Amos 7.7-9 – A plumb line

A couple of years ago I was leading a Bible study through this chapter with the Youth Growth Group and I presented them with a box full of things that could be made into plumb lines. There were heavy objects, bundles of string, and things to join the two together. The concept of a physical plumb line was beyond all of them, and some of the things they ‘made’ were akin to something our youngest son Jesse could make…think bundling everything together and saying ‘done’.

Whilst the concept of making a plumb line was alien to them, the thought of having one, consistent, straight, narrow, absolute guide for building walls, or for life in general was not alien to them at all, much to my delight.

Today God speaks to Amos and tells him that He is going about the judgement of His people to a standard that is absolutely consistent, perfectly straight, impossibly narrow, and as absolute as can be,

‘This is what he showed me: behold, 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, “

Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel;’

Living under the law, this is what is required; God holding us up to the impossible standard of His absolute perfection. When the inevitable happens – we don’t live up to the standard – God says,

‘I will never again pass by them;  

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.”’

How sad would it be if that were our lot; God sets the standard, we try to live up to it, but we never can. We would spend a lifetime trying to please Him but never even getting close.

God’s Word tells us that our own righteousness, our own natural efforts to please God, to live well, are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6). We try and try, but we were dead in transgressions and sin (Ephesians 2.1) and we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23), so it’s hopeless really…

But, there is One plumb line that measures up to God’s standards, and, by the grace of God alone, let’s us claim His perfect consistency and absolute straightness as our own when standing before the Father.

If we compare ourselves to others around us, we may look straight enough…but when God looks at our attempted plumb line of living it will never be straight enough…unless He looks at us through the lens of Christ, unless we confess with our mouth and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and God raised Him from the dead, then Christ as the perfectly straight plumb line will make sure we are seen as straight in the eyes of the Father.

Charles Spurgeon said this on plumb lines, a point to ponder today as we consider Jesus as our own plumb line,

“I would like you…to use the plumb line when you begin your spiritual life- building…

Use the plumb line to see whether it is all straight and square.

Try all the doctrines that are taught, and do not embrace that which is popular, but that which is Biblical.”

(August 27, 1876).

Amos 7.1-6 – Perspective

Recently I saw a really interesting video somewhere on the internet, and in it were sculptures that looked like one thing from one angle, but another from a different angle, like this; giraffes, or elephants?

Anyway, perspective is so important, isn’t it. When we have big decisions to make regarding our future, maybe you’re thinking of your next career move, or maybe you’ve been presented with two options at the job you’re at now, should we add more children/dogs/cats/horses/giraffes to our family (or whatever you like to fill your house with!)…whenever we have decisions to make, we should consider another perspective than ours.

We should consider God’s perspective.

Outside of time as we know and experience it, eternal, knowing all there is to know, God’s perspective is infinitely different and greater than ours.

Does He understand ours? Of course.

Do we understand God’s perspective? No!

Think of it like this; do you understand why your children shout/cry/meltdown? Of course.

Do they understand why that is the most frustrating thing in the world for you? No!

Our perspective, in that instance, is far greater than theirs. Multiply that by the biggest number you can think of and we still don’t come close to the difference between how we see things and how God sees things.

This is what the Lord God showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, 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, please forgive!
    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: behold, the Lord God was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land.Then I said,

“O Lord God, please cease!
    How can Jacob stand?
    He is so small!”
The Lord relented concerning this:
    “This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.

Here in Amos we see the different perspectives at play. Amos receives a vision (v.1) of locusts eating the grass of the land after the King had taken his royal tax, meaning Israel were left with nothing. His second vision was of judgement by fire (v.4). In both circumstances, Amos prayed fervently for the people of God (v.2, 5), and in both circumstances it seems as if God changes His mind (v.3, v.6).

So, does God change His mind?

The Word of God speaks to us about this in Malachi 3.6, James 1.17, and Numbers 23.19, and, simply, no, God does not change His mind. So what is happening here in Amos? “The Lord relented…”, Amos saw a vision, prayed, and then God relented…did He change His mind?

Again, no, this is an example of an anthropopathism, where in “…the feelings or thought processes of finite humanity are ascribed to the infinite God.”

So it appears to us, from our perspective, that God changed His mind, so that must be the case…it looks to us as if God changed His mind from our perspective.

From His?

I would offer that God was teaching Amos, Israel, and us by extension the power and importance of prayer.

In both instances, Amos sees the coming judgement, prays fervently, and then the Lord ‘relents’. What a boost to the prayer life of Amos, and what a testimony to share with people! Rather than get lost in endless debates about whether this was eternally predestined to actually happen or not, let us appreciate the key things here; prayer is powerful, prayer works, prayer is effective, and although it may seem like one thing from our perspective, remember, God’s perspective is far greater than ours, in the same way His ways are not our ways.

Point to ponder today – What in my life do I need to see from God’s perspective?

Amos 6.8-14 – Can we escape?

I read a story about those escape rooms, the live action puzzles where you are locked inside a room and you need to follow clues to get out, like this one…

The story goes that a new escape room was opened and the staff left a complete walkthrough cheat-sheet in the room by mistake. It had all the details of where things were hidden, the significance of objects in the room, things to do, things not to do, and ultimately how to escape was written at the bottom. The players entered the room, found the paper, read it, but then didn’t do what was on it…and ultimately didn’t escape the room. 

Today in Amos we see something similar. God has given His people all they need to know, yet they still persist in their prideful, selfish ways (v.8). Pride is, simply, never good (1 Peter 5.5, James 4.6, Proverbs 3.34).

The people seem to think that they will be able to escape the coming judgement (a constant theme of the book), but we know that God has decreed that whether strong or weak, big or small, mighty or insignificant, all that transgresses His Word will be judged accordingly (vv.9-11). 

Amos then gives proof that no sinner has the right to think that they will escape the coming judgement of our Lord if they are not living the way they should be (vv.12-14). We can’t expect good results when we are living so contrary to the Word of God, in the same way a thoroughbred champion racehorse would not run as well on rocks, or in the same way oxen would not plow productively on those same rocks (v.12).

For us, we need to realise that no matter who we are, where we are from, we are only able to live right and only able to be in right relationship with God through faith in His Son, Jesus.

As Hebrews 2 tells us, we must not neglect this great and wonderful salvation, but we must live our lives based on it. The people Amos writes about knew what to do, had it all written down, but chose not to follow it and thought that it would work out well regardless.

Rather than trust in the misguided thought that, well, God is basically all good so we can do as we wish and then expect Him to bless us because He is good, and God is love, right? Rather than work to this way of thinking we need to follow the principle of Micah 6.8, and, if we do, we are more than able to escape the coming judgement.

He has told you,

O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice,

and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Amos 6.1-7 – Obligation to glorify

1 “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel comes!

2 Pass over to Calneh, and see, and from there go to Hamath the great;

then go down to Gath of the Philistines.

Are you better than these kingdoms?

Or is their territory greater than your territory,

3 O you who put far away the day of disaster and bring near the seat of violence?

4 “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches,

and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall,

5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,

6 who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils,

but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

7 Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,

and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

Comparison is easy and pretty natural, isn’t it? We talked about it a couple of Fridays back in the message, and it’s easy to do…we look around and immediately think

“I’m not as bad as her”, or,

“I’m much better at my job than him, why didn’t I get that promotion?”.

When we compare and put ourselves above others, this is obviously not a good thing as pride is taking over. Here God speaks through Amos and warns His people against feeling relaxed, sure, and content based on how they view themselves in comparison to others (vv.1-3).

Living here in Bahrain there will always be people who earn far less money than you do. But, do you look at them with contempt or with compassion? Do we compare and think that we are worth more because we earn a little more? If we really want to play the comparison game here, we will always lose…none of my friends own an oil field or travel everywhere by helicopter…which some here do. As God makes clear, are we really better, or is it our own perception? (v.2b).

Even when we are blessed with a time of prosperity, as Israel was here (vv.4-7), we must never view ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12.3). When God blesses us with a time of prosperity, be it financial, familial, or friendship and fellowship, we have an obligation to use this prosperity to glorify Him. We know, don’t we, that all good things come from Him (James 1.17), and that even when things don’t look as if they are going our way from our perception, that for those who love God, everything is working out for our ultimate good…our salvation in Christ.

So, whether today/this week/this month is a time of prosperity, or a time of circling the wagons and retreating, we still have that obligation to glorify God because we know that He is guiding and providing, no matter where our comparing mind takes us.

Amos 5.25-27 – You can have it all if you like

When I was younger, there was a Welsh band called the Stereophonics that I saw live a couple of times. One of their more light-hearted songs was called ‘I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio’. It was, I think, about the trappings of modern society, namely buying things on credit that we simply don’t need. The chorus went like this,

So you can have it all if you like, you can have it all if you like.

You can have it all if you like, you can have it all if you like, and you can pay for it the rest of your life.

This is very similar to what we see today in Amos, too,

25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness,

O house of Israel?

26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god

–your images that you made for yourselves,

27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”

says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.

Although Israel still offered sacrifices to God whilst in the wilderness (v.25), they also carried along with them their pagan deities picked up whilst in Egypt (v.26). They are literally wanting their cake, and to eat it too. They want it all. They want to honour God and offer sacrifices to Him (good), but they also want to cling on to paganism and the trappings of their former way of life (bad).

As with the Stereophonics, God’s people seem to want to have it all, but as we see, they will pay for it for what would be, for some of them, the rest of their lives (v.27).

The exile and captivity are surely not what God wants us to have, and are surely not what we want, either. Rather than trying to have our cake and eat it, then paying for it for the rest of our lives, or even with our lives, let us have what God wants for us, let us have it all; life defined by Jesus crucified, life abundant, life eternal.

To have all this, we don’t need to pay for it for the rest of our lives, because Jesus paid for it with His life.

So, yes, we can have it all if we like.

We can either have all that Jesus offers, or all that the world offers.

One was paid for with His life, and the other we will pay for the rest of our lives.

Amos 5.21-24 – The heart of the matter

Yesterday we saw that what we claim to be living, we must be living. If you missed yesterday’s devotional, you can read it here.

The main point was that if we claim Christ, we must live for Christ. If we call ourselves Christians, we must carry that name with honour, and live a life worthy of the name we carry. If not, when we do and say Christian things from a place of non-total commitment, we run the risk of being found out…

Today, Amos continues and the Lord lays down some fundamental principles about priorities;

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them;

and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.

23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;

to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

If we are going through the motions and simply doing what we think we ought to be doing, with no real heart commitment, the Lord knows.

Remember, whereas we have a natural tendency to look at and judge the outside, the Lord always looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16.7). We look at the what, God looks at the why.

Well, I go to church.” Why…

I read the Bible.” Why…

I did that good thing for that person.Why…

If we just go along to church, sit, maybe sing a little, listen a little, then leave, is that good enough?

I take no delight in your solemn assemblies – God would say no.

If we offer worship through music but our heart is not in it, is that good enough?

Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. – God would say no.

What does the Lord want from us then? To let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

See, the point of a real relationship with the risen Jesus is that it changes us from the inside out.

We are given a new mind, new priorities, a new way of looking at life, new desires, new ambitions, a new focus, simply, we are made new, born again.

Part of this is how we interact with and treat other people, and God cares a lot about how we treat other people. When our heart is right, we will treat others right, and God cares a great deal about this. Rather than go through the Christian motions, God wants us to live a righteous life, to pour out righteousness from our lives, to let justice roll down like waters, to love one another as He loves us (John 13.34-35)

Today, rather than going through some Christian motions because we think it’s the right thing to do, let’s get right with one another first (Matthew 5.23-24). Let’s make sure we are right with one another before we try go get right with God.

God’s priority is that we are right in heart and right with each other, because when we have a real relationship with the risen Jesus, these are the telltale signs.

Amos 5.16-20 – Live the life we claim we do

Yesterday we saw that due to our own sinful, human nature and how it is manifest in the world (cause), this puts distance in the relationship between God and ourselves (curse), but that there is One way to be reconciled to God; Jesus (cure).

Today Amos turns his attention to those who claim to be wanting the cure, but in actual fact seeing as they never turn away from their cause, they actually still have their curse.

16 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

“In all the squares there shall be wailing,

   and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! Alas!’

They shall call the farmers to mourning

   and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation,

17 and in all vineyards there shall be wailing,

   for I will pass through your midst,”

says the Lord.

18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!

   Why would you have the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, and not light,

19     as if a man fled from a lion,

   and a bear met him,

or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,

   and a serpent bit him.

20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,

   and gloom with no brightness in it?

Basically, then, people of the day were claiming to want the Lord to come and judge the nations, they wanted the Day of the Lord, they wanted Him to come…now! On the surface, not a bad thing to want, right?

How often nowadays do we come across people who say things like

“Oh, thank God!”,

“Praise the Lord!”,

“Oh my God!”,

“Jesus Christ!”,

“Only God can judge me!”…

Again, on the surface, these are Christian-sounding words and phrases, aren’t they? But, when spoken by someone whose life clearly does not match the words they are saying, they lose all credibility and you begin to wonder if they really have any grasp on what they are saying…if they truly understand what they are saying.

If I started going on and on about PhD level physics, you would know that I had no grasp of things like how in Newtonian physics, the circular orbit of two gravitationally bound mass objects is a stable configuration…

In the same way, when people are claiming Christ but not living the life, when here we read of people desiring the day of the Lord, we are confused; why would you want that when your life shows you should not really want that?

Amos writes – for those who are not living in the will, way, and Word of our Lord

Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

The point for us is this; if we claim Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour, our lives should attest to this, our conduct should show this, our character should say this for us. Then, when we call on His name, when we hasten His coming, and when we look ahead to His return, we are assured through the promise of His Word that this is something to look forward to. 

Point to ponder today – do my claims and calls match my words and ways? Or am I saying and doing things that are in opposition to the upward call of God in Christ?