the penultimate WORD
Series 1998 - Proper 15 Canon Jim Irvine
...a plum line in the hand of the Lord.



"The land is not able to bear all his words," said Amaziah to Jeroboam, the King of Israel. And to Amos he said, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there."

We don’t know any more about the priest of Bethel. But his brief conversation is telling, and it has a familiar ring to it.

To begin with, Amos was a simple herdsman. Prophecy was not something he aspired to. He is quick to remind us that his father wasn’t a prophet and neither was he.

At first.

God called him from his herd. God called him to be a prophet.

It’s important to realize that as a prophet Amos wasn’t called to predict the future.

He wasn’t going to foretell the future. He was going to forthtell the present. There is an immediacy to the call Amos responded to. And Amaziah recognized that. "The land is not able to bear all his words," now, today! and that had Amaziah worried, as he should have been!

Remember what the Lord showed Amos: the Lord standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And he asked Amos what he saw. A plum line!

That’s all he saw. But the implications were staggering. Some couldn’t see any more than the plum line. They couldn’t see beyond the plum line. They saw nothing more than what it was, and passed it off. Others, however, and they included Amaziah, saw much more and the burden of the implications were frightening.

Amaziah gave voice to that fear and that voice has found an echo in every generation since. Beginning with the King Jeroboam, and continuing down to our day, the image of a plum line in the hand of the Lord penetrates the conscience with a frightening assessment.

Things were not as they should be in Israel. And the consequence was severe.

So Amaziah did the only thing he saw possible: first, he warned the King … a prudent gesture on the part of any priest of Bethel not wanting to jeopradize the status quo. And then, he told Amos that if he insisted on a career as a prophet, he should go to the Kingdom of Judah and speak his mind there.

We do the same today at the sight of a plum line in the hand of the Lord.

Reminded by Amos, we’d just as soon be left alone. We’d prefer not to be reminded.

Let others be reminded. Let others plum their hearts. Let others correct their ways.

Amaziah has long since passed from memory. His cautious words remain however.

We hear them often. Sometimes we hear ourselves saying them!

Caution is a hazard. Caution avoids the vulnerability the Lord calls for in his people.

Our hearts open to God. Our hearts open to one another. Our hearts plumed and corrected and forgiven!

Copyright © 1998 James T. Irvine

Series 1998