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 the sword.” - Amos 7:7-9
I love words. I love the etymology of words. I love to see how words are translated into English. I love words.
In the above passage there is an English word ‘plumb-line’. Even though it is a phrase in English, in the original Hebrew it is one word. That word is ‘anak’.
The word is used only four times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Literally the word means ‘lead’ or ‘tin’.
The word was understood in the Ancient Near East to be a piece of ‘lead’ or ‘tin’ on the end of a string. One would drop the ‘lead’ to the ground with the ‘lead’ hanging just above the ground. That would straighten the string. One would compare the string it to a corresponding structure to see if the structure was straight or ‘plumb’. If the structure was not straight, parallel or ‘plumb’, the structure needed to be torn down and built straight again.
Simply, the word describes what we would today call a ‘level’.
In Amos, according to the Word of the Lord, God is going to set a ‘plumb line’ in the midst of His people Israel. The inference is that the people will not stand straight against God’s ‘plumb line’ and will be judged for it.
Amos is one of twelve minor prophets in the Hebrews Scriptures. There are four major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. The theme of these prophets is simple. God’s people do not stand level when compared with God’s ‘plumb line’.
But the prophets do not stop at judgement. The prophet Isaiah talks of a ‘Servant of God’ who will care for God’s people. Jeremiah talks of a ‘new covenant’. Ezekiel talks of ‘new life’. Even Amos, in the last five verses of his book talks of the restoration of God’s people. (Amos 9:11-15).
How does this happen?
The answer the scriptures give is Jesus.
When compared with God’s ‘plumb-line’, Jesus stands level. Jesus, as the ‘level-one’, takes on our ‘crookedness’ at the cross. Through the cross and resurrection, we become the ‘level’ ones.
Paul puts it this way, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Using Amos’ ‘plumb-line’ reference, we might put it this way, “For our sake, God made Jesus who was level to be unlevel so that in Jesus we might become level before God’.
In Christ, we all measure level against the ‘plumb-line’.
Peace Lutheran Church
Mill Valley, California