Amos 7:1-9

This is what the Lord God showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings). When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,

“O Lord God, forgive, I beg you!
    How can Jacob stand?
    He is so small!”
The Lord relented concerning this;
    “It shall not be,” said the Lord.

This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord God was calling for a shower of fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said,

“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.

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. 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;
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.”

New Revised Standard Version
Photo taken by Louis Pezeta from

It’s sometime jarring when I read from the book of Amos, because most of the messages from God that Amos preached were harsh warnings against the sinful people in Israel and Judah. Here are two memorable examples:

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan
    who are on Mount Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
    who say to their husbands, “Bring something to drink!”
— Amos 4:1

“Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
— Amos 5:23-24

New Revised Standard Version

Amos identified himself a sheep breeder, but we know him best for boldly confronting high priests and kings with sharp condemnation. I imagine John the Baptist considered Amos as a personal hero, encouraging John to stand tall by the Jordan River and called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.”

But God gave Amos the complete breadth of God’s message, not merely the messages of condemnation. In the last part of the last chapter, Amos shares God’s message of restoration. God gave assurance that when Israel had been “shaken” to drive them to repentance, there would be a relationship between God and God’s people that is unrivaled in blessings, in closeness, and in love.

In this passage from chapter 7, God gives Amos a vision of grace. Amos witnessed a vision of complete destruction of grazing lands by locust. Knowing the punishment was fully justified for his nation’s continuing rejection of God, Amos cried out for forgiveness — and God felt sorry for the people and declared, “it shall not be.”

Again, Amos had a vision of great fires that consumed the land. Maybe Amos even saw in this fire the “refiner’s fire” that Malachi describes in 3:2 to rid us of sin. Again, Amos cried out for mercy, and again God felt sorry for the people, and declared, “this, too, shall not be.”

This pattern did not happen a third time. This repetition could not continue. “What do you see this time, Amos?” No horrible destructions, no great famine, merely a simple plumb line, a simple builder’s tool, held up beside a wall.

But this simple plumb line told a more devastating story than locust and fire about the sin in Israel and Judah, because the plumb line revealed immutable and undeniable truth. A wall that is leaning is worthless and is an immediate danger to anyone near it. While God showed mercy and set aside justified punishment, the evil that God’s unrepentant people kept perpetuating was a certain danger that would cause them to fall.

What is straight will stand; what is crooked will fall. What is right and just will last; what is evil will inevitably collapse, and it will damage those around it when it falls.

God’s mercy is magnificent and immense, driven by God’s infinite Love, but mercy cannot be infinite. If there were no limits on mercy, there would be no righteousness, and if there is no righteousness, there is no reason for mercy. But just as sure as a plumb line defines what is the perfect vertical orientation for a wall, so there is an absolute righteousness in God’s Love that must be the true orientation for our lives.

The rulers and priests of Amos’s day were good at comparing themselves to other nations, rather than to God’s standard. The nation of Israel was convinced of its holiness relative to heathen nations, and the nation of Judah was convinced of its goodness relative to the sin prevalent in Israel. Righteousness became a competition between groups of people, with the leaders assuring themselves they didn’t have to be “good,” only better than the bad folk. They assumed God had no choice but to be satisfied with their relative righteousness. I know I’ve used that logic myself at times.

This is why “justice” is not the result of political negotiations. What is right and true cannot be declared by persons with exalted positions or who exert influence over others, even though it is our human nature to defer to our “superiors.” Amos knew that truth comes only from God. We as people cannot create the measurements for “justice” because we all are flawed, and “imperfect” cannot create “perfect.”

Instead, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, we owe our first and total allegiance to the One who directs our minds and souls to do what is right and just and loving.

We need the instruction from Amos that there is an absolute measure of righteousness to which we will be measured.

We need the encouragement from Paul that we forget all else and press on toward the goal of the heavenly call of God.

We need to treasure and offer thanks for Jesus, who showed us the only One who is Good, and we need to measure everything we do by what our Lord has called us to do.


Crooked Falls