God Holding a Plumb Line

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay


Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

There is a difference between the God of the Torah and the God Jesus pictures. Reading this passage from Amos can give us the idea that the difference is colossal, but it is not.

Put simply, God holds the plumb line and Jesus places the blocks. When the job is complete, the structure is straight and true. What is the gimmick? Jesus reforms the blocks. He takes a deformed human and, as stonemasons say, he dresses him. Jesus knocks off all the twists and divots caused by sin and sets a straight and true human in place.

Let’s look at the background for this reading. Remember, there are seven chapters before this one. The second verse of chapter 1 reads;

The Lord roars from Zion,

Shouts aloud from Jerusalem;

And the pastures of the shepherds shall languish,

And the summit of Carmel shall witherJSB

It does not sound good for Israel. Indeed, the whole of Amos has the same basic message; your punishment is coming.

Chapter 8 begins with; This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. “What do you see, Amos?” he askedNIV The translations are very uniform on this part, except for the word ripe. It is not in the Hebrew. The word is qayits, summer fruit, the term used by the other translations. Except, oddly, the Jewish Study Bible which translates is as figs, even as they give the literal translation of summer fruit in a footnote.

But let’s go on with the NIV.  “What do you see, Amos?” he asked. “A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered. Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longerNIV The Hebrew word that NIV translates here as ripe is qets; which seems to be a play on words, something Hebrews were fond of. When pronounced, they sound much the same.

The good news is that it does not change the meaning. The people of Israel were ripe and ready for the harvest, but not for a good harvest. Because their fruit was riddled with mold and rot, they had to be destroyed.

This summer, I helped friends harvest a small patch of sweet corn. Two storms had blown many of the stalks down. The ears of corn that were laying on the ground were moldy through and through; they lost half the crop.

What exactly was the rot that destroyed Israel?

Listen to this, you who devour the needy, annihilating the poor of the land, saying, “If only the new moon were over, so that we could sell grain; the sabbath, so that we could offer wheat for sale, using an ephah that is too small, and a shekel that is too big, tilting a dishonest scale, and selling grain refuse as grain!” CJB

God condemns anyone who cheats. In the Great Depression, there were a few banks that chose not to foreclose on a mortgage because the knew two things; they would get almost nothing when the property was sold, and at least one family would be completely lost. Why not let the farmer live on non-productive land. At least they had a home.

Remember how Atticus Finch was often paid in To Kill a Mockingbird? You need a lawyer, grab a couple of chickens from the coop, and see Mr. Finch.

Some have made this message from Amos the basis for various efforts to equalize wealth in the world. In the Sixties, Liberation Theology began to blossom in parts of South America. Priests from the Catholic Church led the movement. Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, worked on the edge of the movement, opposing the extremes of Marxism, socialism, capitalism, and most of the other isms. He insisted that we all share in causing the misfortunes of the needy, and we need to share in helping with the repair of what has happened.

That message comes directly from God.

But reread the passage above. God does not condemn honest commerce. He condemns lying, cheating, stealing, and failing to worship God properly.

Instead of pacing the floor, waiting for the end of a holy day, we should be praising God the whole day, and be slightly sad when the day ends. Shabbat is a gift to us. It is a day to shake off the dust of work and enjoy a refreshing renewal of our relationship with God who created us.

When I was a younger teacher, I often faced burnout about February and actively searched for a different job. It’s not that good and proper jobs didn’t exist, I just knew I wasn’t suited for them. I also knew the higher-paying jobs often involved getting people to fork over money for things they didn’t need. I would rather be the victim than the dealer. I’m not even talking about anything illegal. I want to earn my wages without causing others any harm.

Sure, some of my paycheck came from taxes paid by people who could not afford it, but I didn’t write the tax laws.

Take note of verse 11. A time is coming—declares my Lord God—when I will send a famine upon the land; not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the LordJSB

Read my earlier comments on this theme here, and here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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