A major proof of false religion is that it cannot validate its effectiveness before the witness of man, but God can and does validate the true religion. He produces evidence of His righteousness, power, purpose, and way in many forms. God has performed miracles, signs, and wonders in the sight of thousands of witnesses.
Without objective assurance from time to time, we would be living in a world of religious make-believe. God sometimes validates Himself before man by advertising His power through an undeniable occurrence like Jesus' resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-8). Men have verified the truths of God through observation and experimentation (I Kings 18:30-39). Man is thus without excuse (Romans 1:18-25).
On occasion, God also verifies our personal relationship with Him by immediately answering a prayer or miraculously saving us from harm. On the other hand, if He needs to get our attention, He will shake us awake by allowing a test or trial to warn us that the relationship is degenerating. Because we are assured that God is with us, the testing is good. It keeps us from sinking into complacency and pride, both of which will separate us from Him.
This is what God is addressing in the principle of the plumb line. Amos understood that God was using it to test the spirituality, morality, and genuineness of the people against the standard. The test answers the question, "Are they really God's people?" God wants to know if they are exhibiting His characteristics.
This idea of a spiritual standard of measure transferred directly into the New Testament church. God uses similar imagery, a measuring rod, in Revelation 11:1. To the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:14-22), God uses fire to refer to a test instead of a plumb line.
As we can see from these examples, the end-time church will be tested. How are we going to build? What will the test reveal about our Christian growth (I Corinthians 3:9-16)? We are commanded to grow "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). From this we see that the plumb line is God's revelation of Himself as the standard.
At first, God's revelation of Himself was direct, visible, and personal, but later, as Israel grew, He revealed Himself more verbally through the prophets. They recorded His revelation for all time and all people, and we read it today in our Bibles.
God's law is the primary vehicle He uses to reveal His nature; it defines how He lives. If we want to be in His Kingdom and live as He does, we must obey His law, but obeying God's law in no way minimizes grace. God revealed Himself to Israel first as Redeemer and then as Lawgiver. He freed His people from their slavery in Egypt before He gave them the standard of His law. Grace precedes law. God gives grace first, but He does not leave His people ignorant of the life that pleases Him, which is revealed in His law.
The plumb line combines grace and law, and God will test us against both. If we rely on His grace without law, or on His law without grace, we will not pass the test. If either is abused, we will not measure up to the standard.
Leviticus 19 shows that the revelation of the law is important because it is a verbal description of God's nature. Our God is a holy God (verse 2), and He expects His representatives to be holy also. But how do we become holy?
After God redeems us from sin and extends to us His Spirit and grace—His free, unmerited election, He expects us to follow His instructions. The remainder of Leviticus 19 fills in the details—we become holy by doing these things. These actions reflect God's nature. Since God is holy, His law is holy, and if we follow His holy law, we can—with the indwelling of His Holy Spirit—grow to be holy like our holy God.
God chose Israel and extended the offer for a relationship with Him, to walk and fellowship with Him. After Israel's rejection of it, He has now extended this offer to those He has specifically called and chosen (John 6:44; I Corinthians 1:26-29).
God loves His people and gives them redemption, grace. He expects it will result in obedience to His law, the reflection of His nature, so on occasion, He holds a plumb line against them to check their progress. But when He sees that they have rejected His way of life, He has no choice but to try to guide them to repentance—by any means necessary.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
In construction, the plumb line tests whether what was erected is perpendicular to the square, that is, if it is straight up and down, if it is upright. It provides a standard against which one can measure what he has built. Metaphorically, when God draws near with the plumb line, He is looking for those people who are living and abiding in His grace and His law. The Israelites' moral standards had degenerated, so their religious profession was not verified by the right kind of works. They were not upright; they failed the test.
Amos has no opportunity to intercede at this point. God will no longer relent. "I will not pass by them anymore" means that God would not overlook their sins any longer. And, if He will not pass by them, He must pass through them. The plumb line shows that He will pass through "with the sword" in judgment; His patience and forgiveness have finally ended. He could no longer defer the punishment for their sins—the time had come to destroy them.
God passes through by destroying "the high places of Isaac," the altars and idols of the false religions responsible for the moral, spiritual, and ethical decline of the people. They worshipped Baal and a host of other foreign deities (Judges 10:6). They set up sacred pillars and idols throughout the land (I Kings 14:23; II Kings 17:10-13). Some of them even burned their sons in the fire to Molech (Ezekiel 16:20-21). Through their spiritual harlotry, they abused grace—the free, unmerited pardon of God—and rejected His law.
"The sanctuaries of Israel," the religious shrines of Bethel, Dan, Gilgal, and Beersheba, would also be among the first to fall. They were the fountainheads of the attitudes of the nation. In them the people were taught to seek the material prosperity that characterized the nation, and in part they sought this physical abundance through cultic fornication and fertility rituals done in the name of the eternal God. The religions taught the people how to sin and do it religiously.
Next, "the house of Jeroboam" would fall through war. Amos refers to Jeroboam I, after whom Jeroboam II was named, and worse, after whom he followed in his sins. God selected Jeroboam I to become king of the northern ten tribes of Israel after Solomon (I Kings 11:29-31), however He made the continuance of Jeroboam's dynasty contingent upon his obedience (verse 38).
But Jeroboam did not trust God. He thought that the religious festivals and sacrifices would entice Israel to return to David's line in Judah (I Kings 12:25-27). To counter that possibility, he set up counterfeit shrines in Bethel and Dan and changed the Feast of Tabernacles from the seventh month to the eighth (I Kings 12:27-33). Jeroboam turned away from the law of God, causing the people to sin.
Historians examine economics, social conditions, and military strength to determine what causes the rise or fall of nations, but God shows that His purpose and the morality of the people are the true causes. Thus, God makes sure that the two major motivators of Israel's spiritual decline, the religious and political leadership, would feel His wrath first (Isaiah 9:13-16).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)