The Big Picture
Once a month, Morristown Elementary School in rural Indiana distributed a periodical called Highlights for Children to each of its 5th grade students. The magazine was appropriately named because it was most certainly a highlight of our lives that year! It contained articles about crafts, science, history, and even a comic or two written specifically for kids. Occasionally, they would include one of those games where they show a highly magnified picture of an every day object and you had to guess what the pictured item was. It might be a single red stitch from the leather cover of a brand new baseball. It could be the million tightly packed hexagons that compose a housefly's eye. Like most of the jokes, games and puzzles in the magazine, the answers to these photo riddles were included on the back page where a zoomed-out image revealed the big picture and the item came into focus, so to speak. There you realized that what appeared to be a giant forest of ice was actually just the tiny arm of a single snowflake.
Imagine what it must be like to see the world from God's perspective. Yes, I do mean from the awesome and humbling "He created the universe and we're just speck's on a little blue dot" perspective, but I also mean from the moral perspective. He sees us as we truly are without any masks or pretense. He knows our hopes, dreams, fears, struggles, thoughts and actions. Amos had that experience and it is recorded in the short Old Testament book that bears his name.
Amos wasn't a nobleman. The book introduces him as a sheep herder who probably also dabbled in growing figs (See 1:1 and 7:14). There's a good chance it's because he was a social outsider that he was considered for service to the Lord. You see, those who were "in" socially lived in relative ease and prosperity in that day. Chapter 6 relates how they lounged on their couches with plenty of food listening to music, feeling entirely secure and enjoying their leisure. Nothing wrong, of course, with a little "R and R" but in this case it was evidence of a grievous rejection of their God. They had a good economy, stable leadership, a sufficient military: they didn't need God anymore. Their lavish parties turned sacred spaces into places where pleasure was worshipped instead of God (6:6), and when the LORD had called them to repent, his messengers were abused and silenced (2:12).
When the Word of the Lord came to Amos at the beginning of chapter 7, it bore a warning of impending doom.
7 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. 2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,
“O Lord GOD, please forgive!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
3 The LORD relented concerning this:
“It shall not be,” said the LORD.
The vision communicated clearly to this agriculturally-aware prophet who knew that the precise timing of this locust plague would come after the king's taxes had been levied but before the bulk of the remainder had been harvested. The people who now flourished would be decimated with nothing left for themselves. As if instinctively, Amos compassionately prays for deliverance. This would surely spell utter destruction for the people of the Northern Kingdom. Amos is heard. Disaster is averted... for now.
A second vision is given to Amos similar to the first. This time fire, probably representing the heat of drought, eats up the farmland. Again Amos prays. Again, God listens and withholds judgment.
4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5 Then I said,
“O Lord GOD, please cease!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
6 The LORD relented concerning this:
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.
The pointed lesson comes to us through the uniqueness of the third repetition in this cycle.
7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass by them;
9 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.”
What do you notice is missing from this vision compared with the last two? There is no prayer this time. Amos has seen something clarifying in this third vision that silences him- a mason's tool. The plumb line, a heavy weight on the end of a string, was a simple tool that could not lie. It was always going to point straight down vertically toward the earth without fail. Even the non-technically savvy individual can see the value of this in building vertically-true foundations and walls and preventing the end result from resembling the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Scripture, God's law if you will, is that unfailing standard. Compassionate Amos pled for his people's deliverance twice, but now finally sees them contrasted with God's standard and must acknowledge how far they have deviated from it.
At this point we must ask ourselves as we evaluate our prayers: Do we see the world from God's perspective? If we did, how might we pray? Like Amos's original prayers, we probably all pray frequently for deliverance from the consequences of an ungodly society. We pray for economic security, cheap gas, and for our soldiers to come home soon. Amos wasn't rebuked for praying for deliverance and was even answered twice! But what the nation needed most was repentance and that would not come without chastisement. Because our nation is not Israel, let us take this application and examine our own hearts. Let us pray for repentance in our own lives for any area we have failed to line up with the standard of God's word. Let us invite any correction the Lord sees fit to bring into our lives to purge us of self-indulgent living. And let us remember that Christ is the cornerstone of a foundation that is perfectly true according to God's plumb line. Any who are set on this foundation now have the opportunity to build on that foundation with gold and precious stones, or with wood, hay and stubble (1 Corinthians 3:12).