************ Sermon on Amos 7:7-8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 5, 1997
"The Plumb Line"
I Covenant & Election: No Protection
A Someone's twenty year old son had just robbed a convenience store, driven ninety miles per hour down the main street of town while under the influence of alcohol, side-swiped half a dozen parked cars, broke a couple of street lights, and crashed through the plate-glass window of a jewelry store.
I was talking to his father a couple of days after this happened. Unlike many parents, he did not deny or minimize what his son had done. He knew his boy was in serious trouble with the law — serious enough to go to jail. In the course of our conversation it became clear the father found comfort in election and covenant theology: "My boy is a covenant child, he is elect, so he will not go to hell."
Here was a son whose entire lifestyle was contrary to what the Lord wanted. Yes, he came to Church on Sunday mornings, but generally he slept or talked and smiled his way through the service; he certainly did not throw heart and soul into participating in worship. His worship was a sham, nothing but show. His lifestyle said the real story of his life.
Was this father right in deriving comfort from election and covenant theology? Amos would tell us this father was wrong. The covenant and election theology are not a security against divine punishment; in fact, for the disobedient and rebellious they are a threat: "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins," says the Lord (Amos 3:2).
B Amos had to deal with a people who also wrongly derived comfort from election and covenant theology: "we are God's people," they said, "and He is our God. Hasn't God chosen us as His treasured possessions and aren't we to Him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation?" They derived comfort from this even though their day-to-day life was marked with injustice and unrighteousness. They further deluded themselves by making a big show of their worship.
C In chapter 4:6-12 Amos reports a long history of punishments sent by the Lord: famine, drought, blight, mildew, locusts, plagues, war. All of this was sent by the Lord so that His people would return to the Lord in repentance and faith.
D Our Bible reading from Amos 7 shows that this chapter in Israel's history is now closed. The sequence of 3 visions reveals a radical and drastic change in the Lord's dealings with Israel. In the time ahead there will be no more opportunity for repentance, no more passing over Israel's sins, and no more interruption of wrath for the sake of election and covenant.
The prophet is given 3 visions each of which shows that the storm of God's judgment is getting closer. In the first 3 verses Amos sees a vision of locusts that strip the land clean. The locusts did not get too far in their destructive work because Amos interceded with the Lord to forgive the people.
In the next 3 verses Amos has a vision of fire that dries up the great deep and devours the land. This fire does far more damage than the locusts. Again the prophet intercedes; this time his intercession succeeds only in preventing complete ruin.
II Measured Against the Plumb Line
A In the third vision, our focus for today, the Lord makes clear He will no longer overlook the sins of His people and let them go unpunished. The judgment will not be revoked or stopped as in the first two visions. Therefore the prophet cannot even intercede for the people. In fact, the Lord does not allow him to intercede. At the start, when the locusts came, the Lord was still willing to forgive, and He continued to be forgiving when the fire struck. But the time for forgiveness is now over. And, even intercession is no longer possible or permissible.
The third vision is therefore the most frightening of the three. Unlike the first two visions it contains no dangerous animals or fire; Amos doesn't see any invading armies, nor does he see tornadoes or hurricanes. What does the Lord show to Amos? "This is what he showed me," says Amos. "The Lord was standing by a wall with had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand" (Amos 7:7).
B Amos saw the Lord "standing by a wall." The wall is not identified, but it can be only one wall — the wall of Israel's capital city Samaria. This wall symbolized Israel as a nation.
Amos tells us that this wall "had been built true to plumb" (vs 7). In other words, the wall was built properly; as built, it stood straight and did not lean or sag in any direction.
Symbolically, this means that Israel had been rightly and properly established as a nation. The Lord had given His people the purest ordinances, statues, and regulations for church, state and society. Everything was in holy order. Everything was directed to its proper goal — the glory of God.
What God has done for Israel in the Old Testament He also does for the church in the New Testament period. He has built her squarely and solidly on the foundation of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrecte. And, He has built on this foundation by the apostles, prophets, and others He has raised up.
C In the vision, Amos sees the Lord at the wall. He has a plumb line in His hand.
What is a plumb line? This is a plumb line [HOLD IT UP]. A plumb line is a cord with a weight, usually a piece of lead, attached to one end. With the free end tied to the top of a wall and the weighted end hanging down, it was used by builders to make sure walls were built straight on the vertical. And, it was used by inspectors to check the walls of old buildings and fortifications to see whether they were sagging and slanted. If there was any danger of collapse, if a wall was leaning too much, an irrevocable judgment would be pronounced: the wall has to come down.
The Lord said to Amos, "Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel" (vs 8). Amos knew what this meant: just as a wall was built with a plumb line and later checked with a plumb line, so the Lord built and was now checking on Israel with a plumb line [HOLD IT UP]. The plumb line can be only one thing: the law. The Lord has arrived on the scene with a plumb line in His hand; He was planning to check Israel against the plumb line of His law. Would He find anything wrong with the wall, would Israel measure up? Amos knew the answer all too well. He knew the lack of justice and righteousness in Israel; he knew that Israel's worship was all show and not at all heart-felt (cf Amos 5:4- 27).
What would happen if the Lord were to visit you and me with a plumb line in His hand [HOLD IT UP]? Are you and I living up to our calling to serve the Lord in all of life? Are we what the Lord wants us to be — the salt of the earth, a city set on a hill? Could it be that we too need to be pulled down? It's no use to make an appeal to covenant and election theology then. For God Himself will say, "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins" (Amos 3:2).
How does the church measure up to the Lord's plumb line [HOLD IT UP]? When the Lord checks us out, tell me, would He find little or much love among us?, would He find a people who care for and support each other? When the Lord examines us, would He find selfishness and greed?, would He find materialism, worldliness, jealousy, lust, quarreling?, would He find a church filled with a passion for the Lord and the things of the Lord?, would He find a church that is holy and pure in all things?, would He find a church that is always true to His Word?
The Lord holds up His plumb line against our family life [HOLD IT UP]. He sees the tensions, the brokenness, the quarrels. He knows the state of your marriage, what your relationship with your children is, and how your children get along with you and each other.
The Lord holds up His plumb line against our work and business [HOLD IT UP]. He sees when we cheat a customer or steal from the boss or lie on our income tax return or break the law.
"Look," says the Lord, "I am setting a plumb line among my people" (vs 7). There's no use hoping that He'll forget to look in some nook or cranny of our lives, our marriages, our homes, our church, our work, our business. There is no use hoping that something might escape His attention. Everything will be checked very carefully against the plumb line of His perfect law.
III The Coming Judgment
A Amos has just had a vision of the Lord — the Lord in all His splendor and glorious majesty. And, he has just seen the walls of Israel. So the Lord asks, "What do you see, Amos," "A plumb line," he answers [HOLD IT UP].
Notice, Amos doesn't say anything about the wall. Nor, does he say anything about seeing the Lord in all His wondrous splendor and brilliant glory. He has eyes for only one thing: the plumb line. The plumb line frightens him; perhaps it even makes him sick to his stomach. For Amos realizes the Lord is about to check up on His people.
Amos knew all to well what the checking would result in: judgment. The Lord would see that the wall of Israel was no longer true, that it was sagging dangerously. He would then pronounce the irrevocable judgment: the wall has to come down.
B Amos had warned the people time and again. He had voiced his complaints and accusations against the perversion of justice, the oppression of the poor and weak, the corrupt affluence of the rich, the idolatrous worship at Dan and Bethel. He had thundered against the perversion and violation of the law. He had wept at the religious hypocrisy. And now it was too late, for the Lord had appeared on the scene with a plumb line in His hand. The wall of Israel would not, could not, be left standing. Not one stone could be left upon another.
C "Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer," says the Lord.
(Amos 7:9) "The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam."
According to Amos here, devastation will fall upon the religious structures of Israel after God checks them against the plumb line of His law. "The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined." "High places" and "sanctuaries" include all the religious sites in the nation. The high place was an altar on a hill in the open country. Many had been in continuous use since the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The sanctuary was a temple. They were the official religious centers of the northern kingdom established by King Jeroboam I at Bethel and Dan. These will all be destroyed after the Lord sets up His plumb line.
When we turn to Amos 5 we see that God has no use for Israel's religious practices and ceremonies either. When measured against His plumb line, they too are found lacking:
(Amos 5:21-22) "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. (22) Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. God has no use for Israel's religion because, as I already said, it was all show and not at all heart-felt.
Not only their deformed religion but also their state was to be destroyed: "with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam." The "house of Jeroboam" refers to King Jeroboam II who reigned during the time Amos served the Lord as prophet. Though Jeroboam's reign was a time of unprecedented peace, prosperity and victory for Israel, "He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit" (2 Kings 14:24).
The Lord measures Israel against the plumb line of His perfect law [HOLD IT UP] and announces that the king and the nation, the palace and the temple, the state and the church would be wiped out in a fire of judgment. Some forty years later this became a reality: the king of Assyria, Shalmaneser, invaded the land, captured Samaria, deported the people, and imprisoned the king.
D What will the Lord do when He checks our walls against His plumb line [HOLD IT UP]? Will He be forced to condemn them to destruction too? We know that when Jesus Christ comes again He will judge the living and the dead. Every thought, every word, and every deed will be measured against the plumb line of His law, what we know as His Word. At that time we know that all that is false, all that is chaff, all that is dross in our lives will be burned up on the Day of Christ's return. We know that inferior work built on the foundation of Jesus Christ will not survive the Lord's purifying fire. We know that the false church will be destroyed. Scripture tells us that when Christ returns, the whole earth and everything in it will be burned up (2 Pt 3:10,11a). And, temples, church buildings, religious "high" places, they all disappear; there is no place for them because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22).
All of life, everything in heaven and earth, is measured against the Lord's plumb line; all are found lacking; all are destroyed.
E One thing and one thing only is not destroyed. One thing and one thing only is preserved. That one thing is the church: not because the church is so holy and its members are so perfect; nor because the church is so true to the Word. The church too is measured with the plumb line and the Lord sees how badly she is sagging in places.
Why does the Lord preserve the church? The church is preserved on account of Christ's perfect life and sacrificial death. God looks at Christ when He measures the church with His plumb line. What does He see?: He sees a life that perfectly measures up to the demands of His law; He sees a life that willingly sacrifices itself for our failure to measure up against His plumb line. God grants and credits to the church the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ.
"Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people," says the Lord [HOLD IT UP]. He sees that there is so much that doesn't measure up. He sees so many walls that have to be torn down.
Does this scare you? If you do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior it should scare you. However, if you do know Jesus, then God grants and credits to you the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ.
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