The Plumb Line – God’s Standard

1This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. 2When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,

“O Lord GOD, please forgive!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
3 The LORD relented concerning this:
“It shall not be,” said the LORD.

4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5Then I said,

“O Lord GOD, please cease!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
6 The LORD relented concerning this:
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.

7 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. 8And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” 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;
9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Amos 7:1-9

This passage is the beginning of 5 visions of judgment that God showed Amos. The above verses show us the first 3 of these visions. While the third vision of the plumb line is most prominent, it is vitally important to understand the first two visions as leading up to the third. The first two visions both show the judgment of God coming and the intercession of the prophet. God listens to the prayers of the righteous and they can literally turn God in his actions. In the first two judgments the Lord relented and changed his course because of the pleading of Amos. God choose to overlook the gross sin of his people at Amos’ request. This shows the wonderful grace of God and how attentive he is to those who know him.

As we shift to the third vision, the plumb line, Amos sees God standing beside a wall – a wall built with a plumb line. Merrill Unger is his commentary says that the wall symbolizes the kingdom of Israel. So God built his wall (nation) with a plumb line. The meaning is not hard to understand since a plumb line is used to make a wall straight; however John Calvin in his commentary explains, “the plumbline is the law of God; for it prescribed to his people a regular order of things, which might serve as a plumbline;” God had built the nation of Israel upon his Word, the law. And now the very words of God would be used as a measure, a test for his people. Thomas McComiskey comments in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary:

A plumb line is a standard by which a wall’s vertical trueness is tested. So the Lord was testing the people by a standard. In the first two visions, no standard was given. Therefore, the threatened judgment could be withdrawn. But after the plumb line vision, the Lord could not be accused of arbitrariness if he carried out the threats. The people had failed to live up to their privilege as Yahweh’s people. They had been called to be holy (Exod 19:6). But their repressive society violated the very standards of holiness itself.

God always has a standard. He builds with it and tests us by it. He is not an arbitrary judge. He gives us his standard and then holds us accountable to it. What if God was to stand beside our nation? What if he held out his plumb line against us and measured us according to his standard? How would we fair? One of the biggest issues we face today is one of standards. Our nation, businesses and organizations all face this crisis. There are no standards at all, or at the very least there is a heightened sense of diminished standards. Why is this? I think we have lost sight of the true standard. For the model is Christ, always Christ. We compare ourselves to one another instead of the true model. We no longer believe in an absolute standard to live by. That is why our morals and values continue to slide down a slippery slope. Christ is the only standard. Calvin in his famous book, Institutes of the Christian Religion, writes on this very topic.

it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced… we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence.

Our greatest problem is that we are the standard, which in turns means the standard will constantly change and move. We will always be enamored with ourselves as long as we are the measure of righteousness. But what of Christ – the real and only standard? When did we become so self-righteous as to think we can make our own standards. God holds the plumb line in his hand. What does he see?

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