I hope this day finds you and your family well. I invite you to take a few moments with me to read and reflect upon today’s scripture selection — and to carry these thoughts with you into your day.
Today’s Scripture: Amos 7:7-9
7 This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 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.”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
More than 2,700 years ago lived a man named Amos. He wasn’t a professional prophet, nor was he a prophet’s son, but he was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. God called him to leave his flock and prophesy to God’s people Israel—to become a prophet. “Within the Christian tradition, rarely is a concept more misunderstood than prophecy. Unfortunately, this misinterpretation wreaks havoc on our society in the form of doomsday soothsayers, apocalyptic dreamers, and militant revolutionaries.
Prophecy is not the result of being able to see into the future. Instead, prophecy is speaking the truth about the effects of present actions on the course of the future. The prophet’s goal is to change both the present and the future.
For example, increasing economic inequities will likely lead to the dissolution of the social fabric and the fragmenting of society. Someone with the courage to say that wealth accumulation leads to the destruction of community is a prophet. That doesn’t mean they can supernaturally see into the future, but they can see how the present conditions will lead to future outcomes, and they speak in order to change both.
Or for instance, a prophet is anyone who looks out across the landscape littered with lives wrecked by drugs, alcohol, consumerism, infidelity, dishonesty, and violence and brings to it the perspective of our loving, just, and gracious God—calling us all to the way of life and warning about the consequences of the current way.
A prophet brings the perspective of God into the current situation—and often with what is called “the prophetic imagination.” The prophet shares images that capture God’s perspective in a way that jars and jolts us out of our complacency to pay attention. For example,
- Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
- Jeremiah’s potter’s wheel (Jeremiah 18:1-11)
- Isaiah’s shoot from the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1)
- Then, there’s Amos in today’s reading:
Amos came with his disturbing message when things looked very comfortable for Israel. There was no imminent war with any neighbor, the political situation was stable, the economy was robust, and people were flocking to places of worship. What more could you ask for?
But Amos saw the shadow side of what was taking place in Israel. While many prospered in Israel, there was also a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Decisions were made based on economics rather than compassion for the needy in society. They bought “the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals,” declared Amos (Amos 8:6a).
People would use their prosperity to build summer and winter homes and then, having spent all their wealth on themselves, gave nothing to help others.
The courts favored the rich.
People packed the places of worship on the Sabbath but did not connect their worship of God with God’s call to address the suffering of the poor, the helpless, and the needy.
Justice and Righteousness are two words repeated over and over again in Amos. His words challenge us to look at our communities from a prophet’s perspective. What do we see? What is our current situation? How many people are hungry? How wide is the gap between rich and poor? What about the education gap? Life spans? Racism? Falsehood? Corruption? Inequity? Injustice?
In his mind’s eye, Amos saw a vision of the Lord standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to Amos, “Amos, what do you see?”
He replied, “A plumb line.”
Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by….”
The Lord was holding a tool used since at least early Egyptian times. It was a plumb line. A plumb line functions like a level to build straight walls. It consists of a string with a device at the bottom called a plumb bob. It becomes the standard for what is perfectly vertical.
I remember the very first time I saw a plumb line. I was a young boy, and there was an old carpenter who was friends with my grandparents. He and his wife would come and visit my grandmother. His wife would go in the house to talk to my grandmother, and he’d sit out on the front porch with me and tell me stories about the houses and other things he had built.
He had an old wooden toolbox (I’ve always loved tools, even as a kid), and I was fascinated with his assortment of old tools. He had a brace and bit-type drill that was manual. He had a chalk line. And he had a plumb line, which he could reel in just like the chalk line. The plumb line was simple: just a weight on a string. I remember him taking out the plumb line to show me. He explained that the weight was called a plumb bob. He unreeled it, held the string up, and let the plumb bob hang down. He said, “See how it hangs straight down? You can always use it to tell whether something is perfectly vertical or not. It tells you whether a wall or a post is right or not.”
As I grew up, I realized that there were many places in my life where I wished I had a plumb line to know whether something was “right” or not — what the standards were I needed to gauge other things by. Then at some point, I realized I did have a plumb line. We all do. It’s the standard by which we make decisions, judge between right and wrong, decide where we stand, and choose how to live.
Amos held up the image of a plumb line and said to the people of his nation and community in his day that there is a standard — a plumb line set by the Lord — and that standard judges everything.
When we talk about people being “upright,” we’re using a moral plumb line of sorts as the standard for what that means.
What Amos said to his people was, “There is a standard. There is a plumb line by which everything else is measured and judged.”
This is the challenge of Amos’ image: What is your plum line? What is the standard of “upright” by which you live and against which you measure your own life? What is your “plumb line?”
As Christians, we maintain that the life and teachings of Jesus are our plumb line, our standard. In him, we see the standard of justice and righteousness—two words that are inseparably linked together in the words and images of the prophets. Often people try to separate justice and righteousness from each other—as though they were mutually exclusive concepts.
As we generally use the terms, Justice refers to what we do at the scale of community or society, and righteousness refers to individual morality and ethical behavior. Justice is the principle that all people should be treated equally with dignity and compassion, regardless of status in life. Righteousness is the principle of following the Divine will in one’s life. One is about fair treatment and concerns the distribution of goods, rights, and responsibilities among the members of a community. The other is about morality and goodness.
Jesus called this reign of justice and righteousness the kingdom of God. Quite simply, the kingdom of God is whenever and wherever God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven—societal justice and individual righteousness. Jesus came to bring fulfillment of both to our world.
Jesus is the plumb line for righteousness and justice..
Hymn: “God Hath Spoken by the Prophets” by George W. Briggs (1952)
God has spoken by his prophets,
spoken his unchanging Word;
each from age to age proclaiming
God the one, the righteous Lord!
In the world’s despair and turmoil
one firm anchor still holds fast,
God is on his throne eternal,
he alone the first and last.
God has spoken by Christ Jesus,
Christ the everlasting Son,
brightness of the Father’s glory,
with the Father, ever one:
spoken by the Word incarnate,
God, before all time began,
light of light, to Earth descending,
Man, revealing God to man.
God is speaking by his Spirit
speaking to the hearts of men;
in the age-long Word declaring
God’s own message, now as then.
Through the rise and fall of nations
one sure faith is standing fast:
God abides, his Word unchanging,
God the first and God the last.
Thank you for sharing this moment of your day with me, with God, and with these reflections on a portion of scripture. I hope you will carry these with you throughout your day and night.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster