

With verses one through three, God showed Amos a vision of how His judgment would affect the Israelites. These verses show us the hearts of Amos and the LORD, too. Amos said in verses one through three,

1 “Thus the Lord GOD showed me, and behold, He was forming a locust-swarm when the spring crop began to sprout. And behold, the spring crop was after the king’s mowing. 2 And it came about, when it had finished eating the vegetation of the land, that I said, ‘Lord God, please pardon! How can Jacob stand for he is small?’ 3 The LORD changed His mind about this. ‘It shall not be,’ said the LORD.” [NASB]

The first two visions in this chapter use the same format: vision from God, Amos’ intercession for Israel, and God’s changed mind. Let’s look at what God showed Amos in verse one.

This first sentence begins with “thus” meaning “so.” It refers to the earlier passages where God judged Israel. He told them a nation from the north would enter their territory and take many as captives and leaving their land in desolation. “Thus,” said God, the land of the Israelites would be like when locusts swarm and devour land. God gave Amos a vision. Amos perceived its meaning and impact for Israel. In verse one, Amos saw God forming a locust swarm. The word forming means to fashion and create. The Bible writers used this term for God the Creator. God was the one who allowed and brought the locusts to Israel. He created this swarm to purposely devour the Israelites’ land. These locusts arrived after the king mowed what he wanted from the fields. They ate everything that remained above the ground and all newly sprouted vegetation. Before the produce matured, the locusts consumed it. This vision of locusts reminded Amos and the Israelites of the plague of locusts God sent to devour Egypt’s vegetation when the LORD passed through Egypt and passed over the children of Israel. This locust swarm of the vision would be God’s passing through the Israelites, His punishment on them. With verse two, we note the locusts of Amos’ vision took the hope of food and prosperity from the Israelites. The Israelites’ bellies would growl with hunger. Their wealth would decrease and fail them. This vision would affect the Israelites’ physically, materially, and mentally. They would have no food, no increase in wealth, and dashed hopes for the future.

In the last part of verse two, Amos interceded for the Israelites. He asked the Lord GOD to please pardon them. Amos called on the God of mercy to forgive the Israelites. He recognized the extent of this vision. This plague was a judgment on the Israelites’ sinfulness. Amos begged God to turn His judgment away from Israel because they were small. Because God showed His faithfulness to Israel over the centuries, he did not plead for Israel based on their covenant, but on the basis of need. Israel was small and could not survive God’s judgment shown in the vision to Amos. They needed God’s grace and mercy. Did Amos’ intercession to God for the Israelites help them? Let’s consider verse three to learn.

In verse three, Amos told the Israelites, “The LORD changed His mind about this.” He said, “It shall not be.” Did the LORD see the Israelites’ sin as less because Amos begged Him not to destroy the Israelites? No. He changed His mind about judging them. He showed mercy on them once again. The words “changed mind” from verse three mean to have compassion or pity on someone. These words mean “relent,” too. God relented from this judgment of the Israelites because He pitied them. Their potential suffering from the judgment shown in the vision concerned Him. That is compassion and mercy. Bible writers record this compassion of God many times. Moses told the Israelites about His compassion in Deuteronomy 32:36 when he stated the LORD will vindicate His people and have compassion on them though they sinned and enemies besieged them. Jeremiah 26:19 retells the LORD changed His mind about the misfortunes He pronounced against Judah. Hosea 11:8 says God rued He wanted to cause Israel’s capture. His kindled His compassion for them. Amos stated in chapter five verse fifteen he had hope the LORD God of hosts would be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Jonah 3:10 says God saw the people turned from their wicked ways and He did not do the calamity He declared on them. He is a loving Father who does not wish to punish His children, but will to correct and bring them closer to Him. His punishment comes from His love for them, His compassion. God knew the people deserved punishment/judgment. He charged and judged them.

Because of this vision, Amos, with attuned heart to his brethren of the north, begged the Lord for pardon. When Amos saw the extent of God’s judgment, he understood the depth of it. As shepherd and sycamore harvester, he understood the devastation a horde of locusts could have on a nation. Amos’ heart felt pain and hopelessness for the Israelites and on their behalf interceded for them to the LORD. He asked for pardon for them. Amos interceded as a priest though he was just a shepherd. He understood his calling from God to be the prophet of the LORD. Amos recognized His love for the people and the esteem God felt for him so went before Him and begged for forgiveness for the Israelites. He was not the only prophet to intercede for Israel. Isaiah and Jeremiah prayed for the Israelites in Isaiah 37:4 and Jeremiah 42:2. Amos reminded the LORD Israel was very small; they would not prevail or even endure against an enemy as mighty as the Assyrians without Him as their might and protection. Just as Jeremiah pled with God to pardon the Israelites for the glory of His name (Jeremiah 14:7, 20-21), Amos, too, reminded God Israel was small and could not stand without His hand of protection and might battling for them. Amos interceded for Israel. God had compassion and relented; He abandoned His harsh judgment. He was still righteous. God’s charge and judgment were just, but His love and compassion for the people of Israel compelled Him to give them one more chance. His relenting was not forever, but a stay of execution of His judgment. Amos’ intercession, the prayer of a righteous man, brought about God’s relenting of judgment. The repentance of Israel was they way to make the judgment go away.

·         Have you been through a time when nothing seemed to work out according to your plans? Perhaps you couldn’t find a job or money for rent. Possibly you had a month like no other–car broke down, doctors’ bills due, electricity bill overdue, and you didn’t know what to do. Those could have been times when the “locusts ate your crops.”
·         Could these times have possibly been when God tried to get your attention to get you to turn around and seek Him instead of trying to live your own life and be your own resource, your own god?
·         Turn back to God, confess your wrongdoings, repent (genuinely regret what your wrongdoings), and give your life to God.


Vision of Fire

After God’s vision of a locust swarm, He showed Amos the extent of His judgment against Israel in a second vision. God’s judgment would be like a fire that destroyed everything, not just above ground, but below, too. He said in verses four through six,

4 “Thus the Lord GOD showed me, and behold, the Lord God was calling to contend with them by fire, and it consumed the great deep and began to consume the farm land. 5 Then I said, ‘Lord GOD, please stop! How can Jacob stand for he is small?’ 6 The LORD changed His mind about this. ‘This too shall not be,’ said the Lord GOD.” [NASB]

Remember, we learned the fire that would come upon the citadels of the other nations meant either supernatural fire from God or fire from their enemies attacking them would come because of God’s wrath. This time, God showed He would cause or allow fire to come upon Israel, the people who considered themselves safe because they were Yahweh’s children. In verse four, GOD showed Amos a vision. In it the Lord God called to contend with the Israelites by fire. The Lord proclaimed His intention to fight against, not for, the Israelites with a devouring fire. In Deuteronomy 32:22, Moses told the Israelites God’s fire burns to the lowest part of Sheol and consumes the earth and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains. Isaiah 66:15-16 records Isaiah telling the people the LORD will come in fire to render His anger with fury. He did this to Sodom and Gomorrah, too. The ancestors of the current Israelites knew from teachings and history that God’s judgment could come down as fire and completely consume a place. The destruction in this vision given to Amos noted the fire would go to the great deep and consume the farm land. What started in the city of the rich would go to the farmland. It would destroy everything above the dirt and go to the roots of the plants and underwater water sources. Nothing would remain after the fire of God’s judgment. No new growth or new life would occur.

Amos once again pled with God after seeing this vision. He begged Him to please stop. Amos did not plead for God to forgive/pardon the Israelites this time. He petitioned God based on Israel’s need and God’s grace. Amos reminded God how small Jacob was and how quickly and completely fire would destroy them. Amos interceded like a priest for the Israelites because of his love for them and because of His love for Yehovah.

With verse six, we understand the LORD changed His mind. He had compassion and relented from destroying the Israelites completely. Amos did not appeal to the LORD’s covenant with the Israelites in this vision. He appealed to God’s compassion. Jonah noted this same relenting from God in Jonah 3:10 when the Ninevites repented and turned to God. Amos knew God is compassionate. He knew loving Father did not want to judge and punish people. Amos’ intercession brought a reply from God of relenting from this judgment of an all-consuming fire.

·         Remember when hard times came and, when you turned to your friends and family, they did not help you?
·         Recall the time when the only way that seemed to offer relief from your burden was going in debt further and you just didn’t know if that was the right thing to do?
·         In each of these instances, you dug through the locust-eaten land searching for the deep waters to get by on only to find dust. You searched out other sources, but they didn’t seem right, still you considered them anyway. That was a time of you being your own god again, using your own wisdom instead of giving your life to God.
·         God is calling you to seek Him, confess and repent, and let Him be your God. Will you go to Him?


Vision of the Plumb Line

With God’s third vision shown to Amos, He expressed clearly the extent of His wrath. In verses seven through nine, Amos recorded,

7 “Thus He showed me, and behold, the Lord was standing by a vertical wall, with a plumb line in His hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘Behold I am about to put a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel. I will spare them no longer. 9 The high places of Isaac will be desolated and the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste. Then shall I rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’” [NASB]

Once again God showed Amos a vision. This time the vision showed the standard-a plumb line- by which God held His people accountable. A plumb line is a string or rope with a lead weight with a point (plummet) tied to the end of it. By standing on a wall and lowering the plummet line down the side of the wall, gravity pulls it straight and shows if a wall is straight, bulging, or bowing. If the wall is straight, it is “true”.

In this third vision, God used a plumb line to measure the Israelites. He stood on a vertical wall. That wall was the Israelites whom God built. It was also the wall that would crumble under His judgment. If the Israelites remained faithful to their covenant with the LORD, the wall would stand perpendicularly straight with the ground and have no bulges. When a builder finds a wall that is not true, he tears it down below the start of the bulge starts then rebuilds the wall from that point.

In this vision, God told Amos He was about to put a plumb line among His people to see who was straight and true and who was unjust. This implied He would tear down the wall that was not true and right. This meant the people who did not follow Him but changed His laws and commandments to suit their own purposes God would remove. In Samaria, we understand this meant God’s judgment would bring down most people. This idea was prevalent at the time. Second Kings 21:13 spoke of God stretching out over Jerusalem the same plummet line He used over Samaria and the house of Ahab. Isaiah said in Isaiah 28:17 God would make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level. He said in Isaiah 34:11 God would stretch out over Judah the line of desolation and the plumb line of emptiness. Finally, in Lamentations 2:8, God did the same thing to Jerusalem. God’s righteousness sets the plumb line straight, not gravity. In Amos 7:8, God said He would no longer spare the unrighteous of Israel. That means He would not “pass over” them anymore. He would “pass through” them and judge them just as He did the Egyptians, Sodomites, and later the Israelites and Judahites. Jeremiah recorded in Jeremiah 15:6 God’s weariness over Judah and His unwillingness to relent from His judgment of their sins any longer.

Just as the LORD grew weary of relenting and allowing His children in Judah to sin against Him and people as recorded by Jeremiah, He came to this same point with Israel in Amos. He would no longer spare them. Amos recorded the extent of God’s unrelented wrath based on this vision. God would desolate the high places and lay waste the sanctuaries. The house of Jeroboam would fall by a sword. What did this mean? Are not the first two parts the same? The “high places” comes from the Hebrew word bamah and means cultic platforms and places of worship for idols. These were the places of informal worship of false gods and idols. Genesis 46:1, Hosea 10:8, and Micah 1:5 speak of these. God said these bamah would “be desolated.” The word “desolated” comes from the Hebrew word shamem and means to devastate or ravage. The high places would be ravaged, torn apart, and deserted. It would be ruins.

Besides the high places, God would make the sanctuaries as waste. The sanctuaries in Israel were the formal sacred places such as temples or tabernacles. These were the two places Jeroboam I established for the people of the northern kingdom to worship the golden calves in Bethel and Dan in the south and north of the kingdom. The word “waste” comes from the Hebrew word charab and means to make desolate, in ruins, and be waste. Nothing would remain standing for the people to worship or a place in which to worship. No one would recognize a place for worship because God brought about their ruin.

The LORD God is mighty to destroy the high places of informal worship (mountains, orchards, pastures, and forests) and the formal sanctuaries in the cities. God would destroy every worship site in Israel. The Israelites knew from Leviticus 26:31 God would lay waste their cities and sanctuaries if they were unfaithful to their covenant with Him. Isaiah told the Judahites their adversaries would trample Yahweh’s sanctuary in Isaiah 63:18. The people of Israel broke covenant with the LORD. They oppressed the poor, over-indulged instead of helping others, sought glory instead of giving it to GOD, and corrupted justice. The sanctuaries and high places were places where they flaunted their wealth, oppression, and corruption. God’s destruction came upon these places because the people visited there and they led people further away from their covenant with Him.

Along with destroying the Israelites’ places of worship, in this vision God said He would rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. God would show His mighty power over the Israelites’ ruler and his family as well as their priests and idols. He said He would use a sword against Jeroboam’s house. He would do battle/cause battle to kill the line of Jeroboam. They would no longer be the rulers of Israel because they led the people astray to worship other gods, to oppress the poor and live lavishly, and to corrupt righteousness. In this third vision, God’s wrath dealt with the religious and political rulers of the kingdom for leading the people away from covenant faithfulness with Yehovah. These establishments of leadership among the Israelites would not continue to exist.

A special note needs mentioning here. Amos did not intercede for the Israelites after this vision. He did not ask God to relent from this judgment. Amos recognized the rightness of God’s wrath and judgment on the Israelites. He knew the Israelites’ sins were complete (“for three transgressions and for four”) and understood it required God’s intervention by more than mere prophets. A supernatural judgment needed to intervene in the Israelites’ lives and kingdom.

·         Do you remember hitting bottom and thinking you had sunk as low as you could go? There was no one else to whom to turn. You didn’t know what to do. You wanted someone to take the problems from your hands. You wanted out.
·         God will meet you there. Don’t be like the Israelites who fell into captivity because of their stubbornness and pride. Meet God where you are. Call out to Him with earnestness. Confess and repent and let Him be your Lord.
·         He promised that all who call to Him He will hear in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
·         James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
·         God does not want your utter destruction. He wants a permanent relationship with you, one for all eternity.

Recap

The visions God showed Amos dealt with His judgment of their sinfulness. You will recognize the intensity of the rightness and judgment of God increases with each vision. With the locust swarm vision, God just removed the produce and vegetation of the land. That would affect the Israelites’ bodies and mental states. With the fire upon the land, God would consume and destroy the water and roots under the land, and the land itself. The Israelites would not survive a drought and famine. Israel would be a wasteland. The Promised Land would not flow with milk and honey because God would remove His blessings. The Israelites would experience life without His blessings. The vision of the plumb line is the most devastating. God’s judgment would affect the leadership of the land-political and religious. There would be no government-religious or political. This vision showed God would tear apart the walls that were not plumb with His righteousness. He would take them down to the point where they began to lose their straightness and later rebuild them.

God judged the whole kingdom for their faithlessness to Him and their sins against people. He highlighted mostly the rich and leaders of the land who did not help the poor, corrupted justice, and lead the people of the nation away from Him. Nothing would remain after His wrath came upon them. Israel’s enemy would crack and tear down their walls and defenses. The land would reap destruction and give no sustenance. The people who remained in the land would scavenge to exist. Surrounding nations would learn of the might of the LORD and learn even His people are not immune to judgment for their sinfulness.


Conclusion and Relevance

God called the Israelite people His people. He made them a royal priesthood and a holy nation for Himself. Over the hundreds of years they lived as His people in the Promised Land, they showed their unworthiness of being called His people. These Israelites lived unfaithfully to their covenant with the Lord. They broke His laws and commandments and had other gods besides Yehovah. With Amos’ prophecy, God told the Israelites His judgment of them for their sins and still they did not return to Him repenting. They chose to be their own god and do what they wanted. God explained the severity of their His judgment of them, through their punishment. They still did not repent and return to Him. Within thirty years the kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian army and became captives and exiles. The Assyrians took the leaders, artisans, merchants, and wealthy as captives. Most other Israelites remained in the land scratching for an existence along with exiles the Assyrians imported from other areas of their empire. The people who lived in the once northern kingdom of Israel were no longer the holy people of Yehovah. They were a mixed group of many cultures, gods, and languages.

Today God continues to call people to come to Him and be His children. Yes, we all sin, but God wants us all to come to Him, be His children, and worship Him. The Lord provided a way for everyone to be His people. This better way did not require daily animal sacrifices from people for remission of sins. That better way is through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  God gave His Son’s life as the death penalty for each person who believes in his or her heart Jesus is the Son of God and confesses it with his or her mouth. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins is enough. We need not sacrifice for atonement daily. Does that mean we no longer sin? No, we are all sinners. See Romans 3:23-24, For we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. But, God makes us just, no longer meriting punishment, by God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ by whom we received redemption. Jesus died for all people so they who believe do not have to die in permanent separation from God. Did you understand that? Jesus redeemed us. We do not have to face eternal separation as punishment for our sins; Jesus bore that penalty for us. That is redemption. Jesus paid our sin penalty. Does that mean God doesn’t punish us when we sin then? No, that is not what it means. God is our loving Father, and just like any loving father, His love means He will give corrective action to lead us from harming ourselves and other people, and to follow Him as Lord. To do that, He corrects us, maybe even punishes us, but He never punishes us to eternal separation from Him. That correction can come in many forms, just like our parent’s correction of our actions, words, and attitudes took many forms. Correction is to train us up in a peaceful way to live with other people in community according to righteousness, God’s righteousness. If you read the Bible, you will see some of the many ways God corrected people. Maybe He allows a person to fail at school or work. Possibly God allows a regular speeder to get so many speeding tickets instead of constant warmings so the person must have his or her license revoked. That would teach a lesson of following the law and being careful of other people around you. None of these corrective punishments causes a person to lose their eternal relationship with God if they are a believer in Jesus Christ. These are for correction.

The point here is God provided a way for us to be in a permanent eternal relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. We have free will and can choose if we want to be a follower of Jesus. Without accepting Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord, you do not have a saving relationship with God. You will experience eternal separation from Him when you die. When God judges His Christians that judgment does not remove our status as child of God and co-heir with Jesus Christ. His judgment is punishment to correct us and grow us in our relationship with Him and our walk in the world. Just as God’s rainbow to Noah was His promise never to destroy the world with a flood again, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, is His promise to His children they will never be separated from Him. Both the rainbow and Jesus death and resurrection give hope to people. The first is for all people. The second is for all people who believe in Jesus Christ. God offers eternal hope. Have you accepted this hope He offers through His Son, Jesus Christ? John the Apostle said it best in John 3:16-17.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” [NASB]
Do you believe Jesus is God’s Son? Do you want eternal life with God?

What keeps you from believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for your sins?

Will you seek God, pray and repent asking Him to forgive you of your sins, and give your life to Him?

Now is not too soon.

Read James 4:8-10 again,
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and week; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” [NASB]

Who do you choose to be your Lord and God – you or Yehovah?