Proper 10 • Amos 7:7–15 • July 15, 2012

By William W. Carr

The church never quite reads Amos. The Three-Year Lectionary employs it five times; the One-Year includes it once, as an option. We don’t read the prophetic books as books; we plug them in as we need them, and we don’t take time to find out what they are all about. For grammatical details, see Lessing’s commentary on Amos.[1] A fair amount of what I will say will coincide with his comments, but I think I have some “new” observations too.

Amos 7:7–9 is third in a series of visions.[2] In the first two, 7:1–3 and 4–6, the prophet pleads and Yahweh relents. The vision of the plumb line, however, is not, like the first two, a course of action. It is a standard which Israel cannot pass; it is not plumb. There are five “clauses” in the Lord’s speech. The participial clause announces “I am about to set a plumb line…”[3] The remaining four describe what that entails: God is the subject of the “outer” two, and the forms of the “inner” two mask the agent of the action (the first verb is Niphal, the second is Qal but the stative “sounds” passive[4])—thus God’s actions “surround” the consequences. There is a pun on ברח that is not easily reproduced in English, but one could play with it: “the sanctuaries of Israel are ‘sworded’” matches the Lord’s threat to “raise against…Jeroboam the sword.” The shape of the language shows that the action will be comprehensive.

There are cogent reasons for rendering the verb רבע “forgive.”[5] ESV uses “pass by” (i.e., “bypass” or “overlook”). God can “pass through” for judgment (e.g. Ex 12) or to declare his mercy (e.g. Ex 34). That he threatens not to keep on passing by Israel is even more serious, because it suggests withdrawal; he will not continue to “be there” for his people.

With this threat hanging in the air, along comes Amaziah, accusing Amos of insurrection against Jeroboam. If Amos has been declaring his visions in the north, notice that the reaction is not to the theological significance of those visions, e.g., the forbearance of God, but to the national/political implications (cp. Luke 23, John 19). Is it any different today? When Christians in America bear witness to the truth, does anyone say, “That’s not the truth”? More likely is a demand that Christians keep quiet.

Amos refuses to be called a prophet. There are two occasions in the OT when men described themselves as prophets: in 1 Kings 13, a self-described prophet’s word actually contradicted God’s true word. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah described himself as the lone prophet of Yahweh, standing against the prophets of Baal. No one else, not even the “major” prophets called themselves prophets. Instead, it was the people to whom they spoke who came to realize that a prophet had been among them. When Amos declares that God had told him to “go, prophesy to my people Israel,” he claims not a call to an office, but to a task.

The lectionary selection ends here. I think we should hear how Amos responds. The iniquity of Amaziah is his effort to silence God’s word. The word that Amos speaks is severe and thorough (read 7:16–17).

This reading comes shortly after the Fourth of July. I’m writing in January, but I wonder what the atmosphere will be in the U.S. in July. Will civic discourse be civil in this election year? Will Christians who try to voice faith-based concerns about the condition and course of our nation be heard civilly, or will they be told to keep it to themselves?

It will also be early in the season of Pentecost. It wasn’t long after Pentecost when Christians began to take flak from religious authorities (Acts 4:18–20; 5:27–29). The apostles were testifying expressly about Jesus, but are testifying about the will of the Father, who sent the Son, and testifying about the Son himself, mutually exclusive? Those who want to stifle the word of God, generally, also want to stifle the gospel, particularly. It takes the same faith, and the courage it engenders, to speak both the righteous will of God and the gracious will.

Amos gives us no “easy” gospel. The wall that the Lord showed Amos (7:7) was plumb upright, straight. We know that if God tests Israel for plumb, it—its people—will fail. But still in the vision is that plumbed wall, the one that is true.

Only God can build the perfectly plumb wall. There are other building metaphors in the Scripture (foundation, corner- or capstone, even door and gate); this is, perhaps, one more: Christ is the wall that is plumb. Even as “living stones” which God builds into his dwelling place (1 Pt 2:5), it is not our quality that makes us fit, but the fitness of Christ in us. Everything that man builds—his “high places” and “sanctuaries”—will be brought down (Am 7:9; also 9:1ff.). Only what God has built will stand.

If the God to whom nations are “a drop in the bucket” and “dust on a scale” (Is 40) was prepared to demolish the nation that he had called into being, then what chance have we? If we think we are upright and plumb and deserve God’s favor, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

On the other hand, who knows? God might spare our nation a bit longer, if our testimony to his righteousness and grace produces repentance. None of us is “a prophet,” but we have been called by baptism to be God’s holy people, witnesses to his mercy. We are neither prophets nor apostles, but we do prophetic and apostolic work when we faithfully declare, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Endnotes
[1] R. Reed Lessing, Amos, Concordia Commentary Series (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009).
[2] Ibid., 435.
[3] Ibid., 462.
[4] Ibid., 464.
[5] Ibid., 462.

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1 Comment

  1. Ted Wuerffel July 9, 2015
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    Once again Bill Carr and Tim Saleska’s materials have been ever so helpful as I fill a pastoral vacancy here in Sarasota this summer. Many thanks! Ted W

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