“The Lord asked me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ I replied, ‘ A plumb line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will no longer spare them: Isaac’s high places will be deserted, and Israel’s sanctuaries will be in ruins; I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with a sword.’ Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent word to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you right here in the house of Israel. The land cannot endure all his words.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever tried to work with someone whose mind wasn’t made up yet about some detail, and because of that kept changing it? You get all set thinking it’s going to be one thing, and then suddenly something else is desired. It’s enough to almost give you whiplash. God had just finished telling Amos He was going to spare the people from His terrible judgment. Now He comes back around and declares their time is up. What changed? Let’s explore this today and think through how we can avoid such a change of mind about us.
Last week, we looked at the passage that falls right before this trio of verses (you can read that here if you need a refresher). In that post, we talked about the fact that Amos’s intercession for the people of Israel really seemed to make a difference for them. They certainly had no idea what a difference it made, but that doesn’t change the fact. God gave him two different visions of severe judgment against the people, and Amos cried out to Him to not unleash them. The people were weak and wouldn’t survive such devastation. He entreated the Lord for mercy, and God answered him affirmatively. “It will not happen,” God said to him.
Here in v. 8, God shows Amos another vision. As we talked about last Wednesday, this was yet another vision of judgment. It almost certainly did not involve a plumb line as most major translations phrase it. They keep that language in spite of the translation teams’ knowing better because of equal parts history and interpretive and applicational ease. God was probably using the metal tin, not lead, as His illustration for Amos, and that only so that He could make a rhyme the people would remember more easily. The point, though, is that after agreeing to not bring judgment in two successive visions, He’s back to blasting them with judgment. Again: What changed?
The answer to this question lies in v. 10 and the interchange that follows. (We’ll spend more time with the interchange itself over the next couple of days, Lord willing.) If you are not reading the text carefully and remembering that it all flows together and doesn’t exist as a collection of disparate parts, it’s easy to miss the connection here. This story is in all likelihood included here to help us make sense of why God comes back to judgment.
After assuring Amos that He would relent in bringing terrible judgment on the people, the very next scene takes us to the royal court of Jeroboam II, the king of Israel during Amos’s prophetic tenure. We find one of the court (pagan) prophets of Israel, a man named Amaziah, lodging a formal complaint with the king against Amos. He accuses Amos of sedition and implies that Amos must be silenced. His words are causing harm to the reputation of the king and the confidence of the people in his leadership. This must not be allowed to stand any longer.
Amos goes on to defend himself and speak a word of prophecy against Amaziah that is pretty harsh. It’s a reminder that God doesn’t have any patience for false prophets who are actively leading His people astray. In fact, from the standpoint of the larger collection of texts that form the Scriptures as a whole, false prophecy – that is, people who actively try to convince people either to follow a different god, or that God isn’t really who He reveals Himself to be and so must be rejected – receive some of the harshest criticism of anyone in mentioned in the text. Even Jesus Himself said that it would be better for them to kill themselves by trying a heavy stone around their necks and dropping it in the ocean than to face God and His fury at their sins.
I do not, however, think this call out of false prophecy is the point of this story’s being included. Instead, this helps explain God’s shift from grace back to punishment. After assuring Amos that He would spare the people these terrible judgments, we find that not only are they not taking the opportunity He has given them to repent and return to righteousness, but they are actively running in the other direction. They are actively rejecting His mercy and doubling down on their sinfulness. They are doing this because of their awful leadership, but they are doing it nonetheless. They have been given many chances to turn around and walk straight once again, but they have absolutely refused to take them. As a result, punishment will ensue. God won’t be gracious any longer. He won’t change His mind again. The decision has been made. The die has been cast. They will now be left to face their fate on their own.
As we have talked about before, God doesn’t want to judge. He doesn’t want to punish. He wants to bless and show grace. That’s why it is so easy to convince Him to change His mind from judgment to grace throughout the Scriptures. Nearly every single time we find someone in the Scriptures pleading for mercy and compassion and patience for more time to repent, God grants that request. He still bears that same character today. In fact, He’s doubled down on it in Jesus. God was so committed to being able to bless us and grant us life and a relationship with Him that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross in our place, taking the penalty of our sins on Himself. He then rose from the grave three days later to guarantee the prize of life to anyone willing to trust in Him.
He did even more than that. He preserved the writings of His inspired servants down through the centuries of human history so that we can understand Him as they did and more. We have their warnings of judgment (like we see right here) to caution us against taking the path they took. We have the assurance of His promises of blessing and life if we will follow Jesus. We have the unnerving guarantee of Hell and eternal punishment if we stick to a path of sin rather than taking the road of righteousness. Today, we have all of this with more and greater and easier access than anyone in history before us has had. There is literally no excuse for anyone to not be following Jesus faithfully. If we refuse all the same and take the path that Israel did here, judgment is all that’s left. God doesn’t want to do it, but we will have left Him no other choice but to honor our decision to stay apart from Him. Don’t take that path. Don’t let the people you love take it either so far as it depends on you. Live the truth and share the truth. The time for choosing won’t last forever.