Based on a sermon from 2011.
As we dream of what 2022 holds in store, we might look back nearly 3000 years to see what dreams the Israelites were having about their future. As King Jeroboam died in 753 BC a prophet called Amos was preaching for change in society, preaching for a reversal in the social and moral decline in the various communities in Israel. materialism had become the preoccupation of the priests and ruling classes, and a huge gulf had emerged between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s ’ The haves were growing richer as the have not’s become poorer.
Amos was given three visions of what God intended to do to his people to shake them out of their self-centredness, sin and greed.
His first was God preparing a plague of locusts to descend and destroy the crops, trees and fields of Israel. Amos appeals to Gods compassion with two words “Forgive” and “Cease” knowing that God has a loving concern for his people. He appeals to the God who never stops his battle against sin in our world of rebellion. God’s response is to think again.
God changes his mind, Amos has been successful, and the plague of locusts is not sent on Israel.
His second vision is one of fire. Amos sees God calling for a fire of judgement to come upon Israel. As he sees the fire beginning to destroy buildings and people he pleads to God to stop the fire and to give Israel another chance. God’s response is to think again.
Amos third vision is of the plumb line. What is different about this vision as compared to the vision of the locusts and the fire is that Amos does not pray. What is also different is that the first two visions were of God showing his anger, he was fed up. He has lost it with the people of Israel. These two visions were about destruction – how quickly could he destroy Israel.
In his third vision God had turned from thoughts of destruction to thoughts of testing. God is looking to test individuals, separating one from another based not what the people of Israel say they are doing but the evidence of their lives.
Our Christian life is one where we are continually tested against Gods standard. God is looking for evidence of the way we live our lives. AND so Amos sees God standing beside a wall, perhaps the city wall of Samaria, with a plumb line in his hand. The plumb line was and is used by builders in the construction of a wall to see that it was upright and vertical. But it was also used to examine old walls to see if they were in danger of collapsing and should be demolished. Amos sees God standing beside a wall that has been constructed true. God is using the plumb line to confirm the wall remains true to the way it was built. Amos recognises that this is a vision of our life and relationship with God. In this vision Amos role is to respond to God – it is not to tell God to cease or to forgive , it is not to pray or intercede at all. God talks to Amos, he asks Amos what he sees. Amos not surprisingly says ‘a plumb line’ – master of the obvious! God then helps Amos to understand what the plumb line symbolises – God is setting the plumb line not against a wall but against his chosen people. God is checking to see if they are still ‘as they were made’, he is checking to see if they as still as he created them. Are they upright, are they still true to how God made them?
Amos knew that the creator God had revealed himself to his chosen people of Israel; he had set his people apart and given them his law. Amos knew that God asked the people of Israel for obedience, he knew that in return God promised them his redeeming grace and love. Sadly the people of Israel were found not to be as God made them. They were no longer true. God’s judgment was that just as a leaning wall is in danger of collapsing and must be demolished then Israel must be taken down and demolished.
God said “I am setting a plumb line among my people” – God’s chosen people cannot avoid being tested and judged. And so just as Israel and we are Gods chosen people Israel and we cannot avoid being tested and judged by God.
The first two visions were of God warning of the coming of judgement – Amos prays; God is sympathetic and relents on the judgment. God is holy and judges his sinful people, but God is merciful and can be swayed by the prayers of his prophet Amos. The prophet sees the disaster that is around the corner and intercedes, pleading for Gods’ compassion. The first to be judged and tested were the “high places of Isaac and the sanctuaries of Israel.” The people who were the furthest from being true to Gods plumb line, the richest, the powerful, the haves who denied the have nots.
We know that by the time Amos sees his third vision – some time had passed. But nothing had changed holy places and shrines were places for the elite and wealthy, places where the law had been forgotten, places where priests said prayers in return for favours and gifts. They were not places where the sinners and the lost could find Gods love.
The next to be judged was the king – king Jeroboam. Now Jeroboam had been given the kingdom of Israel by God on condition that he listened to God and upheld Gods law. But we know from the Book of Kings how he ignored God, and in setting up the shrines at Bethel to the golden calves, he rejected Gods law and love. Israel and Gods people had continued to be concerned about their wealth, about their prosperity, about their comfort. They had continued to become more divided; the rich had grown richer and the poor poorer, there was no shortage of money, law and order appeared to rule in society, but true justice had broken down, power and wealth was concentrated in the hands of the few – merchants earned more in a year than whole communities in their lifetime. Power was concentrated in the hands of a few who blatantly abused the trust placed in them by society. And so when Amos sees the third vision and the impending destruction he no longer prays to God for compassion. There comes a point of no return. The people of Israel in their headlong greed, selfishness, and ignorance of Gods Law had gone beyond Gods mercy.
Amos shared his third vision with the king and with Gods chosen people. Amos preached in the shrines, on the road, amongst fellow farmers and the ordinary people. He told it as it was. The chosen people: the Priests, the people of God and the King had failed the test of the plumb line. It’s not surprising then that we find that he’s not a popular man!
Amos has gone to the shrine of Bethel, the place where the golden calves are worshipped to tell of his vision. Amaziah is a priest of Bethel, and one of the leaders of God’s chosen people. Amos tests Amaziah against the plumb line and finds that he failing in his duty. Amaziah knows he is threatened and strikes out at Amos. And so now its Amos turn to be tested against the plumb line.
Amaziah accuses Amos of conspiring against the king. He then tempts him to go back home to his businesses where Amaziah says he will be safe and wealthy. And then Amaziah challenges his obedience to the king by dismissing him from the king’s court. How does Amos compare against the plumb line?
Amos turns to God – he doesn’t try to face the problem on his own! He responds in three ways.
Firstly by saying that he had been interviewed for a job that he didn’t apply for and as far as he was concerned wasn’t even qualified to do! God had taken him from his humble job as a sheep farmer and fruit grower and given him the job of a prophet! – No discussion, no debate, he had been taken out of his comfort zone and given a new job. He had done what God had asked and given up as a farmer and taken the job.
He responds secondly by saying that God had told him “Prophesy,” the job of a prophet is to prophesy – A God given ‘one word job description’. He responds to Amaziah by saying that he is not going home, he was told by God to “Go to my people Israel.” That is what he was told, that is what he had done, and that was where he was staying! Amos prophesies were dominated by his awareness of what is right and wrong according to God. Not according to man, but according to God.
So is there anything we can learn from Amos, his prophecies and his actions?
At the most simple we can ask ourselves if we measure up to Gods plumb line? God gave Amos a new job – he took him away from his humdrum life and gave him a life changing opportunity to serve him. Have we tried to listen to God, and to understand his plumb line. Do we understand how God wants us to use the talents we’ve been given to further his kingdom in earth? Have we heard Gods spirit saying to us “You’re bogged down in your routine? “, or “ Stop” or “God has a new job for you”?
It was simple for Amos, it is simple for us. God’s commandments are simple, and the tasks he gives us are rarely complicated or unclear. Amos was called to speak out, to be counted, not to stay quiet, he was told not to accept behaviour that was not according to Gods laws and commandments. He wasn’t a professional prophet, but God gave him the words to say. Amos was a man of both prayer and action. Amos listened to God and served God. In leaving his comfort zone, following Gods commandments and serving God in a very practical way Amos measured up to Gods testing and the plumb line.
Prosperity and wealth can be both a blessing and a curse, and the behaviour of the privileged in Israel emphasised this problem. The wealthy and ruling elite of Israel had never had it so good. They had second homes in the country, houses adorned with Ivory, Stone built houses with all the mod cons, slaves, concubines etc, they lacked for nothing and yet as God had to point out through his prophet Amos – they were bankrupt both Morally and Spiritually. With ever increasing prosperity comes increasing corruption and lawlessness, separation from God and eventually leading to a downfall.
Things have not changed. Many 21st century communities and nations are by any plumb line or standards living in a time of great prosperity; but just as in the time of Amos it is very unevenly distributed; exactly the issue Amos was highlighting – the rich get richer while the poor suffer. The powerful become even more powerful whilst the oppressed become more marginalised and ever increasingly dependent upon handouts and charity from the elite and wealthy.
As we diverge further from God’s plumb line and ignore his commandments and laws, the elites foster a society based on ‘Wealth for Wealth’s Sake’, me first, and a disregard for whoever you have to tread on to get what you want.
God wants us to prosper (Psalm 1-3), but not as the world understands it. The world focuses on the prosperity, not the provider. Too often we only seek God when we need him to provide for our needs, but then when our needs are met and we are ‘comfortable’, do we still seek God with as much energy and love? Do we speak out when we see others diverge from the plumb line – like Amos did?
It is right to pray for God to meet our needs – whether this be our Health, our possessions, or even relationships, however we must be careful not to let the focus of prayer be on our needs rather than asking how close we are to God’s plumb line.