“THE PLUMB LINE” – a BIBLE STUDY
Amos 7:7 “What do you see?”
sermon you try to look at
what God was saying to his people in the Bible,
and then try to apply that to our situation, answering the question,
“If God said that to them then, what is he saying to us now?”
passages it is relatively easy
to understand the meaning in Biblical terms,
and we can move quite quickly
to the application of the passage to our situation.
In other passages (and this is one)
it is quite tricky to know what
the original writers and hearers made of it –
so we need to spend rather more time on studying
the original passage in its own terms.
Background. We are in the 8th
Since the days of David and Solomon,
the Children of Israel have split into two nations –
a Southern Kingdom
(more traditional and conservative in style) known as Judah,
and a Northern Kingdom
(more liberal and cosmopolitan) known as Israel.
of Amos is set in the Northern Kingdom,
where Jeroboam II is King.
to understand that the political establishment in Israel
was closely tied in with the religious establishment.
of King Jeroboam had a staff of priests and prophets
who basically toed the establishment line.
Prophecies tended to amount to telling the King
that he was doing a great job
and that the nation would prosper under God’s blessing.
Amos. Immediately it becomes clear that
if he is a prophet,
he is not part of the establishment prophetic group paid to support the King.
His prophecies are of doom and gloom.
The passage that we read is notoriously difficult to translate.
standing by a wall with (in Hebrew) ‘anak in his hand.
He says to Amos “What do you see” Amos replies ‘anak .
God replies “I am going to put an ‘anak amongst my people Israel.
I will spare them no longer”
trouble is, this is the only time the word is used in the OT,
and its meaning is not at all clear.
translations translated ‘anak variously as plaster or a trowel.
But in other near eastern languages words similar to ‘anak meant tin or lead.
So, to make sense of the passage,
most modern versions assume
that what is being talked about is a lead weight.
meaning then is that God is holding a plumb line
(a string with a piece of lead on the end of it) against the wall.
The implication would be that the wall has been built out of true,
and the plumb line (which of course always drops in a direct perpendicular)
shows up the way the wall deviates.
God says “I will hold a plumb line against my people Israel) –
ie I will show up the way in which they have deviated from the true way.”
Walls built on an angle need to be demolished –
so God says “I will hold a plumb line against my people –
then I will destroy them”
well be the meaning.
Though there are other possibilities.
Douglas Stuart for example translates the passage as follows:
[Yahweh] “was standing on a tin wall and he had some tin in his hand.
Yahweh said, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ I said ‘Tin’.
Yahweh said ‘I am going to put tin (moaning) within my people’”
(Word Bible Commentary, Hosea-Jonah, Waco Texas, 1987, p.372)
suggestion here is that –as was quite common in OT literature –
we have a play on words –
the Hebrew words for tin and moaning sound just about the same.
So God is playing on the word –
he is going to put moaning amongst his people –
ie they are going to wail in anguish because of the coming judgement.
perhaps a very powerful way to make his point
from our understanding of literary style,
but maybe it appealed to the Israelites of the day.
way, God is saying through Amos –
the Israelites deserve a harsh judgement which is coming their way.
response Amaziah is a leading figure in the religious
he is a Priest, and evidently hand in glove with the King.
He now writes to the King and tells him
that Amos has been sends a message to the King
saying that Amos has been making seditious speeches
and is conspiring against the King.
worth saying here that in due course
Jeroboam’s son was murdered in an uprising,
so threats of conspiracy would have been taken pretty seriously by all involved.
Now Amaziah tells Amos to clear off back to Judah in the
Go and earn your money prophesying there, he tells him.
replies with another sentence which could mean all kinds of things –
but which seems best translated as
“Yes I am a prophet – but I am not a paid professional court prophet.
Quite the reverse I am actually a shepherd, and a slitter of figs –
I don’t do this to earn a living, but only because God tells me to.”
And Amos refuses to back down.
Well not much time left to apply that to our situation.
it reminds us (whether part of the established Church or not)
about the problems of being a state sanctioned Church.
of course a role for the Church
to support law and order and prevent chaos and anarchy –
to provide a stable environment
within which debate and creativity and compassion can flourish.
is a dangerous line
between giving critical and uncritical support for the status quo.
peace is not the false peace of an unawakened
but the true peace which goes hand in hand with justice.
Methodist Conference each year sends a “Loyal Address” to the Queen –
but that does not mean that we therefore agree
with the policies of her Majesty’s Government.
That loyalty allows – indeed demands –
that when we are loyal enough to be critical.
So Conference has opposed Trident, opposed Super Casinos,
as part of what it means to be truly loyal –
Loyalty means honest and if need be critical service of the state -
not spineless subservience to the whims of our rulers.
In Coventry Cathedral there is a metal sculpture
depicting the city of Coventry and above it hanging a plumb line.
For Coventry we could read Exeter or indeed the World.
We are all part of a society which stands under judgment.
we know that as a human race
(like the land of Israel under Jeroboam)
we deserve not only to have our holy places destroyed
but to have our very lives destroyed.
So let us
thank God that at the heart of our worship
we have not a plumb line but a cross –
another complex symbol, but one which says this –
You stand under judgement –
but in the very place of judgement I your Lord and your God
meet you and stand with you and redeem you.
For which we give thanks.
ORDER OF SERVICE
6.30 p.m. Evening Worship
in the Community Room
led by Rev Andrew Sails
Hymn 400 “All glory to God”
Readings: Amos 7:7-17 (p.922)
Matthew 5:11-16 (p.968)
Hymn 469 “Come Holy Ghost”
Sermon “The Plumb Line, the Prophet and the Priest”
Hymn 411 “Thy love O God has all mankind created”
Prayers and Lord’s Prayer
Hymn 648 “The day thou gavest”