This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer” (Amos 7:7-8).
Anyone who has done any type of construction knows what a plumb line is. It is quite likely too that if you have ever had construction done, you can recognize when a plumb line has not been used. The result might be a wall that leans or appears warped, rather than straight and strong.
What Is the Purpose of a Plumb Line?
Quite simply, a plumb line is a tool that is used by masons and other contractors to build walls that are straight up and down — at a perfect right angle to the earth, so as to align with the gravitational pull.
The tool is a simple weight tied at the end of a string, which then serves as a guide for the perfect construct of the wall or structure.
All construction workers know that bowed, or leaning walls are not at all secure and are quite easily toppled. Builders know that when a wall falls, it always will fall in the direction in which it is leaning.
Amos, one of the minor prophets, delivered a message from God unto Israel. He was letting Israel know that he was about to set a plumb line amid the people of Israel.
He would measure them against the straightness of that plumb line and, when they did not measure up, would spare them from punishment no longer.
But what exactly was the plumb line God was referring to? And how does that plumb line apply to Christians today?
As Amos describes it, God stood next to a wall — one which had been built absolutely true to plumb. That wall was nothing other than the Law — the perfect Law that God had given to Israel through Moses.
It was the Law that defined Israel as a nation — the Law that Israel had been built upon. The very Law that served as the foundation of who Israel was. That Law represented the upright and perfect standard of the very righteousness of God.
According to this passage, God is reapplying the plumb line of the Law to display to Amos how far Israel had fallen away from his perfect standard. And how he, God, would “spare them no longer.”
In other words, his patience with Israel was gone and he would bring the judgment upon them that their sin demanded.
While Amos perhaps offers the strongest plumb line reference, there are other Old Testament verses that use the same analogy.
In 2 Kings, it says, “I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab” (21:13).
And even the prophet Isaiah says:
“I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line…” (Isaiah 28:17)
God will stretch out over Edom the measuring line of chaos and the plumb line of desolation. (Isaiah 34:11)
The plumb line then is the image — the parable — of God’s holy and righteous standard for Israel. It served as a measuring line representing Israel’s failure, and how far they had fallen from God’s guiding principles.
But you might ask, how does that apply to Christians today? After all, we are not bound by law, but rather are saved by grace — just as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians:
And to the Romans:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28).
So where does the plumb line of the law fit into our lives today?
A Straight Line
Simply because the plumb line is an Old Testament representation of what God considers true and correct, does not mean it is to be discarded and ignored.
Even today, the plumb line of God’s law serves as a guideline for those saved by grace through faith. Jesus quite specifically taught that he had not come to abolish the Law, but rather to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
My favorite Bible teacher is someone I refer to as a friend, even though I have never met the man: Dr. Bill Creasy of the Logos Bible Study. He often referred to the Law as “the straight line by which we measure our crookedness.” Exactly right!
Even today, we can see the standard of God’s law and recognize how we miss the mark. And in case we needed more evidence, in his sermon on the mount, Jesus raised the standard even higher (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28).
Wow. It isn’t then only the acts of murder and adultery, but merely having such thoughts in my heart and mind. Talk about a plumb line.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there, in that same sermon, he made the Lord’s expectations clear (Matthew 7:24-27).
Indeed, we are to take the teachings of Christ Jesus to heart and act upon them, in faith and obedience. We are to use his words as our own plumb line. There can be no better foundation on which to build our lives.
Why Does This Matter?
Just as the Law of Moses served as a plumb line for Israel, so should the teachings of Christ serve as ours. We are called to be the images of God on earth; for our lives to reflect his love and grace to others, as he has done to us.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Each day then, we ought to ask ourselves — Do I?
Do I truly love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind and all my strength (Luke 10:27)? Do I truly love my neighbor as myself?
Are we living out the teachings of the Bible in our lives?
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matthew 6:14).
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians: 4:32).
Do our lives exhibit the fruits of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (Galatians 5:22-23).
Indeed, the teachings of Christ Jesus and the Word of God are to be the plumb line for our lives. But these must be more than simply words on a page.
They are to be more than simply what we say we believe. We must use those words to direct and guide our life of the faith we proclaim, and as our source of guidance and encouragement.
Then — to paraphrase James — when we use the Bible as the plumb line of our lives; when we apply it in our daily lives; when people look at us and see the reflection of Christ in our lives. Then, we will be blessed in all we do.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/KhongkitWiriyachan
Greg Grandchamp is the author of In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins – an easy-to-read, conversational-toned search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Grandchamp offers perspective as an everyday guy on the very same journey as his readers and listeners – as a disciple of Christ Jesus, and learning life's lessons along the way.