Amos has been connected to the sheep: he was a shepherd by trade, who had a tremendous concern for the downtrodden, and was called by God to become a prophet.
In chapters 6-7, Amos depicted God’s plumb line by which Israel was being measured. This week, chapter 7 begins with the first of five visions God would send to Amos concerning the Lord’s Day of Judgement.
This first set of visions begins with two judgments of disaster that God was willing to relent on in response to Amos’ intercessory prayer.
Dread began to spread from his tightened chest as Amos mutely watched God carefully, methodically form each locust, perfect in every detail, the tiny iron jaws, the sharp, serrated legs, the wings of plated steel. One by one, the Lord stacked each creature beside him. As the mountain of insects grew, it was as though life on earth swept beneath him, the days and nights following each other with rapid succession, the crops sown and ripen, the trees leafing out, the flowers budding, blooming, fruit forming.
The first reaping had now just been gathered in when suddenly, the swarm of locusts flew out from heaven, dark legions of chitinous creatures with their chirring stridulation.
They stripped the land clean.
Amos finally found his voice, as he cried out,
“Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
So the Lord relented.
Jacob. Amos had used the name of the youth Jacob had once been, before he became the patriarch and namesake of Israel. He is just a boy, Lord, flawed and immature.
But then, just as relief began to loosen his knotted muscles and ease the cramp in his gut, a wall of familiar heat hit him, nearly knocking him to his knees, sucking the breath out of his lungs and scalding his eyes. Through slitted lids, Amos watched in horror as fire raged across the fields and villages, rooftops bursting into sparks and flames, trees creaking and crashing, the terror of the people, of the sheep and cattle . . .
It dried up the great deep and devoured the land.
Amos could barely croak our his prayer,
“O Lord God, cease, I beg you!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
The Lord relented concerning this.
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.
Trembling, aching, Amos took the edge of his cloak and with wobbling hands, wiped the soot and sweat from his face. A profound weariness sank into his bones like a sickness, so that he could hardly keep his eyes open, or hold the weight of his own body on his feet.
I, too, am just one, flawed man, he thought. I am no great intercessor like Moses, or Elijah. Yet I have prayed for you, my people, and the Lord has shown compassion.
Amos looked about him for something to sit on, a stone, a bench, yet there was nothing but scorched, cracked earth. As he was looking, the glint of a strange object caught his attention. It was small, a tapered metallic cylinder, pointed on its end, slowing twirling. With gradual realization, the image formed into a word, “plummet,” and his eyes followed the attached line as it rose up into the heavens.
High above him, the shimmering figure, not quite in focus, of a hand holding the end of the plumb line rested on a wall seemingly made of one vast pearl.
The words formed deep within him, Amos, what do you see? So weary. With great effort he wordlessly lipped ‘plumb line.’ The Lord’s measure of God’s people Israel, the holiness of heaven as the straightedge. If there had been any strength or heart left in Amos, it now crumbled into ash.
“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel.” God’s voice surrounded him so that he could hear nothing else. Time passed as the plummet tip steadily reached the barren ground. A numb silence settled in, where things moved but made no sound, a pressured silence that hurt his inner ear.
“I will spare them no longer.” The words came in a whisper that filled the cosmos, deep and sorrowful. If Amos had have had tears, he would have wept the ululation of public mourners.
“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed, Amos. You must tell the people. And the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined.” Before Amos, the scenes of warfare marched across the plain, cities stripped bare, burning, the people fleeing, or being led bound with rings through their noses.
“With my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.” And as the Lord spoke, the plummet lengthened and grew, now flattening, the sides becoming as sharp as the point, and the line a hilt in God’s shimmering hand.
The Hebrew word “repented” in verses 3 and 6 comes from the root word “nacham,” meaning to be moved to pity, to have compassion, to comfort and console, to rue something and ease back. It does not mean God’s mind was changed, nor that God turned away from judgment. It means God felt Amos’ suffering empathetically, God understood Amo’s horror and terror, God agreed with grief and ruing how awful the cleansing of God’s wrath would be on the land, and on the people.
God is true to character, God is just and righteous, and God calls God’s people to be the same. The Lord is also merciful. Only eternity will reveal how much and how often the Lord has spared God’s people because of the often hidden prayers offered up as intercession.
Amos’ third vision of a plumb line, a carpenter’s tool to show whether a wall has been built straight and true, symbolized God’s standard to test spiritual integrity. God’s holiness and righteousness is the standard by which all people, all nations, will be measured.
As the Lord compared the straightness of God’s purity with the crookedness of God’s people, Amos’ discerned that he must not intercede a third time, knowing that even as God’s mercies are sure, so is God’s judgement.
[Plumb line of the city | Jim Linwood / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]