Lesson 10

*December 1 - 7

Vision Three — The Plumb Line

Lesson graphic

Sabbath Afternoon   December 1

MARTIN LUTHER TOLD THE STORY of a nobleman who took a man prisoner. When the prisoner's wife came to ransom her husband, the nobleman said if she would lie with him, he'd let her husband go. Though virtuous, she agreed, but after she had lain with him, the nobleman killed her husband and gave her the corpse. She took her case to Duke Charles of Burgundy, who commanded the nobleman to marry the woman. After the marriage, the Duke had the nobleman beheaded, gave the woman his property, and restored her to honor.

Luther's point was that, at times, justice goes beyond law books and rules. As you read this week's lesson, we'll see promises of an even better form of justice.

THE WEEK AT A GLANCE:  Why, unlike the previous two visions, does Amos not plead for a reprieve of God's justice here?  What standard of righteousness would Israel be judged by?  What was the only way Israel could have the righteousness it needed to meet this standard?  How does the situation presented here prefigure, to some degree, the close of probation?  Can we view the close of probation in positive terms?  If so, how?

MEMORY TEXT:  "He said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.  And there was given me a reed like unto a rod:  and the angel stood, saying Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein" (Revelation 10:11-11:1).  

*(Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 8.)

Sunday  December 2


"He shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the Lord said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more" (Amos 7:7, 8).  

In this, the third vision, a shift occurs: Instead of images of locusts and fire, Amos sees a "plumbline"—a device for making walls straight, or perpendicular to the ground. The plumb line is "an instrument used by builders to make their work even and perpendicular. Evidently the 'plumbline' symbolizes the Lord's examination of the conduct of Israel."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 977.

The Lord gave a different message here than in the first two visions. In those the Lord "repented" concerning the forecasted doom; now, however, the Lord says very clearly what will happen, with no conditionality attached.

Read verses 8 and 9 of Amos 7. What does the Lord say will occur to Israel? Notice, too, that Amos does not make an appeal for mercy, as in the previous visions. Though we can only speculate, why didn't Amos attempt, again, to intercede for these people?  

The Lord set a plumb line "To see whether the wall meets the specifications. Israel, of course, fell short of the divine requirements and would be rejected. . . . Israel's continued adherence to evil offers no hope of her repentance, and so the prophet intercedes no more. The northern kingdom must experience conquest by Assyria, and be led into captivity."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 977.

Perhaps, the Lord's words in verses 7 and 8 let Amos know that the Israelites would not repent, which is why he presents no hope. At this point, the message seems similar to the words of Jesus, when He wept over Jerusalem. See Matthew 23:37-39.

Compare the three visions in Amos with Matthew 23:37-39. What spiritual lessons can we learn?  Focus, not so much on the negative aspect (though that certainly can't be ignored) but on what these texts say about God's mercy and desire for us to turn to Him for salvation and righteousness.  Do they show us a picture of a God who is looking for ways to punish or to save?  

Monday  December 3


"Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face" (Ps. 5:8).  

The plumb line was used to keep the wall of the city straight. Time and again in the Hebrew Bible, the concept of being "straight" or "upright" is depicted to show how the Lord wanted His people to be. At times the word is even translated "righteous," such as in Numbers 23:10: "Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous [from the word that means "straight" or "upright"], and let my last end be like his!" In numerous other texts, the word for "upright" is used in a manner parallel in meaning to "righteous" (see Ps. 11:7; 32:11; Ps. 33:1). Thus, by not only revealing a plumb line but by setting it in the "midst of my people Israel" (Amos 7:8), the Lord was, in a sense, setting before His people the divine standard by which they were to be judged.

The plumb line appears, then, to be a standard of righteousness used for measurement by a God of justice.  Israel was to be measured against this standard. Look up these texts and notice the parallel concepts depicted here to what's happening in Amos:

  1.  Ezek. 40:3  ______________________________________________________________________

  2.  Zech. 2:1, 2  _____________________________________________________________________

  3.  Rev. 11:1, 2  ______________________________________________________________  

Ultimately, if we are to be measured against a standard of righteousness set up by God Himself, none of us, in and of ourselves, could ever stand. Even Israel itself, if having to face a "plumb line" set in its midst, would be judged unfavorably. In the end, therefore, Israel's only hope had to be in the perfect righteousness of God credited to them by faith, a faith that would have been revealed in their works. What seems to be happening here, then, is that Israel is facing destruction because she has lost her faith in God and thus has lost the covering of His righteousness, the only righteousness that could be measured against the plumb line.

Imagine having to stand before God and be judged by how well you compared to His righteousness!  What, then, is your only hope in that judgment?  Whose righteousness do you need, and what is the only way to get it?  

Tuesday  December 4


"I will make Samaria as an heap of the field, and as plantings of a vineyard: and I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley, and I will discover the foundations thereof" (Mic. 1:6).  

In this third vision, the Lord first says that He will judge Israel, and then He will punish the nation for their sins. He says that "I will not again pass by them anymore" (Amos 7:8). Verse 9 then describes how desolate Israel will become as a result of this judgment.

What spiritual lesson can we learn from these tragedies?

1. The high places shall be desolate (see Jer. 2:20; Hos. 4:13).  

Ordinarily, these idolatrous shrines were built on the highest point available in their neighborhood. Deuteronomy 7:5 and 33:29 indicate that God wanted such high places destroyed by the Israelites; Amos here seems to indicate that, far from destroying them, the Israelites had built their own. Since they wouldn't tear them down, the Lord would do so Himself, using pagans as the means of doing it.

2. The sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste.  

These were centers of idol worship at Gilgal, Dan, and Bethel.

3. "I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword."

Because of Jehu's apostasy, Jehovah had said that Jehu's descendants would reign unto the fourth generation (2 Kings 10:30). After the death of Jeroboam, his son Zechariah—the fourth generation—served six months and was slain (2 Kings 15:12). This fulfilled the promise of Jehovah and brought an end to the dynasty of Jehu.  

Notice in Amos 7:9, the Lord says, "I will rise with the sword against the house of Jeroboam" (NKJV).  This is not the first time in Scripture the Lord specifically says that He will bring desolation and punishment upon His wayward people.  It has happened time and again.  Is this something that God does directly Himself, or does He allow this destruction to come by not intervening or giving divine protection?  Or does it even matter?  If so, why?  Find examples to support whichever position you take.  

Wednesday  December 5


"Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words" (Amos 7:10).  

The philosopher George Santayana famously said, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." Notice, he used the verb doomed, expressing the notion that history has not been something so pleasant that one would like to go through it again.

In this particular case, an interesting principle appears, one that does have a long, sad, and bloody history. Amos speaks words the religious leaders don't like to hear. So what's the first thing they do? They go to the political leaders and try and get them to use force to stop those who were not preaching the party line.

What examples of this principle can you find in Scripture? Write down the verses where this same thing happens. What lessons can we learn from this about the danger of politics and religion being too intricately mixed?

  1.  __________________________________________________________________________________

  2.  __________________________________________________________________________________

  3.  _____________________________________________________________________________  

Think, too, of incidents outside of the Bible where religious leaders have gone to political ones to stop those who were preaching what they didn't want to hear.  

Notice, too, the words of Amaziah, "the priest of Bethel," who says that "the land is not able to bear all his words." That's an interesting way of phrasing it. Of course, it's not the land itself that can't bear his words but the people who don't want to hear what he's saying; yet, that's not what the priest said. Instead, he tried to make it sound as if Amos's words were, in fact, hurting the land itself.

Why so often, when rebuked, when presented with words that we don't want to hear, do we resort to whatever we can to deflect them from ourselves, as did Amaziah?  What do we need to do in order to prevent ourselves from falling into this trap, especially if the words are justly spoken?  

Thursday  December 6


It's natural to see in the situation presented here in Amos a parallel to the close of probation. Though we shouldn't press the analogy too far, there is a parallel: After repeated messages and plenty of opportunity to repent, judgment is finally rendered. In this case, however, it's not particularly a favorable judgment.

The problem, however, with that analogy is that when probation does close, many will have made the right choices, in contrast to what seems to be happening here in Amos, where it seems almost all the nation is doomed.

"He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still" (Rev. 22:11). There are two classes depicted in these texts. Some, clearly, have made the right choices; others, just as clearly, haven't. What makes the crucial difference between the two?  

It's very easy to paint a picture of the close of probation in very negative terms; and, no doubt, for those who make the wrong choices, it will be a sad time. Yet we need to understand the close of probation as the time when many will have made the right choice, a choice that once and for all will be finalized by God Himself. In a sense, the idea of "once-saved-always-saved" becomes true: once probation closes, and we have made our choice for Christ—we can never be lost. That is good news made even better!

Because we can die at any time, and probation does close at death, how crucial that we be right with God every day. And what is the only way we can be "right with God" at any time?  

The close of probation must be seen in light of the cross, where Jesus, with His blood, purchased the soul of every human being; otherwise it can be presented very negatively. Sure, it's a very solemn time, as the eternal destiny of souls is weighed in the balance. Yet we must remember that God is seeking to bring as many as possible into His eternal kingdom and that through His death Jesus made it possible for everyone, no matter how bad, to have that eternal life.

How do you help someone who's fearful of the concept of the close of probation?  What can you say to give this person assurance and hope that this can be a glorious time for those who truly walk with their Savior and Lord?  

Friday  December 7

FURTHER STUDY:  "The destruction that befell the northern kingdom was a direct judgment from Heaven. The Assyrians were merely the instruments that God used to carry out His purpose. Through Isaiah, who began to prophesy shortly before the fall of Samaria, the Lord referred to the Assyrian hosts as 'the rod of Mine anger.'. . . Isaiah 10:5.

"It was because [Israel] had ... refused steadfastly to repent, that the Lord 'afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until He had cast them out of His sight.'"

"In the terrible judgments brought upon the ten tribes the Lord had a wise and merciful purpose. That which He could no longer do through them in the land of their fathers He would seek to accomplish by scattering them among the heathen. His plan for the salvation of all who should choose to avail themselves of pardon through the Saviour of the human race must yet be fulfilled; and in the afflictions brought upon Israel, He was preparing the way for His glory to be revealed to the nations of earth. Not all who were carried captive were impenitent. Among them were some who had remained true to God, and others who had humbled themselves before Him. Through these, 'the sons of the living God' (Hosea 1:10), He would bring multitudes in the Assyrian realm to a knowledge of the attributes of His character and the beneficence of His law."—Prophets and Kings, pp. 291, 292.  

1. How do we understand the concept of God's justice?  In other words, because human concepts of justice so widely differ, how do we transcend our cultures and political environments in order to try and understand the justice of God?  Or can we?  Maybe because we can't, God's justice at times seems so hard to understand. Discuss.  
2. At the close of probation our choice as to whether or not we served God is finalized. What does that mean?  Do we have to be perfect to serve God?  Do we have to be perfect to be saved when probation closes?  If so, where is the perfection found, and how can we claim it as our own?  Can we be deemed perfect and still struggle with sin?  

SUMMARY:  The last king of Israel was Hoshea. He usurped the throne after slaying Pekah. Following Shalmaneser's conquest of Samaria, Hoshea was taken captive, and Israel's doom was sealed. This close of probation for Israel points to the time when probation will be closed, not only for nations but also for every individual living on earth.  

InSide Story

The Unseen Companion

Darryl Famisaran

The student missionaries from Lapangon Mission School in southern Philippines needed to go to town to buy some goods. The roads in this area are so rugged and out of the way that automobiles are scarce. However, motorbikes take their place, and often the drivers pile four or even five passengers onto one motorbike.

The three student missionaries from Mountain View College stood beside the road to ask God's protection as they traveled. Then they stopped a motorbike and put themselves on the bike. They braced their feet securely on the foot rests, and held onto one another tightly as the bike bounced along the bumpy road. Riding a motorbike on these roads is never comfortable. And the students, members of the Manobo tribe, who are more used to climbing the mountains than riding through them, found the ride quite uncomfortable. But they had little choice, for they had to get to the city and back before dark.

When the motorbike finally reached town each of the boys gave the driver his fare. The driver seemed dissatisfied and waited for more money. "Is there any problem?" the boys asked.

"Yes," the driver said, "You have given enough for three people, but there were four of you."

The students looked at each other and said, "No, there are just the three of us."

"No, the fourth one, dressed in white, got off the bike first and went on ahead. Did you not see him disappear around that curve?" he asked, pointing to the nearest bend in the road. "He seemed to be in a hurry. I know there were four of you when we left. I would not have driven this far for only three of you."

Again the student missionaries explained that there were only three of them, but the driver insisted that there were four and demanded the pay for the fourth person.

As the motorbike driver drove off, the three student missionaries looked at each other in amazement. Then they remembered that they had asked God to send His angel to protect them on their journey. They stopped and bowed their heads again and thanked God for allowing the driver to see the angel that God had sent.

Darryl Famisaran is director of the Sulads, student missionary program at Mountain View College in southern Philippines.

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