What is God’s plumb line? (@Seeking1st)

plumb line


Have you ever used a plumb line?

It is one of the simplest tools to check whether a wall stands upright or has started to lean away from the true perpendicular. You just need to suspend something heavy on the end of a piece of string. Gravity causes the string to hang down in perfectly vertical line. Then by comparison you can see if the wall is in right relationship with the centre of the earth.  In the book of the prophet Amos the plumb line appears as a devastating image of God’s judgement.

This is what the Lord God 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 a sword.’

Amos 7: 7 – 9 NRSV

The plumb line is the 3rd of 5 visions given to the prophet Amos

It was at a time of peace and affluence for the northern kingdom of Israel under King Jeroboam II. The rich and powerful assumed their power and prosperity were evidence of God blessing them as his chosen people. They were addicted to luxury which was gained and maintained at the expense of the oppressed poor. Their religion had become divorced from ethics. Corruption, bribery, ruthless debt collecting that trampled the poor and social injustice of every kind was the dark underbelly of the nation. Outward show of faithfulness to God was not matched by concern for all his people. This was nearly 8 centuries before Christ but the social injustice which Amos denounced in God’s name is recognizable in our world today.

In Coventry Cathedral is a sculpture of a plumb line over Coventry.

It is a challenging piece of art work. Take a look at a photo of it here. The plumb line symbolises God’s judgement of society. It could be any city. It could be the whole world. All of humanity stands under God’s judgement. In the Bible God’s ‘justice’ is the same as God’s ‘righteousness’. Another word for righteous that is often used in the Bible is upright. So the picture of God’s plumb line as a test of a people’s righteousness makes sense.

Under God’s judgement what is the plumb line?

It’s easy to be in the habit of comparing ourselves to others. Am I better or worse than ‘they’ are? It’s easy to think ‘I’m a good person’ because I don’t do the bad things that ‘they’ do. Perhaps the popularity in social media of scandalous behaviour is partly due to the way it helps us feel good about ourselves. I’ve noticed this when I’ve thoughtlessly retweeted a news story about corruption or atrocity, while patting myself on the back for being better than that. To judge ourselves by others is to use the wrong standard. God has given us a standard test of righteousness in his Word. Jesus summarised God’s Law as to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself (cf. Mark 12: 28 – 34). Using that as the plumb line I find that I fail the test. I only know of one human who perfectly fulfilled that Law: Jesus of Nazareth.

For me the plumb line of Amos’ vision becomes Jesus Christ himself.

If I compare myself with Jesus I know I deserve God’s condemnation. My only hope is through that paradox of God’s justice and mercy, that upright tree on a rubbish heap outside a city wall. There Jesus my Saviour and the Saviour of the world died for the sins of the whole world. In that cross is the plumb line of justice. It shows the dreadful nature of human sin. In that cross is the plumb line of mercy. It shows the perfect love of God.

Image Credit: Flickr, CC License

About Nancy Wallace

Blogs as Seeker (http://nancysblog-seeker.blogspot.co.uk/). Tweets on Twitter as @Seeking1st. Church of England minister and grandmother, struggling to learn to pray, paint and play.