Call us  530.598.7584

7220 Highway A12, Montague, CA 96064 U.S.A.

So Far Out of Plumb for God to Relent

 

Amos 7:1-17; 2 Peter 3:8-10

July 22, 2018 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Dear Congregation of Christ: Do you know why the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy is four degrees out of plumb? This world-famous tower was built as a bell tower of the main cathedral of the city. Construction began in 1173, but due to wars, debt and the leaning problems it was completed almost 200 years later in 1350. The tower has eight stories and is 186 feet high. However, by the time the third story was completed, it was already tilting, because it was built with a shallow foundation on soft sandy and clayey ground. The name Pisa actually means “marshy land.” In 1990, it was 5.5 degrees off plumb before engineers stabilized it with a steel anchoring system, pouring 900 tons of lead ingots on the north side as a counterweight, and excavated 77 tons of soil under the north side. After all these efforts, today it is only 7 feet off plumb and said to be stable for the next 200 years.

Today’s text in Amos 7 tells us of three visions of judgment against Israel: a vision of locusts, fire and a plumb line. The last judgment is related to a fourth judgment vision in Chapter 8, that of a basket of summer fruit, which we will discuss next Sunday. In the first two visions, God relented from his judgment of Israel due to Amos’ plea to God’s forgiveness of Israel’s sins.

In the third vision, God was standing beside a wall that was originally plumbed straight. But during Amos’ days, it tilted so far out of plumb, that its collapse cannot be prevented. This time, Amos did not plead to God for forgiveness, because he knew that God had exhausted his patience and mercy toward Israel. The LORD would destroy Israel’s places of false worship and its corrupt and oppressive civil government led by King Jeroboam II.

Sometime after Amos preached this judgment from God, Amaziah, Israel’s high priest, sent a letter to the king condemning Amos. Then he cursed Amos, telling him to stop preaching in Israel, and to go back to his home in Judah. But Amos received another word from the LORD, this time, a more severe curse against Amaziah himself and the nation.

So I preach to you the Gospel in two points: first, Two Plus One Judgment Visions; and second, Judgment Vision Rejected.

Two Plus One Judgment Visions

Verses 1-3 is the vision of the locusts, and verses 4-5 is the vision of the fire. These two visions have common elements. They both begin with a declaration that the visions are from God, “This is what the LORD God showed me. Behold . . .” This is clearly a visible revelation. In the Old Testament, visions and dreams are the two most common ways that God reveals himself to man. In the New Testament, John, Peter, Paul and the apostles had visions. John’s Book of Revelations are full of visions. In these visions, God threatens Israel with destruction by locusts and fire because of her continuing unfaithfulness and rebellion.

Locusts are sent by God as judgment. It was one of the ten plagues sent by God against Egypt when Pharaoh refused to free the Hebrew slaves (Exo 10:12-15). The prophet Joel uses an army of locusts as a symbol of the Babylonian army who would destroy Judah (Joel 1:4). In the Book of Revelation, the judgment of the fifth trumpet releases a swarm of locusts that represents demonic spirits that torment unbelievers (Rev 9:1-11). In many other texts, a swarm of locusts represents a mighty invading army (Jer 51:27; Nah 3:15).

In Amos’s prophecy, the locusts eat all the crops after the king has already taken his share as a form of taxation. The result is that there would be little or nothing left for the people to eat. In addition to this devastation, the locusts do their dirty work during the “late crops,” meaning, after the rainy season has ended. There would be no more harvests after the locust plague.

In the second judgment vision, God sends a fire that destroys everything. Here in Siskiyou County and around us, we see devastation and ruins after fire ravages the land. But the fire that we see here is nothing compared to the fire in Amos’ vision. It destroys not only the land, but the “great deep,” which could refer to lakes or seas or rivers, even groundwater being dried up. Recent research have shown that groundwater resources can be reduced and contaminated by big fires.[1] Such is the destruction of this judgment.

Seeing this total destruction of the land in both visions, Amos pleads to God, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” He mediates between God and Israel, interceding for the people. Why shouldn’t God send the locusts and the fire? Amos tells God that Israel is so small and so weak that she would not survive these judgments. Remember in Chapter 6, where the rich and the powerful leaders of Israel prided themselves as No. 1 among the nations? Amos disagrees. He sees Israel as weak and powerless, especially compared to God’s almighty power against their sins. What’s amazing is that God answers Amos’ prayer positively. In verses 3 and 6, we read, “So the LORD relented. ‘This will not happen,’ the LORD says.” Amos’ prayer was effective.

This brings up a common question among Christians, “Does God change his mind? Did he not ordain events from beginning to end, so that they will happen?” The Hebrew word for “relent” variously means “to be sorry, console oneself, repent, regret, comfort, be comforted.” It is used 100 times in the Old Testament. Three of the most familiar examples are: (1) Genesis 6:6, “The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” This was after God saw how wicked man has become during Noah’s days. (2) In Exodus 32:14, after the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, we read, “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (3) When the Ninevites repented of their wickedness after Jonah preached to them, we read in Jonah 3:10, “[God] relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”

But we also read in many passages that God is immutable or unchangeable. He is not like us who always change our minds. In Numbers 23:19, we read, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.” In 1 Samuel 15:29, we read, “[God] does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” In Malachi 3:6, we have a verse in a similar judgment situation about Israel, “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” And James 1:17 says, “[The Father] does not change like shifting shadows.”

So, does the Bible contradict itself? Of course not! Since God is perfect, and the Bible is God’s own Word, therefore, it does not have any error, and it is not capable of having any error. But how do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? There are even some pastors and theologians who have wavered on this issue, saying that God does change sometimes. In fact, they say that prayer changes God! This is far from the truth of sound doctrine.

The simple response to this is a long theological word: anthropomorphism, which literally means “a change in man.” The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, “The attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object.” Because God is infinitely different from his creation, he uses terms that we can understand to reveal himself and his will to us. He condescends to us by stooping down to our level of understanding. For example, God is Spirit and he doesn’t have physical attributes. But in order for us to understand him and his attributes, the Bible often says that God has a powerful arm, eyes that see, ears that hear, and a face that shows emotions such as pleasure or anger or sadness. This is the human way of speaking about God.

Because God has ordained all things from beginning to end, he already planned that he would not send locusts and fire to destroy Israel. Instead, he planned to send the Babylonians to destroy the nation. This is the reason why he answered Amos’ prayer. In this way, he demonstrates to Amos – and to us – the importance of persistent prayer. Jesus also taught the same in the Parable of the Persistent Widow who repeatedly went to a judge pleading for justice. We are to pray without ceasing for forgiveness, for our needs, for God to reveal his will about a decision. And when we get an answer, positively or negatively, it means that the answer was decreed by God from eternity. In this way, prayer helps us be dependent upon God’s mercy and provisions. So prayer doesn’t change God, but it changes things from our human perspective.

So the third vision, the plumb line, ’anak,[2] tells us what God had ordained for punishing Israel. The plumb line is God’s Word, his Law, his commandments. Because of Israel’s continuing spiritual adultery and rebellion against God, they were so far “out of plumb” that there is nothing God could do but to destroy the nation, the building. So the Lord tells Israel, “I will spare them no longer,” or in the ESV, “I will never again pass by them.” He spared them from the locusts and the fire, but because of their continuing sins, he will not spare them from the cruel Babylonians. He will not “pass over” their sins anymore, as he did when he “passed over” and spared Israel’s firstborns from death in Egypt.

The judgment is twofold and complete. First, the places of false worship – “high places” and “sanctuaries” – will be destroyed. Second, the source and leader of injustice and unrighteousness against the poor and the powerless, the house of King Jeroboam II, will also be destroyed.

Judgment Vision Rejected

What was Israel’s response to Amos’ judgment visions? It was rejection. The high priest Amaziah sent a letter to King Jeroboam II accusing Amos of conspiring to topple the king. This was a false accusation because Amos was not a conspirator. He was God’s prophet. Amos tells the high priest that he was a shepherd and a farmer, probably financially prosperous, before God called him to be a prophet. Amaziah even accuses Amos of conspiring against the king for financial gain. Since Amos was a foreigner from the southern kingdom of Judah, Amaziah tells him, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel.”

The high priest and the people did not want to hear Amos’ doom and gloom prophecies. They only want to hear messages of blessing and prosperity, not messages about sin, repentance, faithfulness, obedience and judgment. How often do we see this in many churches today! Pastors and televangelists preaching a health and wealth gospel to tickle the itching ears and satisfy the lusts and desires of their followers (2 Tim 4:3).

But as in Amos’ day, their destruction is decreed by God. For cursing God’s prophet, God returns curses against Amaziah greatly magnified. He curses Amos as a profit-seeking seer, prohibits Amos from prophesying in Bethel by trying to evict him out to Judah. So Amos continues prophesying in in Bethel, and pronounces horrible curses on Amaziah. His wife will become a prostitute, his children will be killed, and his land will be given to others. The land of Israel will be destroyed, and Amaziah and the people will be exiled as slaves and die in an unclean, pagan land. King Jeroboam II probably agreed with Amaziah in telling Amos to stop prophesying. We read in 2 Kings 14:24 that this king also did evil in the sight of God. Such is the same sober warning to false teachers today. God’s judgment will be swift and complete.

Beloved friends: Amos was God’s ordained prophet who brought God’s Word of judgment against Israel because of her sins. Amaziah was a wicked high priest who rejected God’s Word. Jeroboam was a king who did evil in the sight of the Lord.

Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to be our Prophet, Priest and King. He performed the offices of Amos, Amaziah and Jeroboam, but in complete obedience to his Father in heaven. As our Prophet, he revealed God to us that no other human prophet ever did. As our High Priest, he offered his own body and blood on the cross to atone for all the sins of all his people. He also intercedes for us at the right hand of God. And as our King, he fights for us in our spiritual battles against sin and the devil’s temptations (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 31).

How can Jesus be our Prophet, Priest and King? Is it through good works? Is it through obedience to the Law? Is it through baptism? No, he is our Prophet, Priest and King only when we confess and repent of our sins and believe in him as Savior. The Bible says that Christ is our Chief Cornerstone that Israel had rejected (Psa 118:22). Why was he rejected by Israel? Because he came not as a powerful Messiah, but as a sacrifice for sins. And because he also preached repentance and faith for salvation (Matt 21:42).

Christ is the Chief Cornerstone of our lives. A cornerstone used to be a stone that holds a building together and sets the building to plumb. As a true believer, you will sometimes be out of plumb because of sins. You know when you’re off plumb because of God’s Word. It is your only true vertical. However, you will be tempted to violate the plumb line daily. But you will never be so out of plumb that your life will completely collapse and be destroyed by God. As a true believer, you will never completely fall away from God and Christ.

Therefore, the prayers of Amos demonstrate to us that we are to be persistent in our prayers for forgiveness and for help in our time of need. Our Lord Jesus Christ is at his Father’s right hand, hearing our prayers and interceding for us. Amen.

 

[1] A 2011 research by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, “Giant Sequoia National Monument Specialist Report Groundwater,” says, “Wildfire could affect groundwater recharge by increasing runoff and reducing infiltration. Wildfire could result in hydrophobic soil conditions or water repellent soils and reductions in ground cover that can affect groundwater recharge.” https://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/gsnm/feis/Groundwater.pdf. Accessed 7/21/2018.

A 2017 report, “Wildfires, Water, and CAWSC Science” by the U. S. Geological Survey says, “Wildfires and resulting burn areas can create hydrologic hazards for surrounding communities, including water-quality issues, flooding, and debris flow.” https://ca.water.usgs.gov/highlights/2017/10/wildfires-water-quality. Accessed 7/21/2018.

[2] Some Old Testament scholars interpret ’anak as “tin,” instead of plumb line, based on a related word in ancient Akkadian. Amos sees the LORD standing by a wall made of ’anak, with ’anak in his hand. The LORD asks Amos what he sees, and Amos answers ’anak. The LORD then says, I am setting ’anak in the midst of my people Israel.” The interpretation, then, is that Amos is ’anak being sent as a prophet to Israel. See “Structure and Meaning in the Third Vision of Amos (7:7–17),” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, by Martha E. Campos. http://www.jhsonline.org/Articles/article_150.pdf. Accessed 07/21/2018. But all renditions, except for the NET Bible, translate ’anak as “plumb line.” However, you will be tempted to violate the plumb line daily. But you will never be so out of plumb that your life will completely collapse and be destroyed by God. As a true believer, you will never completely fall away from God and Christ.

Therefore, the prayers of Amos demonstrate to us that we are to be persistent in our prayers for forgiveness and for help in our time of need. Our Lord Jesus Christ is at his Father’s right hand, hearing our prayers and interceding for us. Amen.

 

[1] A 2011 research by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, “Giant Sequoia National Monument Specialist Report Groundwater,” says, “Wildfire could affect groundwater recharge by increasing runoff and reducing infiltration. Wildfire could result in hydrophobic soil conditions or water repellent soils and reductions in ground cover that can affect groundwater recharge.” https://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/gsnm/feis/Groundwater.pdf. Accessed 7/21/2018.

A 2017 report, “Wildfires, Water, and CAWSC Science” by the U. S. Geological Survey says, “Wildfires and resulting burn areas can create hydrologic hazards for surrounding communities, including water-quality issues, flooding, and debris flow.” https://ca.water.usgs.gov/highlights/2017/10/wildfires-water-quality. Accessed 7/21/2018.

[2] Some Old Testament scholars interpret ’anak as “tin,” instead of plumb line, based on a related word in ancient Akkadian. Amos sees the LORD standing by a wall made of ’anak, with ’anak in his hand. The LORD asks Amos what he sees, and Amos answers ’anak. The LORD then says, I am setting ’anak in the midst of my people Israel.” The interpretation, then, is that Amos is ’anak being sent as a prophet to Israel. See “Structure and Meaning in the Third Vision of Amos (7:7–17),” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, by Martha E. Campos. http://www.jhsonline.org/Articles/article_150.pdf. Accessed 07/21/2018. But all renditions, except for the NET Bible, translate ’anak as “plumb line.”

(Visited 6 times, 1 visits today)

Related Posts