Today we meet the OT prophet Amos. He lived after the time of the great kings David and Solomon. The kingdom had divided into two after the death of Solomon. The northern half, the northern 10 tribes, became the nation of Israel; the southern two tribes, Judah and Benjamin became Judah. It was now a few centuries after the split. The northern kingdom of Israel had always been following a false religion, having set up false places of worship to rival the divinely appointed temple in Jerusalem for worship. In our OT reading, for example, we heard about Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. The southern kingdom of Judah, had been slowly falling away from the true and right worship of God. But at least there, there were fits and starts of a return to the true worship of the true God when there was a good and faithful king reigning. But not so with the northern kingdom as all the kings were unfaithful to the true God.
But now at the time of our prophet Amos the kingdom of Israel was enjoying a time of great prosperity, under its king Jeroboam II. Israel was the most influential power on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. But it wouldn’t last long--about 30 years from the time of Amos’ prophetic work, Israel was no more; it was conquered and destroyed by the mighty Assyrian armies and its people--the 10 lost tribes --dispersed among the peoples of the vast Assyrian empire.
At the time of Amos, the people were merely going through the motions of their religion. Their lack of faith showed itself in social injustice, proof of sliding away from the true God. Although Amos warned both Israel and Judah, most of what Amos speaks are words of warning to Israel, the northern kingdom, that God would punish them for their idolatry and injustice. What’s interesting about Amos, the prophet sent to the northern kingdom, is that he was from Judah, the southern kingdom; from Tekoa, a small town 10 miles south of Jerusalem. As we heard in today’s reading he was: a sheep breeder [who] took care of sycamore fig trees; he wasn’t like Isaiah, a “professional prophet.” The Lord can and does choose and equip, by His Holy Spirit, anyone to be His messengers, even today.
By his message that Israel is doomed to destruction, Amos was to bring the people of Israel to repentance. And one of his messages is that of the vision that he had of the plumb line. And that’s what we will spend a few moments considering today. A plumb-line is a simple but vital tool used by builders. It’s a line with a weight attached to it to determine a straight vertical line. By using a plumb-line and looking at it, you can figure out if a wall is straight up and down or leaning. For example, putting a plumb-line to the leaning tower of Pisa would show that it is indeed leaning. That’s the image that we see with Amos’ vision:
This is what He showed me: I saw the Lord standing by a wall that had been constructed with a plumb line. He had a plumb line in His hand. The LOrd said to me, “What do you see, Amos?” I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said: Look, I am about to set up a plumb line next to My people Israel. I will no longer overlook their sin. The high places of Isaac will be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined. I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.
Notice--the LOrd will place a plumb-line next to His people and it will show their crookedness--their sin and corruption; it will show how far they have fallen from Him; it will show that there is no faith and works of faith. This vision is a call to repentance: it shows Israel is out of plumb and ready for destruction.
What should have been the case? Of course, Israel should be true to plumb; it should be right and true because of all the Lord has done to build it. Look at the Lord, in grace, singling out Abraham, coming and revealing Himself to him and giving him the promise that he would be the ancestor of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Think of all the Lord’s gracious dealings with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Think of how the Lord so wondrously and miraculously rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. How He brought them through the Red Sea and preserved them for 40 years in the desert. And then He came and gave them on Mt. Sinai His holy law and word. There was nothing that God didn’t do for His people. He brought them to the land He promised them and settled them there. When they sinned, He sent them the prophets to remind them of His gifts and promises and to call them to repentance so they wouldn’t lose His graces and blessings. God’s intent was to prepare a holy people to welcome Him when He would come as Savior. And through their holiness, they were to point the peoples around them to the true God and the coming Savior. What didn’t God do for His people?! And yet, how did they so often respond? --In idolatry, rejection of Him, sin, lovelessness.
That’s the purpose of this vision: Israel should have been like that wall--straight and plumb; solid and well built--after all that God had done to build her right. Israel was built according to God’s standards and should have been true to those standards; but she was out of plumb; she was a crooked, leaning wall.
Here, we do this text an injustice if we don’t apply Amos’ vision to ourselves. Let us remember all the graces and mercies of our Lord to us. He has given us His holy word of law, telling us His will, what is right and what is wrong; He has brought us to Jesus our Savior from our sin; He has given us the Holy Spirit. What hasn’t God done for us? If God were to set up that spiritual plumb line next to each of us, fellow sinner, what would He see? We should be true to plumb but each must ask him/herself: am I? Where we see that we are not, that we are not in accord with the holy will of God, that in spite of the grace and mercy of God to us in Christ, we still live our lives with “me” as the center, where we still gladly serve our own sinful ways/ desires, let us then repent.
Amos’ vision of the plumb line is a strong preaching to us in our day. It drives home the point that there are absolutes of right and wrong; there is absolute truth. Today it is very common for people to think that there is no truth; what’s true for you may not be true for me. People create their own realities for themselves--even with something as objective as gender--and our culture tells us we dare not question it or “impose” our views/ reality on them. How we need to hear and reflect on this vision of Amos today. It doesn’t matter what people think/ feel or how they can try to rationalize away the false reality/ delusions they live under, there is an absolute standard--God’s standard. Then the Lord said: Look, I am about to set up a plumb line next to My people Israel. I will no longer overlook their sin. Let us adjust our views and humble ourselves to God’s standard. Let us see to it/ strive that we are true to plumb. Let us not adopt the ever changing and ever corrupting standards of the world around us. Instead, let us judge all that see, hear and experience according to God’s absolute standard. What’s not in accord with that, let us reject; what we see in our life not in accord with it, let us fight against and strive to rid ourselves of.
Again, this vision of the plumb line is a call to repentance. Then the Lord said: Look, I am about to set up a plumb line next to My people Israel. I will no longer overlook their sin. The high places of Isaac will be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined. I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword. Here the Lord threatens destruction of the kingdom, the dissolution of the nation and death to the descendants of the king. That’s what happened to the nation of Israel that was not true to plumb. In the vision, the plumb line shows the wall to be completely out of plumb. What is the wall good for if it is crooked/ leaning? Only to be condemned and torn down! It will fall down any way if nothing is done. The same thing applies to us spiritually today, as it applied to Israel then. Israel was no longer true to its covenant promise of loyal obedience and love and service to the Lord. Instead they made it their practice to be out of line with God’s norm: they disregarded His law that demanded holiness and so they also, as a result, disregarded the Gospel that promised a Savior from sin, death and damnation where they did not live up to the holiness God demanded. What more could God do?
It was about 30 years from when Amos spoke these words to when they were fulfilled. Just because God does not punish sin the second or moment that He threatens, we must not grow complacent or think that God doesn’t care if we continue on in sin or not; it's not license for us to continue on in sin. Instead, that’s His mercy and long-suffering giving us time to repent; He wants us to repent and turn from our sins--He doesn’t desire our death and damnation. He calls to us in His holy law--that plumb line that simply shows us the reality of our sin and our true condition--to repent. And as we recognize our sin and sorrow over them, there He comes with His glorious Gospel--the good news that in Jesus our sins are forgiven; that He paid the price for our sins and now offers us forgiveness of sin, His perfect holiness, eternal life, peace with God. The plumb line’s call to repentance is a call for us to recognize our sin so that we run to Jesus our Savior.
Then the Lord said: Look, I am about to set up a plumb line next to My people Israel. The plumb line next to Israel showed great crookedness; the plumb line next to any one of us would also show great leaning and crookedness. But the wonderful and glorious thing is that the plumb line next to Jesus would show Him true to plumb; it would show Him perfectly holy and righteous because Jesus is the true and holy and sinless God-man. That’s the good news for us. Jesus came to this world and became one of us so that He could be our righteousness; so that He could keep God’s holy law perfectly for us; so that He, the holy and righteous One could suffer and die for our sins and so reconcile us sinners to the holy God. Now, as we give Jesus all of our sins in confession He then in the absolution gives us His perfect holiness--His perfect “plumbness”. Now through faith in Jesus we, dear Christian, are plumb/ perfectly righteous. Then the Lord said: Look, I am about to set up a plumb line next to My people. To that we rejoice! We have no problem, no worries because Jesus is our righteousness. What a glorious joy and confidence we have!
Part of our lives as Christians is looking at ourselves with that divine plumb line next to us. And what will we see? --Yes, we will see ourselves as God sees us: His dear Christian, perfectly righteous, covered with the righteousness of Jesus/ united with Jesus at holy baptism--but we will also see that in and of ourselves there is still much leaning and crookedness, still much that is not plumb. That’s what our lives as Christians is all about. Jesus is our righteousness, not so that we can continue to live in sin, but so that led and empowered by the Holy Spirit we may become more and more holy. Looking at the plumb line of God’s holy law, we see where we bulge a bit one way or another; we see that we are leaning too much one direction or another--in other words we see our sin and lack of holiness. And so we then strive by the Holy Spirit’s help and power, guidance and leading to fight against that sin. And also we hear the Lord saying of us individually: Look, I am about to set up a plumb line next to My people. Here the Lord works to straighten and fit us in with the plumb line. Here we recognize that our sufferings and trials are the Lord’s grace and mercy to us “adjusting us” to make us plumb/ to help rid us of our sin and earthly/ wrong attachments. And all the time He is “adjusting” us, He is working to strengthen and fortify the wall--us. He does so as He continues to come to us in His holy word and sacrament. Amos’ vision of the plumb line--a call to repentance and a picture of our Christian lives! INJ Amen