John T. Willis

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Vision of the Plumbline--Amos 7

As pointed out in an earlier blog, the third section of the Book of Amos contains five visions. Three of these visions appear in Amos 7. Then a fourth vision appears in Amos 8. And, finally, the fifth vision appears in Amos 9. This blog is devoted to a brief treatment of Amos 7. This chapter falls into two parts.

I. The First Three Visions of Amos. Amos 7:1-9.
a. The first two visions communicate the same message. Amos 7:1-6.
1. The vision of the locusts. Yahweh showed Amos that Yahweh was "forming" [creating] locusts when the Israelites most needed to harvest their crops. The locust plague wiped out this crop. When Yahweh revealed this vision to Amos, Amos made an "intercession" in behalf of Israel. Amos cries out:
"How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!"
In the minds the Israelites, they were "the most powerful nations on earth" [see Amos 2:13-16; 6:13]. But in the mind of Yahweh and Amos, they are VERY SMALL. When Amos makes this intercession, Yahweh responds by GRACE; Yahweh CHANGES HIS MIND and HIS PREDICTIONS, and gives his people another chance. Throughout history, this is the way Yahweh works. Verses 1-3.
2. The vision of the devouring fire [drought]. Yahweh showed Amos that Yahweh was calling a fire to devour the land of Israel. Yahweh sent a drought. Just as in Amos's response to the locusts, here again Amos makes an intercession in behalf of Israel, using the same words. And again, Yahweh agrees and changes his mind and his predictions, and gives Israel another chance. Verses 4-6.
b. The third vision: the plumbline. Amos 7:7-9.
1. Yahweh showed Amos that Yahweh was standing beside a wall built with a plumbline with a plumbline in his hand. Yahweh declares that he is setting a plumbline in the midst of his people Israel. His point is: "I WILL NEVER AGAIN PASS BY THEM." Yahweh had given Israel chance after chance after chance [as illustrated by the first two visions; see Amos 4:6-13]. Yahweh declares that Amos can and must not make an intercession for Israel any more. Israel has hardened her heart, and hence Yahweh will never again pass by Israel--Yahweh will punish Israel. Verses 7-8.
In these two verses, there is a "technical" interpretation. Some scholars argue that the Hebrew word 'anak here means "tin" rather than "plumbline." Then the idea would be that the Israelites are like "tin," and therefore cannot resist the attacks of the invading Assyrians. See John H. Hayes, Amos the Eighth Century Prophet, pages 204-206. This may be true. But all scholars admit that we really do not know what this term means. The New Revised Standard Version still reads "plumbline," and this makes good sense in this context. The idea is that Yahweh originally built Israel by a "plumbline," the law of Moses. Now, Yahweh requires the Israelites to measure up to this standard. When this happens, the Israelites fail the test. Hence, Yahweh will punish them through the Assyrians. Either interpretation fits. Study this for yourself, and share your ideas with others and with me. I need all the help I can get.
2. Yahweh announces two punishments of the Israelites. First, Yahweh through the Assyrians will overthrow the land of Israel. Second, Yahweh through the Assyrians will overthrow the dynasty of Jeroboam II [this is the dynasty of Jehu]. Historically, both of these events occurred.

II. The Conflict between Amos and Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. Amos 7:10-17.
a. When Amos declares Yahweh's third vision, announcing the fall of the dynasty of Jehu and of North Israel, the rich, powerful, prestigious priest of Bethel, Amaziah, reproves and rejects Amos' message. First, Amaziah the priest of Bethel sends a message to king Jeroboam II, accuses Amos the prophet to be a traitor, a "Judas Iscariot," a "Benedict Arnold," and reports that Amos predicted that Jeroboam II will die by the sword, and Israel will go into exile. [The second prediction is accurate, but the first is not. Amos actually predicted that the "house" or "dynasty" of Jeroboam will come to an end [see verse 9], not that the king Jeroboam II will die by the sword]. Second, Amaziah confronts Amos and commands Amos to leave North Israel and never enter into this land again or preach there, because Bethel is "the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom." Amaziah scornfully denounces Amos as a "SEER," implying that a "seer" is a lowly person. Verses 10-13.
b. Amos responds by declaring that he was not "trained" to be a prophet. He was "trained" to be a HERDSMAN and a DRESSER OF SYCAMORE TREES, whose job was to take care of a special kind of sheep and to cut the hard bulbs of the flowers to allow the bugs to come out so the tree could grow properly. While Amos was doing his work, Yahweh told him specifically to go to North Israel and proclaim Yahweh's message to the the Israelites there. This is a brief description of the prophetic call of Amos. Verses 14-15.
c. Finally, Amos proclaims Yahweh's message to Amaziah in two parts. Verses 16-17.
1. Amos quotes Amaziah's previous message: Amos, Do not prophesy against Israel. Verse 16.
2. Amos responds to Amaziah's command: Yahweh declares that Amaziah's wife will become a prostitute in Samaria, Amaziah's sons and daughters will fall by the sword, the land owned by Amaziah will be parceled out by land among the invading Assyrians, and Israel will surely go into exile to Assyria. Verse 17.

Amos 7 contains several powerful messages of God that we all need to heed. Share YOUR thoughts and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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